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Welcome to the 12th installment of "The Unrav'ling Thread", where we consider what transpires after a diary is launched onto the Great Orange Sea. Part 11 examined the issue of anonymity - your anonymity. Today's installment deals with the anonymity - and privacy - of others and how we can interact with courtesy, compassion, and caution.

Much as we think we "know" one another here, there's much we don't know. We can pick up on factual information that the diarist shares about their gender, age, profession, location, beliefs, sentiments, and experiences. We can also form our own judgments on the quality of their writing, the veracity of their claims, and the validity of their opinions.

With the anonymity of the Internet, we lack many of the cues that would help us in face-to-face dealings with other people. Here, we have only the words on the screen on which to base our evaluation and reaction. We don't have body language or facial expressions to help us distinguish between snark and insult, between sarcasm and sincerity, or between wit and pain. We lack the cues of appearance: is the writer exhausted, dissheveled, teary-eyed, hyperventilating,? We lack the cues of mental state: is the writer depressed? Have they been drinking? Taking drugs? How might these conditions color their writing, and their ability to interact with commenters?

Lacking this information, we make many assumptions when we read a diary or a comment. Many diaries are pervaded by anger. Much of it's entirely justified, given current events and the witless actions and pronouncements of public figures. However, some of the anger is clearly personal, reflecting the diarist's rage against their medical/financial/relationship circumstances, against the action (or inaction) of others, or against the universe in general.

Pain is no stranger to our diaries, whether physical or emotional. From the relentless anguish of chronic pain, to the acute pain of injuries, our minds struggle to set aside the pain and concentrate on the task at hand, with mixed results. Will others empathize and share their kind thoughts or constructive suggestions? Or will they compound the pain of the diarist with ill-considered remarks?

Sometimes the pain is emotional, resulting from separation, abandonment, discrimination, rejection, or loss. When a diarist or commenter writes from a place of profound pain, they are in a vulnerable state. While writing diaries may have therapeutic value, it also exposes the diarist to the slings and arrows of outrageous commenters, who may ignore or prey upon the writer's vulnerability.

When you enter the diary of someone whose mental state concerns you, tread very carefully.

Remember, your assumptions are colored by your own state of mind. If you're angry, aggravated, or argumentative, those conditions may influence the likelhood that you'll step into the fray, and that you'll exacerbate the situation with an intemperate remark.

Follow along below the communication gap for some ideas on whether and how to engage in comments on a diary fraught with emotional peril.

When you find yourself enmeshed in the comment thread of a diary that suggests that the diarist may not be in a good frame of mind, stop, and take note of the situation.

First, do no harm. You will do well to keep in mind the wise words of Kossack Wee Mama:

"Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?"
If the content of a diary (or a diarist's reactions to commenters) leaves you fearful about the diarist's mental state, you might want to click on their username and go to their profile and click on "Diaries" to look at some of their other diaries. This will help you determine whether this diary is typical of their writing, or whether this issue might be especially painful for them (or whether, frankly, they are having a bad day, as happens to all of us from time to time).

You can also click on the diarist's "Comments Posted" to get a sense of whether they're always this contentious, or just within this particular diary.

Additional clues can sometimes be derived from the comments of others reacting to the diary. Remember, though, you don't know much about the intentions of commenters. Some are the salt of the earth, with the milk of human kindness in their veins. Others, sadly, are the sort of people who'd be yelling "jump! jump!" at the person teetering on the ledge.  

Sometimes, the diarist will answer your question pre-emptively, telling you that they've had the day from Hell, that they've just gotten some bad news, or that they've been drinking.

While you might have guessed that one or more of those things was the reason for their dark mood and emotional writing, do not speculate in the comments! Keep your thoughts to yourself. If you still want to comment, make sure that your comment won't simply pour gasoline on troubled fires.

Just as in real life, you can always express your sympathy or empathy and leave it at that. If the diarist is someone you follow and that you feel close to, another option is to send them a private Kosmail message, expressing your concern and perhaps offering to help.

I'll leave you with a thought from beneath the Great Orange Sea:

Lobsters, in order to grow, have to shed their shells and grow a new shell. When they shed their shell, they're incredible vulnerable to predators as well as to injury, and they steer clear of these perils. It's only by making themselves vulnerable that they can grow. We're much the same. So when you come upon a diarist who's between shells, show them some compassion. Their life may already be full of danger. You could be their safe harbor.

If you've missed previous installments of The Unrav'ling Thread, here are the links.

If you have ideas for future topics, please let me know. As long as there's something to write, I'm happy to add more installments.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11

Originally posted to cassandracarolina's fossil record on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 12:47 PM PDT.

Also republished by Courtesy Kos, New Diarists, and Community Spotlight.

Poll

When I find myself wondering about the mental state of a diarist, I

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| 58 votes | Vote | Results

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