A lot is being said these days about how incredibly nasty Americans can be. We’re seeing it in politics, the media, and really, everywhere. Most people are nice, some people are a little grumpy, but a very small minority seem to be full of seething rage. Not ticked-off rage, but foaming-at-the-mouth, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs rage.

I’ve noticed this first-hand, as lately I’ve been more involved than usual in handling comments from our users. I should note that the community I refer to is a completely free online service, so it’s not as if people have the expectation that they’re paying us big bucks so we’d better cater to their needs. Not that it would excuse some of what they’re saying, but the point is that, really, we have zero obligation to do anything at all. We’re a free service that we graciously allow them to use.

One person didn’t receive a periodic newsletter from us. She sent us an e-mail that intermittently ventured into ALL CAPS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS, and started issuing ultimatums. While it would still be inexcusably rude if we had, say, lost years worth of uploaded content and double-billed her credit card, I’ll reiterate that she didn’t receive a newsletter from our free site, which is what set her off. We recently conducted a short survey of some of our users, and, while a coworker was going over the feedback we received at a meeting, there were some that she refused to read aloud because of their contents. Another coworker today received an e-mail calling her an ignorant C-word, and it wasn’t even in response to any sort of problem we caused or confrontation they perceived.

What is up with people? I tend to be nice for a few reasons. The first and most important is that I’m not a giant douchebag. My parents raised me so that I would at least pretend to be nice to people. And then there’s the time I spent working with customers all day long when I worked at the bowling alley, when I realized that most people would merrily take out their frustrations with my employer’s policies or with credit card companies or gas prices on me, a poor high-schooler. (“Gas prices?,” you might ask. Yeah, I don’t understand, either.)

And there’s a little bit of cold, calculated game-rigging going on with how I interact with people. Somewhere in between naturally being polite and having dealt with lots of people, some polite and some not, I’ve come to realize that, even if I’m actually angry, pretending to be an easy-going nice guy practically guarantees that the person I’m talking to will come to see things the way I see them.

It’s to be expected that some people will periodically be a bit short with someone in conversation. But what’s with all of the unreasonable levels of rage? Your newsletter is delayed so you send us eight paragraphs of all-caps text? You misconstrue something in a paranoid fashion and call my coworker a cu**? Is this what we’ve come to? Is someone pumping steroids into the water supply?

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