“I picture the group of us sitting cross-legged around a low table in a cozy room, sipping tea, while I answer your questions about karate.”
When I first read these words of Gichin Funakoshi as a seventeen year old dipping into Karate Do Nyumon for the first time, I found them incredibly corny. An amusing conceit. Now I am older and perhaps a little bit wiser I’ve returned to them wondering if there isn’t a pearl of wisdom in maintaining this illusion.
The online world of social media and forums can be a mad, paranoia-riven and bitter environment. The written word can be a beautiful tool for understanding subjects and each other better, but language enables us both to obfuscate and elucidate. We can convey, hide or misinterpret emotion, especially when flat text can simply hold a mirror to the reader’s mood rather than indicating the intent of the author.
I have been guilty of being overly terse in my online conversations.
Usually it has been because I have been exhausted and then emotionally tried by being asked to explain again something that I have previously outlined many times. In a manner of speaking, I have unintentionally snapped like a weary parent at the innocent provocation of a child rather than taken a breath, waited until I am in a better mood and fresh, and treated the questioner as I would a friend or student. On one occasion I can recall finally losing patience with an individual I knew online that had a reputation amongst other instructors I know, for being a bit of a dick. I decided to mirror back to them in my responses the way they behaved towards others online. Within a few hours they unfriended and blocked me. It was not a mature thing for me to do, but their response to my ‘mirror’ did indicate how unpalatable their own behaviour was.
It is easy to mistake intent online. We only experience a part of the whole. No matter how many emojis are used we can misread tone. We won’t see all the context for a demonstration. It’s easy for people to alienate others or to look a fool. We’ve all seen people react so adversely to online content that we’ve had to wonder how they even function in normal life. Many have an online knee jerk reaction and lack of tolerance to differences that they simply would not have in a face-to-face interaction.
I think Funakoshi’s illusion is a useful one. When I watch a video or read a text, I think it is helpful to imagine the author or presenter as a person in my actual presence, in my dojo or at a table, talking to me. From the start I understand that even if the subject is serious, the tone is light. I can imagine a smile on the other person’s face. Even if I think they may be poking fun at me I can choose to treat the intent as friendly. The discussion is to educate, not incriminate or belittle. The discussion isn’t personal either, I’m not so conceited to jump to the conclusion that everything I see online is about me. I deliberately don’t write about individuals or styles; I write about ideas and techniques and training methods.
So picture those online as round a table with you, some drinks to hand, some snacks available. Imagine the intent to be good. There will always be some that take things too personally or misconstrue intent, but that doesn’t have to be you or me.