I Don’t Drink

Jan 23

During the early 1990s, the principal of the Lower School at Marsden–a horrible private girls’ school to which I was forcibly sent for eight painful years–was a woman called Mrs Leach. I remembered her insulting a girl in my class once for “only ever looking out for number one” and not considering others, and then (it could not have been more than a week later) berating someone else for not minding her own business. “Look out for number one!” she had shrieked in front of the entire school assembly. Even at the age of nine I had been able to see the condradiction. I wasn’t sure, however, in which instance she had been right.

At twenty-five, I think she was right the second time.

One needn’t be consistently loud in order to maintain an independent, intelligent opinion. Quite a few people appear to believe that if one does not make one’s opinion (especially one’s disagreements) luridly clear in public, whenever possible, that one must be an agreeable “sheep”, or perhaps have no opinion at all.

Routinely, I disagree with people I respect. I disagree with people I love. I’ve had differing opinions on swimming with my father, and I regard him as the best coach I’ve ever had. My ideas on the limits of acceptable SEO practices sometimes differ from those of Kate Morris and Rob Kerry, both of whom are highly competent professionals. Some time around the last U.S. presidential election, I realised how pointless and damaging it was to regard party politics as important when it came to my friends.

However, most importantly, I learned that it’s not polite, nor necessary, to point out disagreements in public, as if crudely spray-painting them on a conveniently located wall, especially if the person with whom one disagrees is a respected friend. The point at which I knew this to be true was when a good friend of mine left a snide comment on something I cared about… the opinion was valid, but its public nature and unpleasant tone made me wish we were more private and respectful with our opinions when the subjects are close to us. We all have email accounts, telephones and even local pubs in which to maintain rational relationships and debates. Why must being quiet equate to being devoid of independence?

Of late, I can only recall publicly disagreeing with someone once. I don’t even find it satisfying. Even the following private messages–some from strangers–who agreed with me, didn’t really matter. I could have held as true to my beliefs if I’d maintained my silence, and in the end, I didn’t change anything.

Be polite and respectful both in public and private. Because I avoid publicly humiliating people I care about, it doesn’t mean I think they’re always right. Most of you appear to have let your Twitter accounts and blogs, and the comment section of other people’s websites, convince you that a person’s silence equates to the lack of an opinion, especially one of dissent.

And ponder this beautiful irony (one of many stumbled across of late). On each side of every debate, every clique, every disagreement and every set of beliefs, people claim that their opposing numbers are drinking the opposing team’s Kool-Aid. Next time it seems apt to accuse somebody of such consumption, consider whether the problem is actually that the person isn’t drinking yours.

11 Responses to “I Don’t Drink”

  1. rishil says:

    it is a fine line at times isn it? Especially with online friendships. Its difficult to decide sometimes who says waht, or to differentiate between real friends and just web friends.

    Although i try to stay out of it, sometimes I just find it too difficult not to voice an opinion.

  2. Michael VanDeMar says:

    I am not known for biting my tongue on issues, especially if I feel that other people are getting hurt. My best friend, however, absolutely refuses to publicly support me most times when I speak out, even insofar as hitting the Up button on social media websites. She simply will not do it. It hurts a little sometimes when she stays out of things and won’t back me (which she usually does even if she agrees with me), but I absolutely 100% respect her desire to do so.

    I have to, she’s my best friend. I’d be lost without her. :)

    There are many people with very strong opinions out there, and many, many more with a mob like mentality that will wind up taking one side or another if a disagreement turns into more. It can turn ugly fast. Being involved in something like that, even if you truly believe in the side of the argument you are on, can often screw with your emotions, even make you physically sick. No one, I don’t care who they are or what they mean to you, has the right to try and force you into either choosing sides or berate you for not jumping into the argument. Period.

    Hang in there. :)

  3. Jane says:

    Thanks Michael,

    I certainly appreciate the idea that it’s a personal choice whether or not to speak out at any time. Having thought about this for a few months, I decided this morning to delete my Twitter account entirely… A few people appear to believe that their interactions with me on there are the reason, and although every interaction I’ve had on there contributes to my leaving, I can honestly say that the idea first seemed like a good one many months ago.

    I’ve got nothing to say that the world needs to hear: the opinion is as valid in my own head than it is out there for all to see. In addition, I’ve had some atrocious things said to and about me (not this morning) on Twitter. Having removed these people’s access to me, they can’t hurt me anymore. I left the U.S. to get away from some of them; why should they be allowed into my life now?

    Why should I take part in a community where someone can call me a “ho” and a “dog”? Why didn’t I leave once that became what Twitter was for?

    Since it’s my birthday (I know, I’m just dropping that in there…), I figured, what better time to make a fresh start? I quite simply can’t believe I didn’t exit stage left earlier! Here’s to a private, peaceful 2010.

  4. Michael VanDeMar says:

    Happy Birthday! :)


  5. says:

    Sad to see you withdraw from twitter but if you were getting called names like that I don’t blame you. I fully agree with you when it comes to personal stuff (thats why i dont bother with facebook “collect em all” friendships) but I’m also a firm believer that progress and understanding arises from contradictions being played out to their conclusions. I guess I apply that to SEO in terms of understanding how things work (ie disagreements are good) and try to keep it in a work context. A belated happy birthday and I hope you dont disappear entirely!

  6. Jane says:

    I agree with you about progress and understanding; I like to think I’ve just removed myself from the forum where the discourse was neither professional nor progressive. How are comments like “I present to you the biggest morons on the web [link]” okay? Said about two minutes ago by an account I visited to cite unpleasant Twitter dialogue :)

    Most certainly not planning on disappearing completely; just backing off enough to not stand directly in the line of social fire.

  7. says:

    You can’t make a wrong decision when it’s based on your values. I forget where I heard this, but it’s true.

    I’m sad to learn of your reduction in participating in and retraction from the (social) online community. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing when I first learned of you, as a new SEOmoz reader, a few years ago. Too bad the bastards got you down. At any rate, it seems that the Golden Rule (which is a fantastic rule on the positive side) has been long forgotten and the preference for airing disputes, publicly, for all to see is perceived as a credibility builder. Though that depends on one’s point of view.

    Happy Birthday!

  8. Jane says:

    Marshall, thank you so much for the comment. Indeed, it’s a shame I feel the need to do this, and I’ll likely come back a bit one day, but definitely looking forward to some peace for now :D


  9. Kalena says:

    I came here straight after finding both your Twitter accounts deleted and seeking a reason – thanks for the explanation, was a little worried!

    Love the story about Mrs Leach, talk about nominal determinism. Sorry I missed your birthday, hope you did something outrageous. I happened to be at Oriental Bay that day. Coincidence?

    Enjoy the silence and the troll-free clean feed ;-)

  10. Jane says:

    Ooh, haha, sorry to worry you Kalena! More coincidence: one of my birthday presents is a canvas print of Oriental Bay :)

  11. Mark says:

    So, it went like this.

    I upped my swimming regime to every single day over the last few weeks, I even bought this book http://bit.ly/aX3c0S to help me improve my technique. Alas, I am still being decimated by the overly chirpy Australian tri-athlete who frequents the pool at the same time as me.

    I tried to comfort myself by remembering I’m an SEO – how well can I be expected to swim. Then, I was like ZOMGFRICK. Jane Copland’s and SEO and she’s an elite swimmer.

    IT THEN STUCK ME. I hadn’t seen any swim related tweets for months. This is the story of how I noticed you weren’t on Twitter anymore.

    Maybe see you at SMX and pick up some advice on male swimwear.

Leave a Reply