Empathy and Debate

Another entry for the annual award for “most difficult-to-write post”. When really it could be so simple. A man writes an essay. He puts it out for the world to see, and by doing so, he knows – and expects, if not invites – that there will be reaction to it. Why then, I have to ask myself, is it so difficult for me to write a response? Especially when it started so well.

Upon first reading Richard Armitage’s piece entitled “Forgiveness and Intention” for Cybersmile on Friday, my gut reaction is positive. Armitage expands on his mantra of ‘empathy empathy empathy’ in a smooth text, nicely composed, and written with an obvious effort to encourage positivity and discourage negativity. I particularly like that he anchored his text in his own, tangible experiences as an actor, for whom empathy is a tool for understanding – and inhabiting – the characters he plays. There is a good reason why role-playing is often used in school, in therapy, or in conflict-resolution: By literally forcing ourselves into someone else’s shoes, we learn to see the world or an issue through their eyes. Actors do this every day – and may understand the benefits of empathy better than others. As an actor and a professional practitioner of an empathetic approach, Armitage has a certain authority then, to promote empathy as a tool for harmonious communication, and he uses this authority very effectively in his text.

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Useful tool

He raises a number of interesting points in the piece, e.g. the notion of consciously disregarding one’s prejudices – or “leaving oneself alone”, as he calls it – in order to approach other opinions without preconceived ideas. Again, possibly a tool he uses on a daily basis when tasked with portraying controversial characters such as a serial killer, a fascist assassin, or a ruthless mercenary. And in the same vein, he addresses the related issue of “intent”, again, (in my reading) the applying of an already consolidated belief that one’s own opinion is the only acceptable/valid one, which effectively prevents empathy and/or debate.

In all this he cleverly includes himself in the implied criticism of common behavioural patterns. He uses the first person plural when he makes general statements (‘we’) and thus does not place himself judge-like or divinely above the “sinners”. He implies he is one of us – and that gives his arguments more clout. He speaks from experience. Yet he does not shy away from prescriptive demands – “we must consider other persons’ feelings before we express our own, [we must] consider how our words wound”, which is an attempt at being explicit about the behaviour he himself expects. And he ends on a clear appeal – “never underestimate your words” – cleverly connecting it to universally accepted values that characterise a democratic society, like harmony, tolerance, balance (I suppose he means something like “moderation”?) and forgiveness.

What is not to like? This is a textbook plea for values that we all strive for and can easily support, and it is written passionately, committedly, competently, coherently and cleverly, addressing problems, offering approaches, and including personal observations. It aims to be constructive, rather than destructive, appealing to the power of the individual to make a change, and I like that approach. Personally speaking, he really pushes all the buttons for me. I believe in empathy, in tolerance, in in dubio pro reo, in free speech, in mutual respect, considerate behaviour and in democracy. And interestingly, some of Armitage’s arguments actually proved themselves true for me, in the practice of reading the piece. I found Armitage’s reference to the notion of “leaving oneself alone” validated by the fact that I had come to the piece expecting the worst. (The voice in my head was nagging me with the expectation that the text might be based on his own reading of the reactions to his tweet/delete behaviour – and I dreaded a preachy sermon that would make me feel bad about being critical of his tweet/delete pattern on Twitter.) Despite this preconceived notion, I was positively surprised by the text. Good outcome.

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Note to self: Avoid cutting remarks

I had a few more critical words written. Well, 2000 in total, in fact, fine-tuned over 9 drafts to a final version, including words like “failures”, “fault”, “not far-reaching enough”, yet littered with phrases that would indicate my own failings and shortcomings and ending on a massive, defensive explanation that my criticism was not to be seen as an attack but an attempt at honouring the thought-process and essay of the author with a critical analysis. Call it #EmpathyInAction. And yet it did not feel right to press “publish” last night and I decided to sleep over it before I put my opinion out there. In the half-hour between going to bed and falling asleep, it came to me. My expectations were wrong and my criticism unfair. I think he is on to something with his “leaving yourself alone” theory.

I had to remind myself that Armitage’s essay is not a text by a linguist or a therapist who are professionals in identifying the pitfalls of human communication. It is written by a non-professional whose job as an actor has given him insights into the usefulness of certain tools. With his text, he wants to share what he finds helpful when it comes to negotiating electronic communication. As such, the text stays safe and general – I read it more as a general manifesto on human interaction, than a specific directive on cyberbullying prevention. And that is fine. I don’t think it is fair to expect him to do any more than that – Cybersmile Ambassador or not – and the piece works well enough as a contribution to the issue.

But fwiw, my difficulty with formulating a response is mainly down to two things (and I’ll try and write this as considerately as I can). I am confused as to the exact target group of the text. Is this aimed at victims of cyberbullying, i.e. the supposed readership of a blog/website such as Cybersmile; or is it aimed at everybody who is interested in electronic communication? Secondly, and more or less following from my problems with identifying the target group, I am not entirely clear on the purpose of the text. Is its goal to help victims of cyberbullying, or is it a general plea for a more considered way of communicating? To me, readership and objective of the text are important in order to understand the nuances of the intended message – and whether I am directly addressed.

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Happy to be on-board

When it comes to the much invoked tool “empathy”, I am onboard with that. Words are indeed powerful weapons, and cyberbullying is a problem that needs individual reflection and action in order to be eradicated. Like Armitage, I believe in positive re-enforcement, in leading by example, in championing positive values. But it has to be made clear that there is a distinction between wilful verbal warfare (as in cyberbullying) and healthy debate. And that empathy is not synonymous with blanket agreement. I believe in the diversity of opinion and the benefit of open dialogue, as those are the most effective weapons against the radicalism and scaremongering cited by Armitage.

But as a former victim of bullying myself (not in the online world, but in the workplace), I wish some details had been clarified a bit more. For instance, I feel that empathy is only a tool to prevent potential bullying, but not a defence against already existing bullying. In my experience, victims of bullying need to take other action (e.g. address the issue, identify the bullying behaviour, call out bullies on their behaviour, look for allies, and first and foremost stop blaming themselves and ask for help), and empathy may lead to a spiral of self-doubt and loss of self, with grave implications for mental and physical health.

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Blanket approval: I really really like this chap

I don’t think empathy is an all-round magic weapon. It has its limits because I can never *fully* grasp where another person’s point of view is coming from. All of this is extremely complex – that is the crux and the beauty of interpersonal communication. It is impossible to fully anticipate the reactions, or to understand the intentions, of others. We can only *try* to imagine how our words *could* be received by others, and then take precautions to prevent misunderstandings. And equally, we can *try* to understand the intent of a text with the in dubio pro reo principle in mind. But in that sense, empathy is a first step.

It is to Richard’s credit that he has chosen this difficult topic to champion. He seems conscious of the problems that are inherent to electronic communication, and feels strongly enough about the topic to make his voice heard. This sense of mission is exactly what I appreciate in others, even if I may not always agree with their solutions. It can never be wrong to create awareness, and I appreciate that he is putting himself out there to do just that. I hope we can have empathetic discussions about his choices and opinions without stifling debate or resorting to cyberbullying.

 

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127 thoughts on “Empathy and Debate

  1. Guylty, I had an epiphany tonight while on my break at work because RA’s message was not “leaving me alone”. 😕 Something had been nagging me since I read his message and it was more than “empathy” and “expections”. I too came to the same conclusion. Who was his intended audience and what was the goal of his message? How would a younger person perceive his message compared to an adult? As an adult, I have gotten wiser handling things and when not to waste my time. Kinda like – garbage in, garbage out. As adults we can look back and think of our younger selves and laugh or cringe over our reactions. How many times when we were younger did we ignore the good intentions of the adults in our lives?

    As with his themes of expectations, empathy, and forgiveness, I felt his message was too broad. I would have liked for him to narrow the broadness and be more specific.

    Great job BTW

    Carolyn

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    • Tbh, I had the same reaction to his Cybersmile piece last year, too. I feel strongly about the topic – as someone who is very active in Social Media, as a fan who is interested in what RA says, and not least as someone who has had unfortunate experience with bullying. But I could not shake the feeling that maybe I am not the intended recipient of the message – and therefore I am going off on the wrong tangent in my response?
      I think you raise a valid point – life experience helps when dealing with difficult advice/situations. Nonetheless, being specific is always good if you want a message to be effective.

