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Keep Town Square user Friendly rather than divisive

Original post made by Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 14, 2007

On chatting with an acquantaince who I knew used this forum daily sometime ago, I discovered that they were not looking at it anymore as it was "full of divisive issues and not neighborly helpfulness". I tended to agree and although it is very useful to be able to get involved in some of the more hot issues in Palo alto, it is also nice for us to just read the friendly ones. So, I have decided to read the friendly ones and just add an "I agree" or "Thank you" to some of the good ideas and helpful information I find here. I like the idea of discussing restaurants, movies, books, etc. and even passing on useful information. So, come on everyone, let's show our friendly side as well as comment on the hot topics!

Comments (26)

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Posted by Another Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2007 at 1:32 pm

It is true that anonymity allows people to write things they wouldn't if they had to sign their names. They can even agree with themselves using another name.
But dumbing down the forum is not a good solution. If you want to relax and take your mind off the city, have a cup of tea. The forum is a rare opportunity for people to say what they think about local matters and the city.
Coincidentally here is an article that sees through Republican spinmeister (Frank Luntz) who offers this advice to Democrats: don't get mad. Web Link
I think your suggestion (don't worry, be happy) is in the same vein.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2007 at 4:44 pm

I think it should be possible to do both and for the most part, this is what happens. Sometimes there are some very interesting, helpful threads which people read but do not comment on. Maybe we should just comment on anything we find interesting just to let the original poster know that their comments are being read.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2007 at 5:19 pm

Is there a way to find out if thread you posted is being visited, even if there are no comments? It is true that I read every thread, but comment only on those I have an opinion on. How do the people who start a thread know others are seeing it?

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2007 at 5:54 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

This forum occasionally gets contentious because there are indeed points of contention that need airing. I must confess to be less than charmed with those whose disagreement with me is expressed primarily by suggestions I am off my meds, but when you lack the wit, substitute the hit.
There are a wonderful assortments of well written, thoughtful articles, ads and editorials in this paper so one need not fret if a little sunshine breaks through on occasion. Turn the page, change the channel or twist the dial if you are disturbed with the content, or pay attention and break your programming for once.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2007 at 9:52 pm


Go to the Message Board View or the center small print at the top of the topics page and click on that. You will then see a list of all the topics with latest comment on top and there is also a column for the number of hits that thread has had.

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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2007 at 1:18 am

Resident, I agree. We can be direct and even forceful without being nasty, ad hominem, or sarcastic. There are many (myself included) who think being called ignorant or racist, or even getting a nasty sarcastic reply, is a lot to swallow for trying to contribute to the debate. Maybe the posters think it is clever or witty - to me it is just mean. And it lets the nasty element control the floor - that's not right.

My vote is that we focus on the issues, and show respect for our fellow posters. Worth a try.

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Posted by Phil
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 15, 2007 at 5:34 am

I have come to expect some lack of civility in discourse in anonymous forums about "hot" topics on the internet. ...on-line behavior that would cause most people to walk away from a face-to-face conversation.

That said, I encourage the Town Square staff to develop a web mechanism where its community of readers can rate thread posts, and where individual readers can use those ratings to filter out off-topic or offensive postings: being able to seperate the thoughtful from the off-topic or mean would improve the Town Square experience.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2007 at 11:18 am

Resident: Your acquaintance says that this forum is "full of divisive issues and not neighborly helpfulness." We have many divisive issues in Palo Alto. Do you suggest we not discuss them? Is it not neighborly and helpful to present different perspectives and ideas that might lead to solutions to some of these issues?

If all you do is “read the friendly ones,” I fear you will be missing the point of the forum. Do you consider opposing opinions unfriendly, even if they are respectfully written?

The point of blogs is to offer a forum for many different ideas, which I think we get on Town Square. A lot of intelligent people present well-thought-out views. Not everyone agrees, but for the most part the discourse is civil. If anything, I think the Palo Alto Online staff deletions are overly censorious.

We live in a city that doesn’t like conflict, and our city council doesn’t like to hear from people with opposing views. In my mind, that’s a big problem. If we’re unwilling to discuss difficult issues and hear all sides, how will we ever make good decisions?

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Posted by anon.
a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2007 at 12:31 pm

to the person that posted this topic: thanks.
I agree that this forum can be quite divisive at times.
perhaps this is a due to the polarizing effects of the present
leadership (or lack of) that is present in the country today.
These are polarizing times, you might say. Having said that,
I wanted to mention that I myself have contributed to some of the
negativity circulating here, and of this fact I am not that proud.
Also, there seems to be a select few individuals who like to swim around
in these pools (so to speak) and attack people with whom they disagree.
Time and time again this seems to be the case, and these sharks are usually
found in the shallow waters. So be careful. If they attack you, realize that they
need help, and love, and while you are not expected to provide this to them, you can
also help by not stooping down to their level, going for their bait, and getting caught
up in their malicious games. Don't feed the trolls/sharks, and maybe they will
move on. But don't hold your breath waiting for their good side to spring forth.
thanks again. As one man once stated: "If you get down and quarrel in a negative way,
you are making prayers to the devil I say."

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Posted by Dave
a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2007 at 1:09 pm

People who want to read only what they agree with anyway and are reluctant to encounter views about controversial issues they might disagree with, should join the Bush administration, where one is allowed to express only what the boss wants to hear.

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Posted by Winnie the Pooh
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 15, 2007 at 1:28 pm

"The beginning of thought is in disagreement - not only with others but also with ourselves"
Eric Hoffer

There's to much non-directness, and parrying in this forum. Some people need to learn that strong adjectives, taken personally, are bothersome only because the recipient is troubled by them. We can choose our responses, as well as what we write. It's called "maturity".

