I have no formal fight training, but I appreciate that training teaches discipline. Kids who learn self-control are more likely to stay out of fights than kids who don’t. A few months ago, I became interested in Verbal Judo, as espoused by the late English professor-turned-cop George “Rhino” Thompson. In short, Verbal Judo teaches you to maintain a professional face, to deflect verbal abuse with language that defuses conflict and elicits cooperation from others. I’ve found Thompson’s strategies more effective than just instinctively speaking my mind.
Before I discovered Verbal Judo, I had more than ten years experience moderating discussion lists. In the heyday of discussion lists, most communication over the Internet was written, from e-mail to instant messages. While the cloak of cyberspace can make people bolder than they are in person, and moderators especially can latch onto the feeling of power, writing has always calmed me and helped me think logically. I don't lord over members of my lists. I start discussion and step back once things are rolling.
In 2008, I was elected president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, a list of more than a thousand members, the most vocal of whom were strong personalities, sometimes making it difficult for different voices to be heard. I came in with a plan in writing to address what I saw as the most prevalent problems. This was met with backlash as the members felt I was forcing policy down their throats, even as my plan was open to discussion/group vote.
In the end, I solved the problem of list discipline by stepping back. I realized, with such a large list, it was impractical to step in as the arbiter of all disputes. Instead, I recommended that the individual members take responsibility for their behavior, including behavior that might lead to disputes. I would later learn that raising people's expectations of themselves is one of the goals of Verbal Judo.
I stepped down in 2010, after one term, though many members wanted me to run again. I didn't see what else I could do for the group. New ideas were needed, and I knew the truest test of what I accomplished would come after my time in office.