This has become such a contentious topic that common sense is telling me
that I should just stay out of it, but it's such an important one that
I'm going to risk making a contribution (apologies to Penelope for all the
English - I won't be offended if you immediately delete it).
First off, let me say that I have been happy to read, learn from, and keep
various sorts of information from Gobnait, Tris, Fiona and others in
response to both my own questions and questions that others have raised.
I consider this one of the great values of the list. I've also enjoyed
the various debates, differences in opinion, and exchange of ideas that
have taken place. I think this increases what we all learn. I,
personally, prefer it when the tone and content of differences in opinion
are expressed with less anger than has been evident in this debate (some
of the e-mails have made my stomache churn, and really no-one wants to
develop a stress-ulcer from their list-serve).
As a grad student I spend a lot of my time reassuring my colleagues
that they are not "just" master's students or "lowly undergrads." I see
people undervalue themselves and what they know or think, and be unwilling
to say anything because of that, every day. I spend a lot of time trying
to counteract this and so it's disturbing (for me anyway) to see what
seems to be the exact same thing happening on the list. Whether such
comments were intended to make it on the list or not, I suspect a lot of
people fear that this attitude exists. I know that there have been
postings that I have had thoughts on but have not replied to publically
because I didn't think that I knew enough or was concerned that I'd get an
e-mail from someone else telling me just that, which would be completely
demoralizing. I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in this.
I'll admit that I don't think that comments, contributions or even
corrections should be limited only to the most experienced and fluent. ( I
know of other instances where people suggesting an answer have been told
that they aren't fluent enough to offer one) though it is always a huge
benefit to have their input. It assumes that unless you've reached level
X that you have nothing of possible value to offer. Less-experienced
learners may have picked up a valuable nugget of info or two along the way
either from someone else or from their own deductions. I would hope that
any list would encourage input from all their subscribers. At the very
least it's an opportunity to see what info is circulating out there and to
correct info that might be wrong. How else do people learn?
As to the issue of this starting from a private message: I imagine it's
uncomfortable and annoying for Gobnait to have something she intended to
be private to become public, which is unfortunate. Regardless of
netiquette, I'm not entirely sure that I agree that it should have
remained private no matter what; since the e-mail, however accurately or
inaccurately it may have been reproduced, deals with how people can or
should participate on the list it has repercussions for all list members.
Even if the only outcome were that one person was less involved on the
list that still effects everyone and that's not a change that everyone
wants, for various reasons.
A couple of things worth considering: however much we might intend any
communication to remain private once we send something out into the world,
whether or not it's fair, we no longer have control over what happens to
it ; e-mail is a terrible medium for relaying tone accurately so offence
can occur when none was intended (be warned, humour does not travel well
over the internet - I have had to make apologies for things I thought
would be read as humorous and have come off as rude and snarky instead);
and I have learned (the hard and embarrasing way) that the old adage is
right: "don't do (or say) anything that you wouldn't do in front of your
mother" or wouldn't be willing to admit to publically.
I still live in hope that the list will encourage more contributions, not
less, and that all contributions will be treated with respect since they
are made with the intention of informing and benefitting everyone.
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