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      • This is something that has never been clarified and I don’t know anything about his “other” audiences beyond us. But this text was not written in a way gauged to appeal to a teen audience, in my opinion, even if that is what CyberSmile wants. But I have this nagging suspicion given my observations about how CyberSmile operates that they said, “just write anything, Richard,” because what really matters to them is how much traffic they can measure on their site.

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        • That attitude doesn’t shock me – but I (sort of) work in PR/Marketing, so I am cynical about that. Let’s face it – why do charitable organisations have celebrity ambassadors? To widen their reach. To have a figurehead that attracts people to their cause. I have no idea whether they vet their celebrity ambassadors and whether they brief them. I would hope there is a balance between original thought from the ambassador and input from the charity.

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    • Did the reference to a psychologist put you off, or the things that happened in the couple of days prior? Both understandable. I don’t think that the text is necessarily required reading.

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      • I just find his writings a bit too preachy. Also, I’m someone who needs something to grab my attention in the first few lines for me to continue reading. That didn’t happen

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        • Not trying to switch on APM here, but I suspect any missive on a charitable cause will veer into preaching. “We must…”, “be good”, “play nicely”. I felt it was acceptable here because he included himself in the demands. It was a speech from a soapbox, not a pulpit. But agreed, the text could be more exciting, especially if it is targeted at a younger audience. As an old fogey, I felt it had the appropriate amount of gravitas for me. Quite possible that younger readers feel different – which brings me back to the whole target audience conundrum.

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        • Agree, and there are more things he could do to combat this problem, although it wasn’t as bad as it has been in the past.

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  2. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this message…it’s certainly more composed and less stream of thought, and for the intended forum, I appreciate that.

    Like many others, I don’t question the intent of the message at all…I think that his intent is almost always positive. Your question as to the intended audience is one that I had too. Full on bullies are rarely moved to empathy, and potential victims may operate under an excessive load, and this can be a volatile combination.

    I think where you point out that the validity of this message varies widely based on the point in a cycle of bullying that one is at is extremely important. As a generally proactive stance, I think empathy can be a useful tool, but if one is already being bullied? An exhortation to “turn the other cheek” might only serve to prolong the agony.

    IDK…I suppose my basic misgivings go back to Cybersmile itself and it’s weaknesses in terms of clearly defining its target. As much I seek positivity in my online life, I don’t think it alone is the solution to a very complex problem in the long run.

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    • You have a good point, as did Guylty, that the target of the audience is murky, and I would add that the essay didn’t seem to directly relate to what I think Cybersmile’s mission is ( if one can define even define it.) His message seemed pointed at behavior in general, and not necessarily on social media.

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      • That’s exactly how I felt, Perry – I thought the text eventually veered off point and became more a general manifesto on peaceful coexistence in society than geared specifically at resolving cyberbullying. But then again – is that because we interpret the text to apply to *our* situation?

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        • No, I don’t think so. If I can empathize with younger tweeps and put myself in their shoes, I wouldn’t necessarily get anything too specific about cyberbullying in what he wrote. 🙂

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    • I would actually love to see Cybersmile themselves pick up where RA has left of: Expand on his suggestions, back them up with specific guidelines on how to battle cyberbullying or how to liberate oneself from a vicious bullying cycle, put RA’s ideas such as ’empathy’ into context, possibly even prove the validity of the suggestions by citing research and/or case studies. RA has created the awareness – now, ideally, the charity itself should take over and exploit the attention. That would be a useful cooperation imo.

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    • I haven’t raised any interpretive critiques of authorial intent here, because I suspect most people would roll their eyes, but I wonder why so many people (not saying you are doing this) give him a pass on the “well he meant well” issue.

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      • I think he’s given a pass on the “meant well issue” because of the fan dynamics and divisions outlined in parts of Obscura’s post. https://ancientarmitage.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/verbum-latinum-hodie-non-intelligere-populo/ I know I considered, when I wrote, that there is a base of fans who can’t abide any criticism of Richard Armitage, and while I hoped to spark some discussion, I wasn’t looking for any battles. One thing I notice from reading all the blogs and comments about the essay is that there has been very little – almost no-feedback from the support and defend section of the fandom on these posts, or even from more moderates, yet my stats tell me people are reading.

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        • I have noticed that silence, too, but I think it is hard to come out as a “dissenter” – whether it is the proponents of critical analysis on a blog that is “positive only”, or vice versa. Maybe it’s a sign of peaceful coexistence?

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          • I dunno. I seem to experience plenty of dissent on my blog around (for example) the photo issue without too much trouble.

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  3. Wonderful post, Guylty. I appreciated your interpretation and connection between Richard Armitage’s suggestion ” to leave oneself alone” and the voices in your head ( and mine) that gave me low expectations about what he might write. I also agree that who is target audience, is unclear. Also, your perception that empathy is useful to avoid bullying, so not much to defend against bullying, makes a lot os sense. And finally, that overall, he did a good job in a nice piece that seemed to promote tolerance and “positivity.”

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    • I’m glad to hear I am not the only one who occasionally goes into a text as a “doubting Thomas”. It’s a sort of (occasional) negativity that I do not particularly like about myself, therefore RA’s pointing out the connection between negativity and expectation was uncomfortable, revealing and interesting.
      My response is predictable, I guess, in that I am rarely all-out against something but prefer to look for the positives in everything – hence my overall positive reaction to the piece, despite some details that I find problematic. He’s chosen quite a difficult issue to champion, though – as Unicef ambassador, for instance, he’d be dealing with a much more clear-cut cause. I appreciate that.

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      • I wouldn’t call that negativity. That’s a normal interpretative attitude. “Cui bono?” should be the first question any reader asks of a text that is meant to persuade, IMO.

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          • I don’t know how that would be possible. We all have prejudices; we can enumerate them and think about how they affect our perception of something and that is a highly useful process. Even so the text is seeking to lie to the reader for the purposes of persuasion. All (persuasive and descriptive) texts lie. Why would we approach it without prejudice?

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                • If that is so, then there is no right and wrong, no good and bad, and anarchism rules. I don’t believe that. there is no 100% objectivity, but there is the attempt at judging fairly, with consideration of all sides. Again, an idealism. But it’s the ideal that society is built on.

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                  • I don’t disagree that there is (for instance) a “more fair” and a “less fair,” or we wouldn’t need a judicial system. But we create the rules for those categories ourselves anyway. There’s a useful diagram that I sometimes use in class to talk about categories of informed opinions: https://www.cse.buffalo.edu/~rapaport/perry.positions.html , I feel like many of the discussions we have in fandom take place at A or B (“there is a correct interpretation and it is based on principles that should be obvious to everyone, so if you don’t get it, there’s something wrong [with you]” or “you can think whatever you like, it’s all relative.”) Useful knowledge of or evaluation of anything including a text requires C at a minimum, and the only way to get there is through weighing options, debate, arguing with oneself, etc. Communities are constituted through this process of evaluation.

                    To me, looking at a text from the beginning “without prejudice” means essentially that the reader says, “the rules of interpretation in our community are already known and “fairness” is chief among them.” I would never advise a reader to do that because it involves legitimating a non-challenge to one’s own prejudices. “Cui bono” is not a perfect question but it does point out immediately that all texts are perspectival. We can decide, for instance, that a text is altruistic in nature or “well meant” or whatever. But I think we have to acknowledge that those positions are in themselves self-interested.

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  4. I really like your Empathy and Debate post and I also really enjoyed reading Mr. Armitage’s essay for Cybersmile. As a fan I love any little glimpse into his own writing and thoughts. Going from what I can see of what charities he spends his energies on I personally believe his Cybersmile essay is directed mainly to children and young people (as well as him being very aware that his fans of all ages will also be reading it). I felt you were right on with the lines “I feel that empathy is only a tool to prevent potential bullying, but not a defence against already existing bullying.” and “empathy may lead to a spiral of self-doubt and loss of self” .But, as you say, if I am to be empathetic to RA in his role as a Cybersmile Ambassador and not as a “linguist or a therapist” who can solve the world’s problems in an essay then I think his essay was great. I too had “had come to the piece expecting the worst” as I was one who was extremely annoyed with him regarding deleted tweets recently but never for a minute did I not greatly respect and admire him as a person, an actor and an incredibly hot middle aged guy who is going to live out my rock star fantasy in his next movie!