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 15, 2007 at 2:32 pm

FYI: there is a difference between exchanging ideas, dissagreement, and debate that is done
in a respectable manner, and that which is done in a disrespectful manner. Obviously, the idea here is not to quell It's about being civil, not following the herd.

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Posted by Winnie the Pooh
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 15, 2007 at 2:51 pm

Please, define what is "civil". Are you talkig about pure pablum - minus intelligent sarcasm, and the rest? Please provide an example...

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2007 at 3:07 pm

Even when advancing civility some here gratuitously toss in a Bush bash. The BDS is strong in the air around here.

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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2007 at 3:12 pm


As I'm sure you would agree, one person's "intelligent sarcasm" is another's wounding insult; and that doesn't mean the insulted person is a wimp.

We can be direct and even forceful without belittling, insulting, or baiting others. The result need not be pablum - it is debate.

My personal approach is try to err on the side of respectfulness, since it is difficult to gauge tone and intent in a anonymous posting. And who knows - I might be dead wrong about something, so I can at least be polite about it! I think it is worth a try. We can also go back to being nasty if the debate fails.


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Posted by Winnie the Pooh
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 16, 2007 at 8:11 am


All too often, debates begin in respectful manner, but then descend into a series of recriminations around issues regarding the facts, as participants go on the attack as they question the essential motives of those in disagreement.

What we're dealing with is something that social psychologists call 'naive realism'; it's a rather universal element of cultural cognition that defines itself as an inability to see how the cultural (including microcultural) differences in experiences can shape a perception - even around seemingly obvious facts.

Palo Altans are no different than anyone else in this respect.

Given the higher general level of education here, in addition to the fact that this place is filled with overachievers (not a bad thing, depending on the situation), it's no surprise that debate can get weighed down with questioning ad nauseum and ad infinitum around facts, which then get transferred to questioning general motives.

So, where does that leave us? Erring on the side of respectfulness is one way to deal with this, but that doesn't change the fact that naive realism is always at work, even around your efforts to err in the way you describe.

In all, debate can be considered to be about two things, with those things about where the debate takes place.

Persuasion and power are two ingredients of debate. There is a real power derived if one can persuade, or even go so far as to destroy the argument of an opponent, piece by piece. Personally, I've always enjoyed that - even when I'm at the receiving end - because I can learn something (however difficult that may be, depending on how merciful, or merciless, my oppoinent has been) :)

There are no definitive answers to all of this. 'Difference' is what drives perception (figure-ground). There are differences in style, and differences in perception. It's hard to judge the 'other' in any absolute way.

All we can do is muddle through, and not let ourselves get into a place where - no matter our personal style, or perception - we take ourselves too seriously. Why? Because in the end, we need each other's perceptions to form our own, especially those we disagree with, no matter how violently.

So, we need each other, and we repel each other. There's something wonderfully universal about that. There's a kind of comfort in it.

In all, when you come right down to it - no matter the extremity of an argument - one must hang in there. Even an insult, if parried well, can be the spark that creates a bond that would otherwise not have existed. Some of the best friendships come out of relationships that started off on a rocky road. We just have to hang in there.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Green Acres
on May 16, 2007 at 8:58 am

Well said Pooh Bear

Thanks for the comments/words of wisdom

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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2007 at 9:05 am

Thank you WTP, that is an interesting post. Maybe the occasional biting comment will spark a bond - it seems more often, though, to spark a bite back! Given these innate differences in perception you point out (and difficulties in really understanding each other), being respectful still seems very helpful. Besides, I just prefer not to hurt other people's feelings.


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Posted by Winnie The Pooh
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 17, 2007 at 1:57 pm

Fred, just so you know, recent research indicates that those with elevated testosterone levels actually derive pleasure from barely distinguishable facial expression that indicates anger in another. Some things are hard-wired; we have to recognize that, and keep on trying to communicate - hurt feelings or not.

In fact, it seems the best way to overcome this is to absolutely not respond in kind to an insult, ever. (though it sure does feel good, if your testosterone levels are elevated).

It also turns out that those (men and women, both) who have lower levels of testosterone find these barely minimal displays of anger off-putting.

gee, we're closer to the chimps that we thought, eh?

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Posted by Phil
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2007 at 2:44 am

For me, if there is a lot of what I consider rude or uncivil prose on a discussion thread, then I will not participate in that thread.

I suspect that there are other Palo Alto Online readers who behave the same way.

I don't think that means that I have lost interest in communicating about local issues with my neighbors, it just means that I won't attempt to do so in the Palo Alto Online Town Square forum.

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Posted by Me, too!
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2007 at 7:19 am

Right on, Phil!!

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Difference
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2007 at 10:19 am

But Phil, and "Me, Too!", here you are, anyway. Welcome! We all delight in difference here. This a wonderful place, after all!

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 19, 2007 at 3:36 am

Yes, I feel that that the discussion on this thread has been generally civil and I am happy to participate and share my perspective on a topic of interest to me in such an environment.

Like this comment
Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2007 at 6:03 am

Resident, there is some forum software that emails participants when a comment is posted. I haven't seen any that emails on just visits. PAOnline could upgrade to the former. If they do, I suggest the type that emails once and then not again until the recipient has visited the thread to read a new comment, so that 12 comments don't produce tweve emails.

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Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on May 20, 2007 at 10:30 am

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

Town Square does offer a version of that service, but you must be a registered user. Once you've registered as a user and you then post a comment, you are given the option of having an e-mail sent to you when new posts are made to that thread.

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 20, 2007 at 11:06 am


Fascinating post--I have to say the sophistication of it combined with your nom de cyber is pretty funny.


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