Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Day Vandals Wrecked Chowhound

Late in the painful saga of hosting a web forum for nearly a million people without any resources, a horde of strangers stopped by one day to add to our pressures and woes.

Several hundred random vandals blitzed our message boards with smart-aleck comments for a few minutes and were gone. Imagine a crowd of kids bursting into your home with spray paint cans. And imagine the aftermath, as you painstakingly remove the damage.

It was really painstaking. Our software offered no modern deletion system; postings had to be nuked manually one-by-one. If we worked too quickly, it could corrupt the database. So we set to work sloooowly deleting several hundred garbage postings.

Our volunteer moderators - busy people with real lives - treated this like a biblical plague, with much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. For my part, I regretted imposing this extra work (keeping their job loose and fun was my job), but I could view the situation in two ways.

Bugs Bunny was constantly annoying the bejesus out of Elmer Fudd (even when the latter wasn't wabbit hunting). The Marx Brothers kept crashing parties of stuck-up rich lady Margaret Dumont, interrupting her warbly arias and taunting her and her stuffy friends. I loved both. I love it when giddy tricksters collide with self-seriousness. I subscribe to the "keep it light" credo even while at my most serious. Elmer may not have had many days off to enjoy west and wewaxation, but I never considered that. I applauded Bug's efforts to disrupt his twanquility, however sadistic they might have actually been.

As I helped scrape away the garbage postings, I found a lot of them funny. We were an awfully self-serious bunch, oblivious in our warren of foody foodtalk, obsessing - at first ironically, but eventually not-so-much - over yum-yums which, in the scheme of things, maybe weren't the most important thing in the world. And though I'd sweated blood to keep it running, and these people were wrecking the joint and upsetting my crew, I could nonetheless adopt their point of view; their framing of us, and even of me.

I couldn't hold both views at the same time, however. Perspectives are monogamous in a given moment, though they can be flipped sequentially. Each framing felt enormously different. In fact, the entire world felt completely different when I was 1. chuckling at the wisecracks and viewing Chowhound as slightly Margaret Dumontian, or 2. lamenting the heartless defacement of my labor of love. The flip - back and forth, like the two choices of an optical illusion - was instant and effortless because I'd chosen to loosen the reigns and to opt out of the impulse to freeze perspective on the viewpoint I DAMN WELL HAD EVERY DAMNED REASON TO....blah-blah-huffy-blah. Even at the meta level - framing my framing choices - I was more of a free-wheeling Bugs than a tightly-wound Elmer.

Just because the current movie plot appears to call for a certain scene doesn't mean you need to play that scene (realizing this once may have saved my life). You're the screenwriter. You write the script. You get to choose what kind of movie this is. Try something different! Try loving red lights! Or per the video embedded in that link, try framing an insufferable sound as beautiful music.

You needn't play out a sad scene just because someone just said or did something that correlates (in your mental database of social consensus...or of previous conditioning, aka trauma) as sad - "They're messing with my web site! Cue fury and stress!" You can be creative. 

This posting has offered an example of reframing, and of how we're always free to do so but mostly choose not to (and, over time, forget we even have the option). It should be obvious that a lithe, flexible willingness to reframe is helpful and happiness-causing, whereas frozen perspective makes life a tedious torture.

It should also be obvious that a playful pliancy of perspective (PPP!) can really piss people off (the other moderators, understandably, absolutely did not think the vandalism was THE LEAST BIT FUNNY). So be careful out there. Don't get crucified!


Adam said...

Not sure if this fits, but. . . I represent people in municipal court for traffic tickets. It isn't life or death but decisions one way or another mount up to hundreds of dollars in fines and more in insurance. That said, I'm regularly tugged in both directions when court staff, another attorney, or a judge injects some humor into the proceedings. I understand folks wanting a little levity at work (I'd love it) but I also have clients who hired me at some expense and will end up owing a chunk of change to a town.

Jim Leff said...

Yes, absolutely. Though I’m worried about giving the misimpression that framing is always a dichotomy of “funny” vs “serious”. But it’s such a familiar one, and so stark (try to bridge both at once...you can’t).

My suggestion is next time you experience this (or any other) ambivalence between two available framings, PLAY with it (like you might with an optical illusion). See how fast you can flip. And see how different the REST of your world (inner and outer) feels in one frame versus the other.

Such playing will serve you well in situations where you can’t find a way out. Unfreeze your perspective and you’re free. As we sow, so do we reap.

Display Name said...

Jim I read a site called wisebread and they ran an article on how to find good prices on quality plus sized clothing for woman. They had to take the article down for a bit because a group made some very unkind comments. Eventually they did run it again but this situation made me sad. I had my own crash course a few years ago. It was my birthday and my dog we just found out had not very long to live. There was an ice storm and my friend and I had just sat down to eat a homemade pizza about seven pm. My beloved dog was on my lap and we had a heat fan close by so the doggie would be comfy. Well the lights kept flicking on and off literally eight times. Each time they winked on I felt joy and relief and gratitude for about a minute until the house went dark yet again. Then the lights went out for good until mid afternoon the next day. It was early march so not exactly balmy. We ate our pizza and went to bed. The next day I found out the on and off lights had happened to everyone. Worst birthday so far but I did experience the flipping perspective from joy to helplessness very quickly like turning pages in a book.

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