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    • See, that was my dilemma – judging by the blog the piece was posted on, the primary audience is victims of bullying (possibly also their parents/friends). But the piece itself to me felt to be addressed to a more general audience. As I said – I understand that Armitage is not a bullying expert; he is the figurehead of the cause and adds his voice to the discussion. In a way, it is good that he is not pretending to be an expert. But I wish Cybersmile themselves would expand on his ideas – not just with a link list but with a qualified counsellor who picks up Armitage’s thoughts and puts them into a practical, applicable context.

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      • That is a really great idea! It would be incredibly useful and so far it is a missed opportunity for them to do some concrete good. Too bad they don’t think of that.

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  5. I just knew your response would be worth reading. 🙂
    You come at this from a different angle, as Perry points out above, and that’s cool!
    You know, I had to read Richard’s message a few times before I thought I had somewhat a grasp on what I think he means to say. And yes, come to think of it, thanks to what you write here, it probably has to do with the fact that the audience isn’t clear and that maybe he is trying to say too much at once in very general terms. I have (luckily) never been the victim of bullying (teasing and pestering yes, bullying no), so what you say about empathy being a tool to prevent bullying feels very poignant to me. Thanks for highlighting that.
    Like you, I think it’s wonderful that Richard is trying to create awareness. And with his fans discussing the topic so intently, it looks like it’s working. So, even if what he writes may all feel a little muddled and unclear: well done, Richard! 🙂
    .

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    • That was something I was wondering, too, Esther – is he trying to fit too much into the text, which forces him to be more general? Maybe less is more? Or maybe it is a case of a text developing dynamics of its own. (And that is actually a phenomenon that I very often deal with in my own work – and I write for a living…)
      BTW, I failed to point out that being a bullying victim does not make me an expert on the topic. Come to think of it, I probably touch the topic with a bargepole, if I were asked to write about it in professional capacity.

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  6. Pingback: Empathicalism part two | The Book of Esther

  7. Pingback: Guylty on Armitage for Cybersmile | Me + Richard Armitage

  8. First comment: I’m glad you raised the audience issue. It was pretty clear to me after reading this that he wasn’t addressing young people (or if he was trying to, he didn’t get there). Going to reread now.

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    • I hummed and haw-ed over raising the audience issue – because it is nothing new. That was one of the problems I had with last year’s text, and apparently it isn’t resolved yet.

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    • Serv, There was something nagging me about the message and I too came to conclusion. I felt the message might not resonate with a younger audience. As one of my English teachers would say, “Who is your audience?”

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  9. Great post, Guylty. I just had a look at his piece, and I like the way he spoke from an actor’s viewpoint. Most of us are never required to empathize with a person who does evil, like a mass killer or a recruiter for ISIS. But in order to play a person like that, an actor must exercise empathy. It doesn’t mean one approves of their actions, but it is an attempt to understand them. I felt that his message was very broadly directed, to all use of social media and perhaps beyond. There are some open ends here, like why he includes “forgiveness” in the title. Understanding may not always involve forgiveness. In all, it’s a thought provoking message.

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    • Agree – I liked that he anchored his opinion very clearly in his own area of expertise, showing how you can use some of the tools that he has learnt for the purpose of acting.
      Thanks for mentioning “forgiveness” – that was a point that was slightly lost in the text. I suppose empathy and forgiveness are connected in that empathy allows you to understand another person and forgive their actions.
      Thought-provoking it is, and I see that as one of its achievements.

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    • Linnet as always fresh eyes bring even more insight.glad you reminded me of the forgiveness point as I got to the end feeling I had missed out on where he made the point. I will reread to think it over again.

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  10. The first thing I thought of when reading his message: who is he talking to? The second: should his good intentions eliminate analysis of his message? Does “He means well.” stop any criticism in it tracks? In my case, I had to go BTS to express my thoughts, because I went a bit negative in my opinion, and I didn’t want to rock the empathy boat. His writing was much improved over his last Cybersmile essay and he deserves a lot of credit for that. I just can’t figure out who he is targeting with his message. Is it his fans, or those teens or tweens being bulled or the bullies themselves? How does empathy help the person being bullied? Will a bully even read anything on a anti-bullying website? These are just a few of the questions his essay raised for me. And then, of course, I felt guilty for raising them because he is a nice guy trying to help kids. I should just leave it at that. But, I can’t.

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    • This is an interesting general social issue at the moment. I’m highly suspicious of psychology research in general, but studies are coming in on the matter of “rewarding students for making an effort,” which has been the predominant pedagogical strategy in the US for about the last 2-3 decades. The results are fairly devastating, although we have to keep in mind the tenor of this debate in the US at the moment which is swinging away from the warm and fuzzy pedagogical style in general.

      I just think, as a normal matter, we don’t typically reward adults for trying. I can’t imagine anyone has ever said to Armitage in real life, “well, you kind of bungled that performance, but you meant well.” Things are actually at stake when we speak.

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      • I have a strong opinion on the matter of “rewarding students for making an effort.” I feel it undermines students who are striving for excellence and are willing to work hard to attain it.

        You really hit the nail on the head for me when you gave the example “well, you kind of bungled that performance, but you meant well.” If you are a spokesperson (with a wide audience) then making an effort or meaning well is not enough IMO. I do feel that the essay this year was an improvement on last year.

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        • This article might interest you: http://qz.com/587811/stanford-professor-who-pioneered-praising-effort-sees-false-praise-everywhere/

          It is in my experience absolutely borne out in the classroom (although I was never one for idle praise; following my mother’s example I definitely rationed it). We’re not in a classroom here, of course, and no one is trying to teach anyone anything, but the expectation of praise is starting to have more general social effects. I am not saying Armitage expected to be praised. But I think that this dynamic plays into the question we’re examining.

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          • Butting in – I read that article a while ago, too, and thought it really made sense. Servetus, you are no doubt familiar with the German saying “Ehre, wem Ehre gebührt”, i.e. praise the praise-worthy. If overused, praise becomes inflationary and meaningless. I may lean towards praising too much (because I personally *need* positive reinforcement in order to improve/excel), but I strongly believe that differentiated feedback is the best way to give meaningful praise. Not blanket approval (unless something is 100% praise-worthy), but approval of specific elements. Not sure if that makes sense.

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            • Yes, and I think people take you more seriously if you do this as well. I remember a funny classroom moment from a few years ago when I said “that’s a really smart comment” and the student said, “really? you think I said something smart? my day is made!!” and the whole class laughed.

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              • That’s definitely a great side-effect. I am reminded of “Pride and Prejudice”, the scene when Darcy asks Elizabeth whether she approves of Pemberley. She affirms and is perplexed why he asks, and he says “But your good opinion is rarely bestowed and therefore more worth the earning.”

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            • LOL you can’t butt in – it’s your blog!

              The article made sense to me as well. It clarified for me the intent that started the trend. It’s an important difference in how I’ve seen it applied and the original goal. I am also someone who performs better with positive reinforcement.

              Thanks for a thought provoking post Guylty!

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              • Hehe, my bar, my rules – but I quite like it when conversation develops between commentators, and I don’t want to disturb that.
                Glad if you enjoyed the post – and felt encouraged to comment. Thanks!

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            • And it only really feels as praise when it is specific. It’s the difference between ‘thanks for doing that’ with the thought behind it of ‘saved me the effort,phew’ and thanks for adding value and doing something particularly well, ie something individual to YOU which shows the person really paid attention

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      • Serv, First off, thank you for having me look up a new word “pedagogical”. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s in a military family and there was no fuzzy and warm style when I was in school or home. This pedagogical strategy has been my biggest complaint as a parent with a school age child. I am so sick of hearing, “Well, I tried.” I then bring out my Yoda voice and recite, “Do, or do not, there is no try.” I then negate the “do not” part and tell him to do and he better put lots of effort to complete it. It is very frustrating for a parent when your kid asks you what he will get in return for doing something he is expected to do? I’ve told my son that going to school, doing his homework, and doing his chores are his responsibility. If he fails to do any of them then there will be consequences. This is why I didn’t like RA’s comment about expectations. Now that my son is 3 years away from graduating HS, I feel it is more important to teach him how failing to do what is required of him will affect him at a job. With everything we have gone through with our son, I do appreciate hearing that he is one of the most responsible and helpful kids at school. His school/homework is always done and on time, and he rarely misses school. I overheard him talking to one of his friends who has been missing a lot of school with very poor reasons. He told the kid, “That wouldn’t fly in my house.” So listening to my inner voices and having expectations has gotten him where he is today.

