Do you like to be yelled at? Does anyone?
DEAR MR. SCHMOE,
YOU, SIR, ARE A BOIL ON THE BUTT OF SOCIETY! YOU HAVE NO IMAGINATION AND NO ABILITY TO DO THIS JOB AND I, FOR ONE, THINK YOU SHOULD BE FIRED! SINCE I HAVE NO AUTHORITY IN THAT MATTER THE ONLY OTHER THING I CAN DO IS YELL AT YOU AND TELL YOU WHAT I THINK OF YOU AND YOUR STUPIDITY! I AM RIGHT AND YOU, SIR, ARE WRONG! I THUMB MY NOSE IN YOUR GENERAL DIRECTION AND WISH TO DISASSOCIATE MYSELF WITH YOU ENTIRELY!
Picture, if you will, an email exchange between two individuals engaged in an electronic argument. (I shall not make something up here because my ability to argue successfully extends really only to myself – I tend argue with myself a lot – and to very few others. Needless to say, debate class in high school was not my very favorite thing. Though some would say I live to argue, this is simply not the case.) These two individuals have allowed their virtual disagreement to escalate to a point where one user (let’s call him USER 1) has finally lost his ability to reason effectively and has resorted TO SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS in order to make his point. The other user (let’s call him USER 2), upon receiving the SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS, sits back in his chair feeling defeated and thinks: “Well! You don’t have to yell at me!” Followed by some choice words (fiercely unspoken) directed at USER 1.
Imagine, now, this same exchange – however long it may have been – in person. Two people, standing nose to nose, both red-faced and obviously ticked off, each about a stones-throw away from coming to blows. To the outsider, it is apparent one individual of this duo is the instigator and the other is simply doing his best to hold his ground and not allow himself to be bullied. Both are furious with one another. Both believe they are right and the other is wrong. The shouting is disruptive to others around them both in a way that disallows these others to be productive employees and in a way that makes these others truly uncomfortable. It could be that a few of these others are interested in this heated exchange in the same way a passer-by might be interested in a train wreck, but for the most part, people have scattered to other parts of the building to attend to suddenly urgent duties. This argument culminates in one person finally blowing his top and shouting, “YOU’RE WRONG! YOU’RE JUST WRONG! YOU’RE STUPID, YOU DON’T KNOW THE PRODUCT OR THE CUSTOMER BASE AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!!” Whereupon hearing this, the other individual deflates, says something quietly to the shouter which witnesses can’t really make out, and slinks off to lick his wounds.
Does the “winner” of either argument actually win? Or is that person simply better able to argue some point or another and, possibly, better at wearing down his opponent? Does it make the “loser” less right, or his argument less sound? Granted, it will depend a lot on the actual argument and since I did not see fit to imagine one for you we’ll really never know.
But…what does all this have to do with SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS?
In my most humble of opinions, using SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS in an electronic exchange is, quite simply, unacceptable. I tend to use capital letters if I am trying to place emphasis on a word or phrase that underlining or italicizing will not draw adequate attention to. But in those cases, it is usually very obvious that I am NOT shouting.
I read a story once (well, actually, if I’m being honest I’ve read this particular story multiple times) about a group of Solomon Islanders who had an ancient practice of felling trees by yelling at them. (All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum – http://www.robertfulghum.com/) The theory behind this practice was that yelling killed the spirit of the tree and so it died and fell over.
I believe that being yelled at does, indeed, kill one’s spirit. Especially if one is yelled at often and for an extended period of time. To make one cower before you by the very act of yelling – out of anger, frustration, intent or intensity of feeling – is a lowly act and one that only makes you a bully. Yes, there are absolutely reasons why yelling, on occasion, is warranted; but only on occasion. If you go around yelling at people all the time, will you have any friends? Will anyone truly love you and will you be able to truly love? Will anyone respect you? Listen to you? Act on your words or simply ignore you?
Ending an argument by so thoroughly defeating your opponent is akin to abuse and yes, in some cases, even murder. Do you really wish to kill someone’s spirit by yelling at them? I believe there are much better ways to win an argument and that, my friends, requires finesse, an adequate understanding of and ability to use the English language, and a genuine desire to make your point without completely steamrolling your opponent.
Just some food for thought.