A colleague and I were having a conversation the other day, about human kindness and anonymity and how the latter can adversely effect the former, particularly in online environments.

The conversation made me aware of my own tendency to become irritated
with over-eager telephone marketers, or tech support people who don’t
seem to know what they’re doing. In fact, I’ve been close enough to
being rude in those circumstances (i.e. threatening bodily harm, in my
mind at least) that I have had to force myself imagine them in the room
with me. This allows me to access any residual good nature that might
be lurking beneath the bitch from hell I seem to be
channeling in that moment.

Over the years I have found it totally changes the experience if I think of whoever I’m irritated by in an anonymous situation in the room with me. Then I see them as a human being, with the day’s cares on their face, someone with children and a wife and mortgage, etc.

Here’s another example: I’ve been working with a designer I’d never met on a client logo for some months by phone and email without a satisfactory resolution. After a combined investment of about 50 hours the problem had become so acute that we were in danger of one or the other of us just giving up in frustration, which would have meant having to deal with a very messy financial situation.

Finally, I had the idea of meeting in person at my studio and seeing if we could reconcile our issues together over a shared flat screen. The result was almost miraculous. We were able to resolve things that had hung us up for months in a couple of hours. At one particularly exhilarating moment we talked about what had kept us connected to this process, even when things looked so bleak.

I said I’d trusted in his professionalism and ultimate ability to do what we’d asked, and he said it was the fact that I had been so kind. He went on to say that he rarely receives that level of courtesy in his work when things start going badly, and I’d been so patient with him that he’d have done anything to fulfill his commitment and not disappoint us.

That really made me think. How much more might we do together if we are aware of each other as full human beings, rather than just objectifications that exist to meet our needs? What kinds of conversations might we have online if we imagine each other as friends, and extend the level of care and patience we offer in ‘real life’?


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