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        • Fwiw I think there’s a problem when all teaching gets pushed into the box of “one acceptable style.” It doesn’t mirror actual conditions — in life you will meet some situations that demand a very conforming approach and others where it doesn’t matter. If I could say two things to pedagogical theorists after the last 22 years (eek!) they would be:

          a) modeling. Model the behavior you wish your students to follow. If you want them to turn in their papers on time, make sure you grade them promptly. If you want them to speak in a certain way, speak to them in that way. If you want them to be industrious, show them industry; if you want them to be curious, show them curiosity. Don’t just tell them to look something up in the dictionary, but let them see you doing it and do it with them. If you want them to be disciplined, you must first discipline yourself.

          b) natural consequences as much as possible. I’ve become a larger and larger opponent of operant conditioning over the years. It seems like creating artificial consequences only contributes to a situation where students learn in proportion to their fear of the consequence. Eventually it becomes impossible to escalate. Everyone becomes immune to threats eventually if the actual consequence is not meaningful.

          I agree that a lot of this comes from the home and what kids see their parents doing, too.

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          • Serv, Yes, I agree this should start at home. Unfortunately there seems to be less accountability in people these days. My son has shared many stories about what some of his peers are allowed to do by their parents. I LOVE natural consequences and let them happen as often as they can with him. Sometimes they need to learn the hard way. This is why I always follow up with those “red lines”. If I didn’t then the situations would escalate. I had to look up operant conditioning…. The definition sounds very similar to ABA Therapy.

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            • yeah, I think the theory of conditioning is one approach for behavior modification that would be used in ABA. I’ve never taught any autistic students (that I was aware of) though.

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    • No – I do not think that “means well” elevates a writer from criticism. We all know that “meaning well” can sometimes go spectacularly pear-shaped. (Serv gave some really interesting examples in her post, today.) It’s hard to criticise a message of empathy, though. It’s inherently good, what’s not to like. I think all critics agree that RA has the best of intentions. It’s the implementation that leaves a few question marks, audience and purpose of the message for instance. In my case, I am essentially asking for clarification on a few details that stood out to me. I don’t believe that constitutes negativity. I am curious – I want to know – I want to understand.
      I can understand your frustration, though. And I think it wise to vent it in private first :-D. (I was already through with my venting *before* the Cybersmile message was published.)

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  11. OK — rereading: I would say the text only gains clout from Armitage’s approach if the reader already believes that “Armitage is one of us” in a fairly specific sense. I do not believe this and in fact, that’s a core issue that is troubling the fandom — the fact that many people use this notion to prioritize empathy for someone who is, in fact, simultaneously hierarchically superior and far more rhetorically powerful than anyone else who is talking to him, no matter the clumsiness of what he says. This issue is constantly misunderstood in the fandom, in my opinion, particularly when it comes to issues around bullying. it is simply a different matter when people are critical of a public figure than of a private person. I can go into this more deeply if anyone is interested although I expect no one is.

    I think the “preachiness” problem, which is less prominent here than it was in the past, but still a problem, is only alleviated in the first place if the reader eliminates all considerations as to hierarchy. If a friend suggests a course of action to me, I feel differently than if a superior does, but Armitage is not my friend (fantasies aside). A person who is superior always has to circumvent the risk of preachiness, which is not solely possible by means of the first person (although this is an important first step, along with being one of my favorite strategies). In this sense, “do as I do” doesn’t really work because Armitage has different considerations in leading his public life on the Internet and in reality than we do.

    re: expectations — I guess I disagree on a general level with your statement that your expectations were wrong or unfair (without knowing exactly what they are, but assuming that they were something along the lines of ‘he should be better informed about this, potentially at the level of a professional,” which you then corrected to say, he’s an actor trying to speak to a broad audience about how to get along on the Internet). If someone is giving me advice about behavior on the Internet, I want evidence that he has the right to speak as an authority. I see no evidence from Armitage’s Twitter behavior that he is a more competent navigator of these problems than we are. I have no evidence on which to base any evaluation of his skills at empathy (beyond his own assertions that he has more empathy than most people and about empathy’s relationship to acting — although I think he is an effective actor). There would be many ways around this problem, but I suspect they would involve saying too much about his personal history and private life.

    In the end, to me, although the text was much more effectively written in terms of the attempt to persuade than his previous attempts, nothing about it says, “this is real.” That’s a really hard step for any writer to make (although most of the Armitage bloggers have) and it requires a level of vulnerability that Armitage regularly tends to cover up with an exhortative language that I find (at the least) off-putting.

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    • Your last paragraph Servetus sums up exactly how I felt about it. No vulnerability equals no lasting impact and no real power to change things for the better, which I feel is what most of us won’t and hopefully he seeks to do as an ambassador of Cybersmile.

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    • Armitage is definitely not one of us, when it comes to fandom. By the nature of fan-dom, the relationship between fan and star is always one of imbalance, agreed. But one could argue that he is “one of us” as in “fellow human being in society”, and that’s how I read his use of the first person plural in the text (which I called “clever” meaning “deliberate” – maybe it was not consciously done, but it certainly is a way of allowing an author to include himself in the (vague) group he is addressing, a rhetorical device.) The issue of hierarchy is definitely a problem when it comes to taking advice, especially on issues that affect the fandom. In this case, bullying happens to be a fandom issue – although I am not sure whether Armitage was motivated to affiliate himself with this cause because of what is going on in the fandom. (I still believe he is mostly oblivious about the on-goings in the fandom.)
      The “do as I do” admittedly is a bit of a Catch 22 – but maybe that is why the text stays so general? If he is unable to experience what his audience is experiencing, but wants to lead by example nonetheless, he has to do it with the means open to him. In this case: communicate with measured words?
      Expectations – to clarify: I came to the text with the initial expectation that it was motivated by the recent controversy over his tweet/delete pattern and expected a passive-defensive undertone in his piece. I was glad that that was not the case. (Possibly because the piece was written before tweet/deletegate?) It wasn’t so much the expectation that he would put on the mantle of a Social Media expert – I have too many reservations when it comes to his Twitter behaviour to believe he is a credible expert on Social Media communication.
      Re. “This is (not) real” – do you mean the text sounded artificial to you; as in – Armitage doesn’t feel the issue and is only pretending to be concerned? It’s a tricky one because I myself dithered a long time over the decision whether I should mention that I have had tangible experience of bullying and how many details about my experience I should disclose. In a way, I think that details about own experiences (which are by and large unverifiable assertions in the context of blogs that are penned by pseudonymous writers) are a bit of a cheap way of giving oneself more authority. (That’s actually what I found “unreal” in last year’s missive – the reference to past experience with bullying.) Plus, I understand the wish to hide vulnerabilities and probably would not disclose it for the sake of an argument, either…

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      • I’m unsure if you want to say that pseudonymous blogging is inherently invalid as an account of experience and establishment of personal authority to speak. If that’s true, we can all go home. (In my experience, it’s also demonstrably not universally the case.) However, Armitage is not pseudonymous. He is a known person with a traceable history. Reality is also a mask in that rhetorically, we present things about matters we are willing to discuss in ways that we think appear more genuine in order to appear more sympathetic. But he doesn’t even really appear to be attempting that here. Or I should say, if this is what he thinks of as writing the presents him as personally sympathetic, I am mystified. I think one needs to make a series of intellectual leaps, or rose-colored glasses of a stronger prescription than I have, to get there.

        Essentially, I think Armitage has two main options, rhetorically: he can (a) talk in the abstract or on a moral level about how to deal with bullying, which is not especially credible insofar as he is not an expert and doesn’t seem to understand how it works — as Mel noted or (b) he can talk about his own experiences, which he won’t do in depth for whatever reason (I am not going to speculate). Saying “I was bullied and it affected me,” I agree, is an ineffective way of doing that. He would have to reveal more information or create a credible narrative of his experiences that appeared genuine. Instead of doing that last year, he dropped that information and then slipped into a highly exhortative and moralistic account of his responses to it (“I was bullied so I won’t listen to gossip; everyone should do like me and strongly consider not saying what they think if anyone might be hurt by it”). But I think, given that he has really revealed now that he has nothing particularly informational or practical to say about dealing with bullying as such, he would be better off resorting to the second strategy and trying to create an impression that is more genuine than this.

