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Standing Up to School Yard Bullies

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Picture it. You run your own business. You’ve worked long and hard for the past 18 months to get where you are today. Long hours, no weekends, anxiety attacks in the middle of the night worrying about whether you’re going to be able to meet expenses for the month. Your phone rings. You answer it. “Stop sending me your rubbish!”, the belligerent voice at the other end yells in your ear before slamming down the receiver. “Fruitcake”, you mutter to yourself, dismissing the caller from your mind as you turn to more important things.

The phone rings again. You answer it again. “Where the hell is that information I asked you for yesterday afternoon? You call yourself a professional?!”, another belligerent voice bellows in your ear before slamming down the receiver. If you’d been given the chance to respond before being attacked, you might have been able to explain that the information so charmingly requested was put in the mail yesterday afternoon and would be arriving with the morning’s mail. But, of course, you weren’t given the opportunity.

You get another couple of calls a day for the next month, just like this. What’s going on here? What’s wrong with the world all of a sudden? That’s what you’d think, right? Has everyone lost all sense of how to relate to their fellow human beings? Is this really how people have been raised to interact with one another?

Of course not. Such a thing would never happen in the real world would it? Oh sure, you’ll get the occasional nutter. But you wouldn’t expect one or two a day for weeks on end would you? No. The world and the people who populate it just don’t operate that way. If they did, no-one would get anything done. Everyone would be sniping and retaliating and feeling generally hostile towards everyone they came in contact with in case it was one of THEM. Thank heavens the real world doesn’t work that way.

So why do we put up with it when it comes to the online world? If you’ve started an online business of your own, you’ve no doubt heard over and over again that you have to develop a thick skin. Why do we have to expect and accept bad treatment from certain people we deal with online? We wouldn’t put up with it offline. So why is it something we tell each other to ignore, turn a blind eye to, don’t respond to lest we make ourselves a target just because it happens online?

Enough is enough. It is NOT acceptable to treat each other this way whether online or offline. And those who will ignore it, turn a blind eye and not respond appropriately, only perpetuate the problem.

Particularly over last two or three months, I’ve received my fair share of episodes like this. All newsletter publishers do. It “goes with the territory”, as they say. They still surprise me, even now, though. I wonder what kind of an individual is it who goes feral (there’s no other word for it), because I send them my newsletter? They asked to receive it after all. But maybe they forgot they subscribed? Maybe someone subscribed them using their email address and they didn’t read the message they received in response telling them how to unsubscribe themselves?

Or perhaps their email program doesn’t work properly and when they click on the link at the end of my newsletter telling them that if they want to unsubscribe all they have to do is send a blank email to mailto:subscribers@fawkner.com?subject=unsubscribe and instead of the email program automatically putting the word “unsubscribe” in the subject line, as this coding is intended to do, it leaves the whole thing intact and as a result the hapless subscriber receives an error message saying that the address is not a valid email address.

Perhaps these people have good reason not to send me a simple email saying “Hi Elena, I’ve been trying to unsubscribe but I keep getting an error message. Can you help me?”, in response to which I would simply unsub them manually. Perhaps these people have a good reason to instead send me personally abusive email accusing me of spamming and scamming, and God knows what else.

Perhaps that prospective advertiser the other week who placed an advertising order but didn’t follow up with the ad copy had a good reason for rudely proclaiming, when I followed up by email, “I tried the form on your site but it didn’t work. It suggest you fix it NOW. When will my ad go out and how many subscribers will receive it?”. Maybe that prospective advertiser had a good reason for emailing me a second time, less than an hour later (and well before I had even read the first message) saying “You still haven’t answered me. When will my ad run and how many subscribers do you have?!!!” (Maybe these same people also have a good reason for never using fewer than three exclamation marks to make their point.)

Maybe they had a good reason. But I can’t for the life of me imagine a good enough one.

No doubt that particular would-be advertiser is sitting there scratching his or her head (this person didn’t even have the courtesy of including their name in the email), wondering why my response was to issue a refund for their ad purchase and tell them to go advertise somewhere else.

You know what? I DON’T CARE what these people think of me. I’m DELIGHTED when people like that unsubscribe from my newsletter. I DON’T WANT to do business with people like this.

Why do we take it? Why is this sort of behavior and attitude accepted online when we would never tolerate it in a bricks and mortar environment? Why? Because we would never HAVE to tolerate it in the so-called “real world”. People would never DREAM of behaving like this in their “real life”. Who on earth would approach someone they wanted to do business with in such a fashion? Certainly not someone who had any sense of common courtesy, respect or dignity for themselves or anyone else they came in contact with. They’d just be avoided for the mad hatters they are.

But something happens to certain people when they get behind a computer screen. The anonymity of it emboldens them, allows them to act out with faceless strangers the frustrations that build up within them as a result of their own inadequacies in dealing with the “real world”: strangers who, they have well come to know, will just accept what’s thrown at them without any risk of retaliation because the recipients fear more of the same.

These are the very same kids (or people very much like them) that you and I remember from our early school years. They picked on the one person that they perceived to be the least able and likely to retaliate. There’s a word for people like this: bully. And all bullies are, at bottom, nothing but gutless cowards. Pure and simple.

I for one have had enough of it. All we achieve by ignoring these idiots is reinforcing the wrongheaded idea that it is acceptable to treat people this way. That it doesn’t matter how you treat people if you’re not face to face with them and you’re never likely to be.

I doubt any of us really has any question that the Internet is here to stay. It will continue to play a bigger and bigger part in our everyday lives. The day may well come, and perhaps a lot sooner than any of us expects, when we will no longer have to leave the house to go to work. We may all be working out of the comfort of our own homes from our computers. Online forms of communication may become the predominant way of communicating, at least when it comes to our working lives. What kind of world are we creating by allowing this groundswell of unfocused hatred against our fellow humans to go unchecked?

Don’t take it. You deserve better and your business deserves better. There are some things you just shouldn’t have to take just to make a buck. Call me a heretic, but some business just isn’t worth having.

2001 Elena Fawkner

Elena Fawkner is editor of A Home-Based Business Online … practical business ideas, opportunities and solutions for the work-from-home entrepreneur. http://www.ahbbo.com/

Standing Up to School Yard Bullies
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