When to Walk Away

Since a number of people said I should go ahead and do it, I’ve created a Jim C. Hines Fan Page over on Facebook.  I blame you all.


I found myself in several Internet squabbles last week.  One started on Twitter after one of my #Amazonfail posts.  In that case, the other person and I swapped e-mails, and that was the end of it.  I don’t think we changed each other’s minds, but it gave me another perspective to think about, and I appreciate that.

Another didn’t go so well.  This was someone I know not to bother talking to in normal circumstances, but he was talking crap about a friend of mine, so I called him on it.  The conversation went downhill from there.  I eventually walked away, but I should have ended it much sooner.

It’s hard to walk away.  I know where xkcd is coming from with this strip.  It’s one thing to have an intelligent debate.  Unfortunately, most of these arguments end up being the opposite of intelligent … yet the more the stupidity grows, the harder it is to walk away.  It’s like the mosquito that keeps buzzing around the room, and you can’t go to bed until you’ve squashed the damn thing.

But you can’t squash online stupid.  So I’m trying to learn when to let it go.  As a part of that lesson, I put together some questions to ask myself, to help me recognize when it’s time to stop.

  1. What point(s) did I set out to make?  Have I made them?
  2. Am I just pouring my own stupid onto the fire now?
  3. Is there anything the other person could say to make me agree with their point of view?  (If not, it’s a good bet nothing I say will make them change their mind, either.)
  4. Who else is involved, either actively or otherwise?  For example, arguing with a Publish America author might not change that author’s mind, but might educate and help others reading the exchange.
  5. Have I had this same argument with this person before?  (If so, see Einstein’s quote about repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result.)
  6. Is this spilling into my real life?  (Am I going back to the argument when I should be writing?  Am I letting this person make me cranky in my interactions with my family?)
  7. What is my goal?  Am I trying to win?  (Never going to happen.  What would “winning” even look like?)
  8. Would I say these words to the other person’s face?
  9. Can anything come of the argument that will make my life or anyone else’s better?

From time to time, my karate sensei talks about bullies and insults.  If someone tells you you’re ugly, you smile and say “Thank you very much,” then walk away.  Because why should that person’s opinion have any power over you?  They’re not the most important person in your life.  The people who do matter, they’re the ones whose opinions I should care about.  Not some online twit.

Easier said than done.  It feels almost unjust to allow someone to keep being wrong on the Internet.  “That person is Wrong!  We can’t let him get away with it!”

I hate fighting.  I’m not someone who takes pleasure is taunting or trashing another person online.  But I believe some battles do need to be fought.  I also think there’s a time when I’ve made my point and need to walk away.  I just need to get better about recognizing that time.