        Thanks for the clarification as to your expectations. I didn’t assume that this text could be written about the delete tweet stuff, unless he was referring to earlier episodes of that. Given everything else he had been doing, I assumed it had been written earlier. My own expectation was that we would get another stream of consciousness missive from which it was difficult to elucidate coherent arguments. So I was pleasantly surprised on that level. Better written and more coherent than most of what he said in the past.

        re: Armitage is a human — yes. But so is (not to put too fine a point on it) Donald Trump. This is essentially also a kind of claim whose effectiveness is evaluated hierarchically. “I’m human too” is much more effective coming from a subordinate in the hierarchy than a superior. It is implausible to claim “I am just like you” when I am demonstrably not. I know that this is a frequent topos of fan fantasy (including my own) and he can rely on that to persuade the reader. But for anyone who does not share the fantasy or apply it to reality, as a claim, it falls flat.

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        • No, I don’t think that pseudonymous blogging is all fake. But it makes verifying asserted facts much more difficult and relies on the readers *believing* that the writer is truthful. Granted, doesn’t quite work in Armitage’s case since he is a known entity (although I am not sure whether we really could verify whether he was bullied or not).
          And whoops, I have to admit that I went at the text with the carte blanche assumption that he *is* sympathetic to the plight of the victims – otherwise he wouldn’t voice his opinion on such a matter. But I concede that I can’t find a personal reference in the text, either, and that the text stayed in the abstract. Personally, I don’t believe that means he is unable to feel strongly about the issue or empathise with the victims.
          On the “I am a fellow human” issue I disagree with you. I think it is way more effective when a superior says that, rather than a subordinate. Given that I am a fellow subordinate, I assume that they are human, anyway. A superior, however, (and particularly in the realm of fandom) is ascribed a demigod status, thus the superior’s assertion to be human, too, comes to me as a surprise. But hey, I am overstating the simile here – and the caveat is, that as a German, I have a need to ascribe status and authority 😉

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          • No, I wouldn’t conclude that he doesn’t sympathize with the victims, but holding the text in the abstract relays a lot of distance (the use of the first person plural notwithstanding). Of course we can’t verify what has happened in his past. But the art of writing personally involves creating a persona in which the things you say about yourself appear genuine or appear to come from a genuine place. That was pretty much missing for me here. I can’t imagine why anyone would write this if they didn’t sympathize with victims but beyond that the personal level does not really permeate the text. It occurs to me that if he is really speaking to would-be bullies, it would be useful for him to describe a situation in which he behaved badly and regrets it. I very much get the impression from what Armitage has written for CyberSmile that he does not believe he has ever behaved badly.

            Maybe it’s just that I don’t really believe a celebrity is a human like me (I have no need to believe that), but I would say it’s only effective if I already believe it. If I already don’t believe it, it falls flat. As opposed to (say) a homeless person telling me, “help me, I am a human like you,” where an appeal to a common humanity challenges the hierarchy in a different way.

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            • I’m beginning to see what you are getting at re. personal, genuine feel of the piece. My personal need for that piece of “personal investment (by the writer)” was satisfied with his reference to the conversation he had with his psychologist/ex-actor friend, and with the assumption that what he wrote about is informed by personal experience. My expectations were met in that regard – I do not expect him to be particularly personal, as in: disclosing details of own experiences. But you are right, it would make sense to do so, in order to make the message more effective, though.
              As for the “human like me” stance – worked for me because I *do* believe that celebs are human like me. I can’t think of anyone whom I would exclude from that belief, not even the Dalai Lama or the Pope. But as with all beliefs, they are individual and personal. I can understand if that particular rhetorical device fell flat for you. It didn’t for me.

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              • Yeah, I would say other than that we both have bodies, I have nothing in common with either the Dalai Lama or the Pope except potentially some (but by no means all) political or “religious” sympathies. But I am torn on the concept of natural rights, period, as I think it’s kind of an Enlightenment fantasy.

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                  • I won’t get into the whole discussion 🙂 but essentially people have pointed out that you only have rights if you can enforce them. So the notion that “all [people] are created equal” is only practically useful if some instance exists to enforce the right. So you have to have a state, and there we are again, back at the notion that the state grants rights rather than them being inherent to human existence. The most moving discussion of this problem I’ve found is in Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, which points out why it was such a problem that so many people suddenly became stateless in 1918/9 — and why that was a harbinger of bad things to come.

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      • So I guess I have another question, which is if you think he isn’t paying that much attention about stuff happening in the fandom, why were you expecting him to refer to the deleted tweets incidents?

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  12. I personally think the problems with what he is trying to say are much more serious. And in the interest of empathizing 😉with you both Serv and Guytly I think you are getting at this problem, that deep down what’s bugging both of you is that he has a fundamental lack of understanding of the victim/bully dynamic. As see I it, a bully completely lacks empathy and, the victims, tend to have way too much empathy. Which is often at the heart of the problem. So the solution cannot just be ‘have more empathy’. Who is that directed towards right? I mean typically bullies bully because they are incapable of empathy. The solution is often to get a bully to ‘sympathize’ not ’empathize’. In other words a bully might be able to understand the pain they inflict but only in reference to some sort of pain upon themselves. They simply cannot ‘put themselves in another persons shoes’. Adding fuel to the fire is that many victims are way too good at empathizing and often over and over give their bullies a pass because they ‘understand’ where the bully/bullying comes from. This, to me, makes the idea of empathy as a solution to bullying completely oxi-moronic!!!
    The problem you both point out adroitly is, who the heck are you
    talking too here? It just seems to me to show a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of bullies.
    just IMO. Which might be totally fine coming from an actor, he’s doing his best, I guess, to try to ‘help’!?!? But, Cybersmile should know better??
    Just my thoughts.

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    • Hi Mel and thanks for your comment.
      I wouldn’t go so far as to say that RA does not understand the dynamic of bullying. According to himself, he was the victim of bullying himself, so I assume he knows how it works. I’d rather say he is shying away from specific advice, for whatever reason. Maybe he thinks it’s not his place, maybe he thinks he’s not qualified. It’s hard to tell whether he really believes that empathy is the be all and end all when it comes to battling cyberbullying. I doubt it, tbh. I take it as his way of gently pushing people in the right direction, without disturbing the waters too much.
      My experience of bullying is pretty much how you describe it – the victims essentially hyperempathetic, therefore unwittingly “allowing” the bullies to continue tormenting them. (I certainly remember questioning myself over and over again whether I was too sensitive and whether it was in fact ME who was bullying my tormentor, and not the other way round.) The bullies OTOH seemed immune to empathy, but well able to manipulate the victim into empathising with them.
      I am not sure that you can actually reach bullies with *any* kind of text. Essentially, bullies do not see themselves as bullies but as people with a strong sense of self who are assertive when it comes to getting their way, so why would they feel addressed by a text directed at bullies? It’s always the (potential) victims who feel addressed.

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      • Personally my thoughts are that RA is not advocating curing bullying. Or even advocating the victim of bullying believing they can change the bully’s behaviour. I think his message is more in the vein that this is what you can do for your own self in how to emotionally and in your thought processes handle being a victim of bullying. I’m definitely not making myself clear here.

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        • No, you are making yourself clear; I know what you mean, and I have concluded the same thing. That’s a valid way of approaching the theme of cyberbullying. Literally nipping cyberbullying in the bud before it ever happens by being mindful of one’s own expression. (Although I still fundamentally disagree that empathy with the bully is useful when one is a victim of bullying.)

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  13. I think you’re spot on and also think it’s not unique to the Internet. Dad and I were talking last night about the string of suicides recently at the local high school (where my brother and I graduated), and I was trying to make clear to him how the main bully in the 1980s affected my brother’s life and mine. That kid was told multiple times to be nice, to think of how his victims might feel, to be understanding, and then finally just given a list of things he was not allowed to do to any other kid. None of that worked. In elementary and middle school, they solved that problem simply by making sure he was not in a class with certain students, but in high school he had free rein and he used it. He was particularly good at picking in such a way that made it look like the victim was the perpetrator. (I heard recently that he’s in prison.)

    So many bullied kids get told to “be nice,” “make friends,” “see it from [the bully’s] perspective,” and you’re exactly right, it’s my impression that they do that better. I personally think a better strategy is “don’t let that person get a rise out of you, especially not where others can see it,” but if you’re talking about an empathetic person, that is going to be hard. I don’t know what the solution is but I agree, bullies don’t want empathy and many of them lack that capacity — at least with the methods currently available for teaching the skill.

