How to Leave a Good Comment (Part One)
I am slowly emerging back into the world of the living, by which I mean that I am contemplating taking a shower and eating something more than a banana. Since I don’t have the brain power to discuss the dafookness of TLC’s My Monkey Baby, I am instead turning this over to a discussion on commenting in honour of IComLeavWe.
I have often bitched that the almighty comment gets short shrift. Posts win awards. Posts get Kirtsy’d. Posts are talked about and dissected and read aloud. Posts get projects named after them and inspire Writer’s Block and make some sites millions of dollars (millions and billions and trillions of doll-ahs!).
But what does the comment get?
People complain that they don’t get enough comments or they wish they could have more comments or that they can’t think of anything to write in the comment section. People delete comments. We ball them up like garbage and toss them out sometimes. And people use the beautiful comment box to spew hatred or shit on someone’s day or write about a! great! new! penis! enhancement! tool! you! should! know! about!
We took back the comment with IComLeavWe, and that’s a good first step. But I think we need to write and think and speak about comment leaving much in the same way we write and think and speak about blog post construction. Obviously I think that or I would write so fucking often about it (I know, some of you are rolling your eyes and saying, “great, Mel talks about commenting again. I wish she’d get back to anagrams or return to vomiting up breakfast.”).
Where were we?
I think there are six main areas that need discussion and these correlate to the chief harbingers of questions: who, what, where, when, why, how?
I’m going to talk about the first three (who, what, where) in this post, and the last three (when, why, how) in the next post. These are my thoughts on the topic, and I’d love to hear yours too (hey! In the comment section!) because it’s a topic that deserves its own discussion. Really.
Some people are squeamish about commenting on a site if they haven’t commented before. Or jumping into a discussion on adoption if they’re doing IVF. Or comforting someone after a loss if the commenter has children. And all these things are thoughtful ideas, but the flip side is that a lot of good thoughts then go unsaid (probably some terrible thoughts also go unsaid though).
The reality is that if people have a comment box open, they are welcoming feedback or support or accolades. Comment boxes are easy to close–even on a post by post basis. I do think it’s a good idea to hang back for a post or two if you don’t know the blog at all and get a sense of the author and his/her story before doling out advice or opinions. But insofar as simply leaving a congratulations or an “I’m sorry”–those I don’t think require a special understanding of the author.
It’s thoughtful to try to save the other person hurt feelings from seeing support come from someone who is very much the polar opposite of the situation at hand (a parent comforting someone going through pregnancy loss, a newlywed comforting a widower, etc), but the answer is not to ignore the other person. They just spilled their heart on the screen; it seems cruel to just click away. The answer is to be simple, take the focus off of you (you don’t have to link to your blog with some commenting systems), and know that while few want to hear criticism from someone outside (or inside) the community when they’re processing something difficult, most would not be angry to receive unconditional support when it is worded simply and thoughtfully. And those who don’t want comments at all tend to close their comment box on a post.
But those are my views, and they’re based in a belief that good thoughts often come from places where we least expect them. Another Iffer is probably a great person to offer comfort after a failed cycle. But there are also people outside the community who simply have empathy. And some of the best advice I ever received and used to get through infertility had nothing to do with my reproductive organs. I simply took dating advice or job advice and applied it to a different situation.
Everyone needs to have a first time commenting on a new blog and if we all hold back and wait for another person to comment first, we’ll never start the conversation.
What is pretty straightforward: it’s the definition of a comment. I’d define the comment as a verbal hug. A written head-nod. Comments can be critical, when the criticism is used to address a point with the purpose of coming to new understanding. In other words, just as you’d point out something in a person’s line of reasoning if you were having a conversation with them, you’d do so in the comment box.
What comments are not: bait to reel someone towards a different space, real estate on another person’s blog to talk about the commenter, or a hate speech receptacle (whether it is directed at the author or a larger group of people).
Er…usually at the bottom of the post. Sometimes at the top of the post. A lack of comment box means that the writer probably doesn’t want to hear from other people.
Okay, now discuss. Remember, I’m talking about commenting used right–not commenting used wrong.
Since where is pretty self-evident, start with what does commenting mean to you? What are your thoughts on new commenters (if they do so thoughtfully) especially those outside your experience (for instance, someone commenting on an adoption post though they’re doing IUIs)? What about long-time commenters leaving simple comfort on a post when their experience is far outside your own (in other words, a person with children leaving a comment on a IVF cancellation post)? Do you ever close your comment box on a post? Do you feel comfortable commenting on a new blog and what makes you feel like a comment is welcome vs. strangers keep out?
I don’t think we will come to a consensus, nor do I think that one philosophy should trump others. But this is food for thought for how you guide commenting on your own blog in the future. Consider posting what you need insofar as comments at the bottom of the post (“I’d love comfort, but no advice, please”) or closing comments from time to time. I try to always listen to the wants of others (though I can’t help it if I’ve missed the request). If a person says they hate seeing comments from people with kids, I don’t comment over there. If they mention how much comments mean to them, I do my hardest to make sure that I leave one from time to time.
Of course, we are all cramped for time so this is not to make you feel guilty for not leaving more comments (seriously, I need to work on this too), but to talk about using the comment box better.
As for myself, I welcome new commenters and old commenters–both inside and outside my personal experience–because it’s through that back-and-forth that I always learn something new, see my own words in a different light, or gain insight into the way I’m seeing the world. The advice I’ve gotten from the comment box is invaluable–better than any backyard fence. The hurt I’ve also gotten from the comment box is fodder for a different post because this is where I want to talk about what we do right–how we use commenting to create an ongoing conversation.