Politeness Considered Harmful

On WhatAreImpoliteWords? a certain person objects to the tone of the reactions he engendered on a certain contentious page. He suggests the way to deal with reactions of such a tone is simply to delete them.


If someone challenges you, aggressively or not, to support your opinion with logic and facts, and you can't do it, that's your problem, not theirs. They're right to suggest such things as "you're full of crap" if you're unable to demonstrate that you're not.


Don't delete what they're saying. Answer it. Clearly, calmly, with facts and reason. Then it will naturally delete itself. And don't be afraid of being rude - so long as there's a fair reason for it, and you're prepared to tidy up after.

I am not sure I agree that "you're full of crap" is ever appropriate. I do consider it appropriate to ask someone to justify a statement, but this can be done in a polite manner.

I believe that there is a place for a phrase such as "you're full of crap", even during the course of otherwise civil discourse. Strong words can tell you a lot about the subject, the overall direction the conversation is taking and the individual making the statement. Besides telling someone that the author is a hothead, or not equipped to defend their position on merit, it can tell you that the subject itself is controversial or that the discussion has dragged on and that frustration is being felt by some parties. Strong words do this with a minimum of effort on the part of the author and the reader. A relatively mild statement such as "you're full of crap" is informative and not likely to offend people (other than the excrement-filled person in question).

GoodStyle has always always suggested that we "don't say things that are designed to make others mad."

And if it doesn't, MakeRoomForAllViewpoints.

The politeness level of a signal is orthogonal to its content. If someone chooses to communicate impolitely it is either to show lack of respect (when used with strangers) or intimacy (when used with friends). There's no reason the same content can't be transmitted politely. If someone says I'm full of crap and they aren't a friend, it is safe to assume they are trying to provoke an emotional response from me.

Yes. Impoliteness can just be casual unpleasantness, which does no one any good. But in the context above it's more of a RolledUpNewspaper.

Rolled up newspapers don't work on me. I'm not a puppy. If you want to communicate with me and we are not yet friends, please be polite.

The content of this page doesn't really match the title. The recommended action seems to incorporate politeness. Maybe what you're trying to say is "When refuted impolitely, deal with the refutation, not the impoliteness". In other words, Criticism Is Feedback.

A confrontational page title is itself the kind of rudeness recommended here.

The only problem with rudeness is that it is totally ineffective at convincing people. If you don't care about convincing people, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, try being polite instead.

How is politeness considered harmful?

Please, under what circumstances is politeness not merely ineffective but detrimental?

When it is cloying, you dolt.

Not that this translates to common use in the business place, but ...

Politeness can be the right tool for torture ...

Occasionally politeness is wasted. For instance, if you're talking to an arrogant monster of a prince, you might use some ClueByFour phrases (just to get his attention, of course) ... Such delicate observations are sure to obtain an appropriate respect. Or a black eye. But at least you have his attention.

Yes, clearly, politeness can be harmful and rudeness can be the path to enlightenment. Or something.

See also: IsYourRudenessNecessary, WhatStrongEmotionsShow, RudenessFails


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