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    • I have often think about this generation of kids and their capacity to manage the world around them. I think the both of us were raised during a time where we learned self reliance. We roamed and played outside our homes and there very few adults present. Because of the lack of adults, we did not have them stepping into manage our problems when they occurred with our peers. You either walked away, fought, or worked it out . While working at a local elementary school for several years, I spent so much time putting out social fires that these kids were not able to manage. This is why I take issue with the whole “no bullying” mantra. Any perceived aggrievance by a child and they cried “bullying”.

      Don’t get me started on their delicate feelings.

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  14. Somehow the audience question didn’t occur to me, since this time his post was actually released on Stop Cyberbullying Day (SCD) – and I thought his earlier blog posts were published ahead of it- ? (They were dated 6/4 and 6/11/15, perhaps they had SCD earlier last year??)

    If I assume I’m right, I thought his audience was everyone potentially interested or involved in SCD, a broader audience than just victims of bullying or even teens. I thought his intent was to encourage us to stop before we assume an online posting to be insulting, demeaning, or bullying….somewhat similar to what we saw with the Russian tweep who asked him the question that seemed rudely worded until several (including Serv) were able to clarify that it was more of an ESL issue than an intended insult.

    And I also thought, while this post was better since it was more coherent & not trying to cover so much as those in the past – some inherent difficulties with empathy (both online and irl) weren’t clearly addressed. I thought Dorothea (@RCAUniverse) brought out some excellent points with that here: https://t.co/124zTPenDS

    And finally, I too noted he didn’t really discuss forgiveness at all, except primarily perhaps toward oneself. And “intention” was used in two different ways, both as motivation/reason for doing, and as the firm decision to take action, which was a little confusing to me. I had a sense the whole post was quickly and suddenly wrapped up, probably re: time constraint (and I understand all about that). I would still agree that it was clearly better than previous efforts.

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    • The longer I think about the audience question, the more I am wondering what difference it really makes. Ok, the reservations are still valid with regard to the effectiveness of the message (and I agree with those who say that the message is not particularly geared towards young people, i.e. those who are the main target group of Cybersmile), but in terms of impact on me, I am coming to the conclusion that it was a broad statement directed at anyone who’s interested.
      Have to check out that post by Dorothea, thanks for the link.
      The example with the Russian tweep’s question is an interesting one. I was completely baffled by the reaction of some fans to that. I did not see any negative intent in that at all – I could not make out any nasty tone in it. She was curious and asked to clarify something that a lot of readers were confused about. I do not even see an ESL mistake in that, either (unless you expect people to cram phrases of politeness into 140 characters).
      Forgiveness was given short shrift in the piece, yes. I assumed that someone else subedited the piece and decided on that headline – it doesn’t really describe the gist of the essay.

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      • I totally agree about the Russian tweep’s question. I saw nothing offensive in that and some of the reaction to it illustrates perfectly for me how quickly a certain group of Richard’s fans are to come down on an individual like a ton of bricks for simply addressing the man. It happens all the time. I have been at the receiving end of that often, still am, and whilst that may not be classed as bullying, it certainly opens the door to situations which if prolonged evolve into a form of bullying and to people whose intent is simply to curtail others’ freedom of speech because they either disagree with what another is saying or feel threatened and challenged by an opposing view and rather than engage in a civil, polite discussion, they choose to embark on a battle to silence that person. That, in my book, is bullying. I can only speak from my own personal experience and the eroding effect this has had on me. I can only imagine what that Russian person must have felt when she asked a perfectly sensible question and all that nastiness starting being thrown her way. I also speak from the point of view of someone who is not a native English speaker.

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      • But isn’t that an inherent problem with Twitter? (apart from the whole “a cat may look at a king” dynamic which every culture interprets differently?) In some languages direct questions are prioritized and not taken negatively (German is a good example of this IMO); in others layers of hierarchy are built into vocabulary and verbs (Japanese is apparently a good example); even in English, native speakers need to add emoticons to shape and cushion the meaning of what they say. I think it was definitely a cross cultural situation. Although I did get a comment from a Russian fan, it didn’t say “she asked wrong / should have been more polite” but rather “how dare she ask”.

        I personally didn’t see any problem with the “tone” but (a) I don’t think Armitage is G-d; (b) I saw immediately it was a Russian speaking and (c) I’ve lived with Russians and Eastern Europeans.

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          • I’d been asking myself whether an emoticon could have solved this problem. (Or if it is appropriate if the question is serious). I’d probably have used a smiley if I’d wanted to say something that direct, but then again that could be interpreted as ironic. And it’s not clear that the smiley might necessarily mean the same thing to a Russian-speaker. I seem to remember reading something at some point about smiling occasionally being a sign of aggession in Russia …

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            • Which brings us neatly back to the issue of empathy – and whether the critics of that particular tweet ought to have approached the question with more empathy…

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      • Oh goodness, and I can’t find the exact question they asked now, since he deleted his reply too 😦 Something like “I saw you deleted your tweet on Orlando, was that because you don’t care anymore?” Am I close?

        The tone did strike me as a little combative or trying to put him on the spot – not horrible, but more like “things that make you go “Whoa!”…. but once I realized that the tweep was Russian/ not primary English speaker, it made more sense to me. However, I’m not one to silence anyone, unless it’s true hate speech or outright lies/slander…. and my bar is pretty high for any of those if I can’t prove it either. If someone is just speaking their mind, I figure that’s Twitter. I may like it or not, wish they had put it another way- but the desire to shut people down isn’t one I typically have.

        And I agree that the implications of the 140 character limit must never be forgotten. I hook my tweets together by replying to myself and people will still miss something (usually the important part 🙂 A setup basically designed to foster misunderstanding of any serious topic lol.

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        • Yes, that was pretty much the tweet. Well, I shouldn’t really be surprised that the native English speakers found the tweet ambiguous in tone. (Or rather: not ambiguous but clearly rude.) After all I live in this language, too… But I actually think the tweet illustrates very nicely what Armitage was trying to say with his “leaving yourself alone” notion: There was clearly already an expectation within the fandom that any direct question re. his delete behaviour *must* be hostile. Just because it shows that somebody is openly challenging him on his motives. The question is, was Armitage’s answer defensive? It didn’t strike me thus, but then again, neither had I found the question offensive. I thought it perfectly neutral – but yeah, I come from a culture where questions are always straightforward.
          But yeah, that’s Twitter for you. One of the reasons why I never have serious discussions there but only joking or friendly exchange.

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          • I didn’t think his response sounded defensive, but rather carefully worded. And knowing his almost non-existent response history on Twitter, I felt the question clearly struck a nerve for him to decide to answer. Perhaps that’s another reason for the perception about the question – that he tends to favor “bad behavior” with his attention, rather than “good”

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  15. Thanks for deciding to share with us what you thought and wrote. Sorry for short reply Typing with 1 finger on mobile is not a good way to fo justice to his and also everyone else’s thoughts. I agree with you on his positive intent and also determination to get involved. It’s probably more difficult than he initially thought but he clearly wants to stick with it. I seem to be in minority in preferring his first message to this. I am disappointed but not in relation to anything to do with Twitter. I was looking forward to his long form communication based on recent messages from Berlin. It left me feeling as though if he would have said things rather than write them, say in an interview he would have gone much deeper. This feels logical and maybe informed by recent public events- or not, and I’m reading my own thoughts into it but less effective in engaging an audience in joining him on the journey. Whereas the Berlin ones had us running along I one breath. I too had the audience issue but for me it felt as if changing throughout ie he seemed to have written bits addressing different groups. I liked your Germanic attention to detail regarding the way he included himself, I didn’t consciously spot that!
    But I recognise that ambassadors for causes sometimes need to address different audiences, sometimes the victims, sometimes fundraisers or just raising support for the causes etc. Don’t think this was the case here though.
    On the general message however he made a few points very dear to my heart even if not necessarily to do with social media or cyberbulling at all. I think he can speak incredibly about causes and express himself so well in terms of being both personal or direct and connecting with the audience. I know when he trapped me and it wasn’t even Proctor, or not in isolation, it was at the in conversation! And I felt the same about his letter from Berlin. He can be brilliant at communication, it just needs maybe more focus on a subject or so. When he responds to specific prompts he is spontaneous and very engaging. Maybe they should ask him to write on a specific thing or ask him to tackle on thing only. He obviously has many thoughts and is moved quite deeply on many issues but reasonably doesn’t want to monologue on 10 pages which is what this could feel to him. Again sorry if I ramble as well, tired finger!

