Dear Tell All: I live in a perfectly nice downtown Madison neighborhood — perfectly nice on the surface, that is. Our neighborhood listserv generally reflects our humane, progressive values, as people inform one another about good causes or watch each other’s backs. Typical email subject lines include “Be sure to lock your car, ours was broken into” and “Giving away size 7 ice skates.”
You’d think you were living in Andy Griffith’s idyllic Mayberry until a spat breaks out on the listserv. And this happens with stunning regularity. It usually starts with a seemingly innocent post: “Anybody know whose cat is wandering around the neighborhood?” The back-and-forth often starts harmlessly — and then the Listserv Bully weighs in. This guy always has to insert himself in the conversation, and it’s usually an attempt to stir up ill will. He’ll lay blame on someone or express a nasty opinion or just disagree with a neighbor more harshly than he should.
Unfortunately, people often take the bait and engage with this jerk. The hostility level rises, and the group conversation ends with bad feelings in the air.
I never participate in these arguments, but I was pulled in recently when the Listserv Bully strongly implied that I let my dog poop on his lawn and didn’t clean it up. He didn’t use my name, but he made sure that people could figure out it was me. I was tempted to jump into the fray and call him out, simply stating the truth: I would never do such a thing. But I held back, and now I feel like a coward.
Do you think I should have stuck up for myself?
Responsible Dog Walker
Dear R.D.W.: You did the right thing. You yourself bemoan the hostility on the listserv, so why contribute to it? If you responded, you’d be playing right into the bully’s hands. Like an obnoxious kid, he wants to get a reaction. And as a wise adult, you should know better than to give him one. As any psychologist will tell you, the way to make such behavior go away is to stop rewarding it.
I always counsel taking the high road in situations like this. You can feel good about yourself for not sinking to his level. That said, if you let your dog poop in this guy’s yard just once, when no one was looking, I don’t think any judge in Dane County would convict you.
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