When I first arrived on Avatar Wiki in November 2008, the initial treatment of my views was not enthusiastic. I had suggested that the Aang article be shortened into something readable, preferably in my mind by moving Aang's biographical history to separate articles – a strategy that we have since taken up. But at the time, the establishment of the wiki were dismissive of the opinion I had taken and asked what was wrong with me.
There was nothing wrong with me. They later recognised that as well, and a few short months later I was as respected a contributor as any. (I hold respectability in much higher regard than any position of adminship.) But I recognised the dangers exhibited in that initial attitude, and as a result, I have always sought to protect the ability of any user on this wiki to express their views. Partly as a result of my own request for adminship, an experience which I'm still not comfortable with, I wrote our original rules on nominating and voting on new admins, breaking with a past where admins chose new admins. I pushed for the decision-making process on this wiki to be a community responsibility rather than an admin one. I argued that the suppression of any shipping on the wiki was unwarranted and began our Shipping article.
This wiki enthusiastically held the principle of all editors being equally entitled to a point of view, only considered by others intellectually rather than dogmatically or emotionally, for a long time. But I'm increasingly concerned. I'm writing this blog post because I believe that we as a community increasingly preach one thing but practise another. We talk down to anonymous contributors and new users and then lecture them about civility. We aggressively attack views (shipping in particular comes to mind) and then feign outrage when our own consensus opinions are challenged. We throw around sharp negativity when there is a well-written fanon that happens to disagree with our view of the series and then dismiss similar behaviour against fanons favoured by our establishment. When someone in the community finally told me that they now feared posting Avatar-related material because of the potential reaction, I was forced into action.
I'm not here to attack anyone in particular. We're all equally guilty. I don't claim to be some kind of saint. And I certainly am not saying that we can't disagree with minority viewpoints and write extensive essays in favour of our own point of view. But what's clear to me is that we show a lack of respect for viewpoints we don't like, and consequently, we are increasingly intellectually stale and just not a pleasant place for Avatar fans.
So what cures do I have up my sleeve? There are three of them, and they are dead simple. I'll break them down:
- Don't say anything that you wouldn't say to their face.
- If you’re not sure whether what you’re saying will be seen as offensive or dismissive, it’s better to fix it until you’re sure it will be inoffensive before posting. People assume that on the Internet, it’s safe to say things they would never say out on the street "in the real world". The problem is that the Internet is part of the real world – real people are reading what you say. (I know I've said these exact same words before on Community Central. It's applicable here too, so deal with it.)
- Don't take anything too seriously.
- So what if someone doesn't like Kataang or Tokka? Just ask yourself if you'd be prepared to hold a gun to someone who doesn't agree with your shipping. That's right – you wouldn't be – so there's no need to feel that you're under existential threat, and thus there's also no need for all the invective.
- Do consider all opinions to be legitimate as far as possible.
- Very few things about Avatar are as absolute as the fact that the sun rises from the east every morning. Katara could be intensely annoying for some people. Iroh could be not everything he's cracked up to be. So when disagreeing with these opinions, try to consider it as an analytical debate rather than a chance to crusade against your assumed Avatar infidels.
If we can keep these principles in mind, this wiki will be much more successful as a centre for civilised discussion and diverse views. And to reinforce a new tolerance on Avatar Wiki, I'm announcing that death and grievous injury notwithstanding, there will be an issue of The Ba Sing Se Times this weekend, and it will be themed. You guessed it – the theme is "stuff you, this is what I think". Aside from the usual suspect columns, I'm asking for columns detailing a point of view you think is pretty unique. I won't be satisfied that we've cleared up this problem until this BSST issue is the longest damn newsletter this wiki has ever written. So start typing.
Nominate or vote for new featured blog posts here.