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    • I think I said it in another comment – the cause RA has chosen, is really not an easy one, and fraught with pitfalls because the very area of communication his charitable efforts are directed towards, is the place where most of his fandom’s activities take place. The term “bit off more than he can chew” comes to mind.
      Interesting that you should bring up the recent messages re. the refugees. They are way more personal than this one imo. But then again – in those messages he is only speaking for himself, whereas in his anti-bullying messages he is not just writing for himself but also representing the charity he is an ambassador for. That sort of thing is handled in a different way.
      The length of the message doesn’t really matter so much for me, I didn’t expect anything longer than this. From the POV of effective online articles, a shorter message always has more chances of being read and thus to reach people. Attention spans on the web are short (I include myself in that). An audio interview definitely is more forgiving, in any case. We hear faster than we read 😉 And I find him more engaging when he speaks, than when he writes. Maybe because he can’t overthink it and has to answer off the cuff. That sort of communication is more genuine, in any case.

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      • Yes, length not an issue 😊in fact you are fully right if aimed at the social media audience it could be much shorter. And probably audio/video might work much better if he’s adressing victims of cyberbulling. I’d also think it would be easily shareable and would attract more attention. I get S point about why they want it on their site but wondering about format after reading everybody. Makes me curious about what the interaction between them and R is? Do they have nobody savvy on the issues to consider things like audience, formats etc? Usually ambassadors are popular figures to boots the signal but they don’t necessarily need to be the experts themselves…

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        • An ambassador is just the go-between. Preferably a name/person that has traction and attracts people to a cause. Sometimes their own expertise overlaps with the cause they champion, I suppose, but yeah, they are generally not the experts. I completely acknowledge that and do not expect RA to be an expert on the subject. But as you say – one is left wondering, what the communication is like, whether there is a brief. For me, that sort of thing has implications for the professionalism of the charity in question. But hey, expectations again. Maybe one should never expect *anything* – then one is always guaranteed a surprise…

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  16. Thanks for your analysis, you are making some very good points here.
    I completely ignore the question “who is he writing for?” because I was seeing this message as a message for “us”,
    his followers, well-wishers, the ones that will read his message for sure. I wonder how efectful his message is for, let’s say,
    a young person that comes to Cybersmile seeking help. When I go to church and the priest is preaching “You have to come to church”, I am wondering
    “why are you telling me this, I am already here”. In my opinion Richard’s message doesn’t offer
    any practical solutions for the victims, they are not the ones that should be careful with their words,
    this should be told to their aggressors. From this point of view, I think the first message addressed Cybersmile’s issues better.
    So, my conclusion is that he wrote a general message, for a general audience, knowing that the message will be
    shared on many platforms. As you said, this message might be succesful in creating awarness, so the “job for Cybersmile” is done in this way.
    I even prefer it like this, while I have no issues with bullying in my life,
    I have other problems and, with respect to MY problems, Richard’s message was about “let yourself alone” and
    “free ourselves from expectations”. He spoke about the expectations we have in the cyberspace,
    but his advice applies to real, every day life as well. Your interpretation of “leave yourself alone” is
    different from mine and it might be the right one! My, very very subjective interpretation, is that I should stop the
    fight with myself, I should not expect others to understand me when I am not understanding myself, I should not expect others
    to behave like me, I should be less judgy and have less expectations from others.
    I am really pushing some limits in my real life now and
    people arround me (family included) are putting even more preasure, so I needed someone to tell me:
    “take a break, let yourself be”. I don’t know if this make sense for somebody else, but I stay here (in the RA World)
    because with his words, and his life and his example he offer me something that I can take in my real life.
    One more time, he helped me to “move on”. Leaving myself apart, I very much appreciate you and all the bloggers that
    took time to share their thoughts, for me reading the posts and the comments is almost a duty, and
    it’s my firm belief that ideas – even RA’s ideas – are made for analysis and not for adulation. My contribution is
    rather limited now, but I hope to develop more in the future 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • There is no doubt that *every* reader interprets the text in their own, individual way. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s all valid and good, and if it applies to personal issues and helps in some way, even better. I think it is wonderful if a person (celeb or not) has the power to motivate change for the better, be it on personal level or within society. You are certainly extending a great compliment to RA there, in that he has influence on you. (The fact that he remains steadfastly positive in his missives indicates that he is aware of that influence. Phew.)
      I understand your argument re. the text being intended for the well-wishers, although I think it unlikely. He would not be aiming very high if the intention was only to reach his own fans (I mean that in terms of numbers and reach; not in a qualitative way!).
      Hope the pressure in your RL sorts itself out and you can return to more active participation if you want to.

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      • I’m not saying that he decided “now I’m writing to my fans”. I don’t know how much insight he receives directly from Cybersmile, their relation seems to be sparse – one message per year and few supporting tweets. Assuming his online experience comes mainly from his Twitter activity (which may be false) and that his message refer to the online community, I concluded that his message is inherently based on the insight he gets from his fandom and addresses problems that he encountered in his online activity. But of course, a message on Cybersmile’s site is a message for the world and I really hope many will benefit from it.

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  17. I had a strong reaction tonight with a guy who felt that the parents who lost their son at Disneyworld should not sue. His debate was that money would not bring the child back, so why sue? He had to bring up the fact that all Americans are litigious happy. He then stated that he was Canadian, and as such, was more like the European way of knowing that money would not bring back a child. He then throws in the “empathy” word. This is why I feel the the word is too broad. He said he could empathize with those parents because he once lost his daughter at a park they had to do a park shutdown to find her. So losing and then finding a child equates with the death of a child by an alligator? This was after he berated the parents for being negligent for not standing right next to their son.

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    • @Valsgal, when I learned of that awful incident with the child and the alligator, empathy is one of the things I thought about – probably because even before the post, we’ve been discussing the term – and exactly! I said to myself that I could never empathize with those parents, in that I could never place myself in that situation. I felt horror and compassion and sympathy. Re: suing. I don’t know. As a lawyer I thought about it early. As to the law, there is a theory, a cause of action in some states, where a by-stander can recover for their own emotional injuries caused by watching a negligent act. I think the upshot is going to be that it was something like an act of nature, and there is already talk that Disney could not have prevented it, and took all measures that they could. But time will tell whether this position holds up or, if it gets that far, whether a jury will agree. The right thing, IMO, is, regardless of the merits of their positions, Disney ought to offer a hefty settlement amount and for the parents to accept.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I agree. And paying money for a death (murder, wrongful death, accidents, etc.) is a tradition that goes back in part into the European Middle Ages.

        Like

      • I have friends with a house on a lake in Florida. They are very cautious about letting the kids who visit get near the lake because of alligators. It is a known danger. The family at Disney were from Nebraska and I would argue had no idea about the danger of alligators. There was a no swimming sign but that is very different than a “Danger Alligators in Lake” or something similar. There was also a lifeguard in the vicinity which in my mind encourages the idea that people may indeed go in the water even though it says not to. If it said anything about alligators do you think the family would have allowed their child near the pond? I think Disney doesn’t have the sign because they want to promote the perfect fantasy world they offer. It would look bad. Of course, now it looks much, much worse. Even though it won’t bring their child back, I personally hope the family get a HUGE settlement from Disney.

        Perry, I agree with your statement “I could never empathize with those parents, in that I could never place myself in that situation.” I have always thought that empathy was most often felt because of sharing a similar experience. Wiki gives this example: i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. If I’ve been in the same or similar situation, certainly it is not a stretch to say it would help me to be empathetic. Tree

        Liked by 1 person

        • I strongly agree (esp re: sign that should have said, “danger alligators”). People in FL were always telling me to watch out for things that never occurred to me. For instance, one time there was a rainstorm and I wanted to save my shoes so I took them off and walked barefoot across campus. One of my students said, “om, you shouldn’t do that if there’s any chance there’s a cut on your foot or if you’ve shaved recently, you could pick up amoebas.” I mean, who knew??? I picked up amoebas in México but it was from a risky eating experience. I had no idea you could pick them up from walking through a puddle. And there are rules one should follow here, I’m sure, that aren’t posted all over the place, either.

          In the end, for me, anyway, life is full of horrible things. There will always be accidents and things we can’t prevent from going wrong. In many cases, if the crap hits you that day, it was largely coincidental. For me this means essentially that we should accept this sort of problem as a risk of living and that society should be supportive of victims of random accidents because we might at some time be victims ourselves. (Also, this is why we have insurers — to redistribute risk.) But this is a principled position based on rational consideration of what could happen to me someday. It’s not the result of empathy. I feel horrible for those parents but I have no idea what they must be going through.

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        • I don’t have enough facts to dispute your position and I’m not necessarily inclined to dispute it. I just don’t whether Disney was negligent. I think a jury might think so and what I read recently might prove so. I read or heard that Disney periodically checks for gators, and there’s this: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/06/19/disneys-liability-prior-knowledge-questioned/86036062/ The sign is meaningless. The lake is “an attractive nuisance,” to children and the child wasn’t swimming, anyway. He was wading. The lifeguard is an interesting fact, but I think Disney is going to take the position that they had “no reason to know” that alligators could be in the private and enclosed lake. Based on prior history, that might be futile, unless they added safety measures. From what I understand, there are no safety measures to ensure no alligators, except to search for them.

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      • @Perry I once lost my 11 y/o son on the monorail in Vegas. He was a little ahead of me and then walked into a car just as the doors closed. All I could do was to calmly yell at him through the doors to get off at the next station and wait. For six minutes there was nothing I could do but wait for the next train and stay positive. Luckily he was there. I later found out the adults in the car made sure he got off and told him to wait, which was really nice. I could never equate this experience to the death of a child. I personally can’t place myself in the shoes of a parent who has lost a child. I don’t think my psyche wants to even try to imagine what that would be like.

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    • This “Americans are litigious” thing drives me crazy when it comes from people outside of the US. In many countries, there are other mechanisms for redress before the court system — usually arbitrators, governing boards, etc., various instances of appeal. In many cases in the US the only way someone can apply for redress or ask to have their rights enforced is to sue (or threaten to sue). No one is a fan of frivolous suits but they serve an important purposes in situations when one can’t get an institution to consider one seriously or at times, even follow the law.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Very true. In the U.S. other routes for private parties, such as ADR ( mediation) are more popular than before, but IMO, haven’t really taken off. In some fields, as you know, there is are administrative procedures one has to try first before litigating, in the areas of discrimination, social welfare benefits, insurance claims, to name two, but it’s cheaper to start a lawsuit – it’s actually cheaper to start a legal case, than to go to arbitration (one of my pet peeves is how expensive arbitration and mediation are for small and medium sized matters.)

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        • I think in many ways Canadians are more enlightened than Americans. I don’t find those claims offensive when they are correct. However, it’s easy to judge something you find disturbing from the outside that you would understand differently on the inside. (Oh, there’s that pesky empathy notion again!).

          Like

  18. Uuuh, viel zu lesen und zu bedenken!
    Deine Gedanken zu RAs Aussagen sind mir sehr nahe. Ich stehe seinen Text im Grunde positiv gegenüber, denke aber, dass Cybersmile die eigene Sorgfaltspflicht verletzt. Sie sind die eigentlichen Profis und müssten einen Rahmen dafür schaffen, der aufzeigt, zu welchem Bereich ihrer Arbeit sich ihr Botschafter äußert. Mir kommt es so vor, als wären sie froh, dass er überhaupt etwas schreibt, um dann mit seinem Namen mehr Bekanntheit zu erlangen. So hat er einen eher allgemein gehaltenen Aufruf zu einem rücksichts- und respektvollen Umgang miteinander geschrieben (dem eigentlich kaum jemand im Kern widersprechen kann) und Cybersmile hat den Text veröffentlicht, ohne ihn inhaltlich einzuordnen.
    Außerdem hat er eine interessante Debatte über Empathie angestoßen, was ich für einen durchaus positiven Nebeneffekt halte. 😉

    Übrigens, ich freue mich mit dir und gönne den Iren ihr Weiterkommen bei der EM sehr. 🙂

    Like

    • Das hast du sehr gut ausgedrückt. So sehe ich es auch. (Mir fiel es diesmal sehr schwer, meine Gedanken in der Fremdsprache auszudrücken. Ich habe immer wieder deutsche Ausdrücke im Kopf gehabt, die ich für passend hielt, aber für die es keine 1:1 Übersetzung gab. Komisch – liegt wohl daran, dass auch dieses Thema sehr an die Emotionen geht. Und in solchen Fällen merke ich immer, dass mein innerer Monolog zur deutschen Sprache neigt. Eben näher am Herz dran…)
      Und ja – der Sieg über Italien heute ist eine unglaubliche Leistung. Ich war zur Zeit der Übertragung in einem Restaurant, und wir haben laut geschrien, als das Tor fiel. So geil. Für heute gilt “You’ll never beat d Irish!”

      Like

      • Fußball kann so was Schönes sein!
        Interessant, was du über deine beiden Sprachen sagst. Ich kann ja nur eine Sprache fließend (und das wird sich wohl auch nicht mehr ändern), aber ich hatte bei dir den Eindruck, dass dir das Englische zum Teil sogar mittlerweile leichter fällt. Du hast da mal so eine Bemerkung gemacht, dass du über RA eher auf englisch schreiben würdest…
        Aber es kommt wohl tatsächlich auf das Thema an. Ich selber arbeite noch schwer an den Mehrfachbedeutungen, den Redewendungen und den Zwischentönen. Ich traue mich nur selten und nur bei eher harmlosen Bemerkungen meine Kommentare auf englisch zu schreiben.
        Hier wurde ja diskutiert, ob die Frage (einer Nicht-Muttersprachlerin) nach dem gelöschten Orlando Tweet unhöflich oder zu anklagend formuliert war. Ich hatte sie einfach nur als interessierte Nachfrage gelesen, die natürlich einen gewissen (nicht ganz unberechtigten) Vorwurf enthielt. Wenn man sich nicht auskennt kann man leicht die Regeln der Höflichkeit verletzen. Das verlangt Einfühlungsvermögen auf beiden Seiten 😉

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        • Das mit den beiden Sprachen kommt immer drauf an. Einerseits ja – RA ist für mich mehr oder weniger untrennbar mit der englischen Sprache verbunden, weil die Diskussion über ihn und das Fandom ja mehrheitlich auf Englisch stattfindet. Und weil ich natürlich RA auch immer nur auf Englisch höre. Aber wenn es dann um Themen geht, die ins Emotionale reichen, in *meine* Befindlichkeiten, dann ist die Muttersprache einfach näher dran. Englisch hat immer das klitzekleine bisschen Distanz – auch wenn ich heute beim Reden nie darüber nachdenken muss, wie ich etwas formulieren will; das fließt genauso wie Deutsch. Aber es steckt dennoch mehr Kopf drin, als bei der Muttersprache. Die kommt aus dem Herzen.
          Bei dem kontroversen Frage-Tweet kann ich dir nur beipflichten – für mich war das eine normale Frage. Ich nehme mal an, dass allerdings nicht nur die direkte Fragestellung bei den Fans schlecht ankam, sondern dass da auch noch was ganz anderes mitschwingt: nämlich die Tatsache, dass eine kritische Nachfrage von vielen Fans per se als Angriff gewertet wird. So unter dem Motto, wie kann man nur den Halbgott in Frage stellen und auf eine Rechtfertigung für sein Verhalten bestehen? Ich fand Armitages Antwort auch eigentlich weder beleidigt noch defensiv – die Tatsache, dass er geantwortet hat (zum ersten Mal auf einen Fan-Tweet!!!), zeigt doch, dass er durchaus den Erklärungsbedarf anerkannt hat.
          Ich finde ja sowieso, dass ein Großteil der Cyberbullying-Problematik auch von Zeichenlimits potenziert wird, deretwegen man pointierter, knapper schreibt – und dann eben ungewollt andere vor den Kopf stößt…

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          • Es ist auf rein schriftlichem Weg sowieso schwierig, eigene Befindlichkeiten unmissverständlich mitzuteilen. Das ist im persönlichen Gespräch (sogar am Telefon,denn da hat man zumindest den Tonfall) viel einfacher, weil man ja außer dem Wort noch so viele nichtsprachliche Möglichkeiten hat, um sich zu verständigen. Das ist mit so wenigen Zeichen eigentlich unmöglich. Und dann kommen noch die sprachlichen und kulturellen Unterschiede dazu…

            Like

  19. Pingback: Good-Bye, 2016 | Guylty Pleasure

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  21. Pingback: Empathy finale: Part III | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

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