Is Common Courtesy/Altruism Dead?

13 Aug 2012Steve Schwarz

Every week I get an email from at least one AgilityNerd reader. Sometimes it is a quick thank you note, a question about an article or an inquiry about an upcoming Seminar. I really like hearing from my readers. I’m happy to help out when I can. The thing I don’t get is some people’s attitude toward my time and my advice. I wonder if courtesy and an altruistic viewpoint are disappearing in our agility community.

Whine On!

Like many folks I have a full time job. I also teach agility at night, read and contribute to agility and web development email lists and blogs; develop and maintain free agility websites like AgilityCourses and Googility; I design courses, write articles, and create videos for this blog; develop and teach seminars, and I sometimes trial and train my dogs - but not nearly enough of the later. Even so, when someone emails me with a question I do want to help them - it’s what nice people do and I try to be a nice person.

But unless someone is asking me a basic question it takes real time for me to answer. I can easily spend 10-15 minutes writing an email response. So when I get emails asking me detailed training questions, sometimes including video or course maps, it is hard for me to make time to address them properly. But I’ll often make time and might convert part of the response into a blog post. If that’s the case I’m spending 1-2 hours (or more if I’m editing video) on helping this person (and hopefully other readers of my blog).

I’m a grown up and I choose what I spend my time on. But there are a few things that have been happening lately that are really getting my goat and since this is my blog I’m going to vent about them!

Would It Kill You To Say Thank You?

Recently I went through a month where no one even replied to my responses to their email inquiries. So I had spent several hours helping people and they didn’t have the common decency to reply with a two word email i.e. Thank you. This is definitely my pet peeve.

I wonder if some folks think everything on the web is “free” and expect full access to everyone on the web and have forgotten we are people with lives just like theirs who choose to help them.

It’s a fact that people don’t value things they get for free. Maybe if I responded with a link to a PayPal invoice in my reply I’d hear back from these people…? Instead I decided to be passive aggressive: a few days later I sent them follow up email to see if they had received my reply. Even then only one or two people even replied.

Don't Put My Email On Your Blog

I had someone email me asking me questions multiple times and each time writing that I can’t use their question in my blog. That’s just offensive on multiple fronts.

Do they really think I wouldn’t respect their privacy? Don’t they think I’d ask them before I did such a thing and I’d change things to keep them anonymous?

Apparently I’m here as their personal agility adviser. And of course they didn’t reply with a thanks after I did take time to help them.

Your Advice Sucks!

The other end of the spectrum is people who do reply but only to complain about my advice. Really? Really??! I’m sorry if my free advice doesn’t suit you. I’m sorry I didn’t know X or Y about you or your dog. I’m sorry I answered the question you asked instead of the one you meant to ask.

It’s one thing if they have further questions or don’t understand my response. But I just love the: “That will never work!” or “So and So’s system won’t let me do that!” or “My dog can’t do that!“. Then my advice is to find someone else to give you the free advice that you wanted to hear.

Maybe I'm Out of Touch

So what am I going to do? Sometimes I think I’m just too thin skinned to be writing a blog. Other times I think I’m a chump for doing any of this. I get so frustrated with the lack of consideration and courtesy on display by these people that they make me want to shut down my websites and delete it all.

That also makes me wonder if the days when people offered their knowledge on the web in a desire to help their fellow hobbyists are over.

In the past couple of years some of the “big names” in agility offer pay to play: on-line classes, forums, video lessons, newsletters and/or email lists. I’m not begrudging them the right to earn money for their expertise. We all want to get paid for doing the things we love. Furthermore, technology has made it possible for us to train with people and learn skills we could never have before. So I’m both grateful they are doing it and saddened that they might not otherwise share their knowledge.

So I have the most respect for the trainers who also spend time reading and responding to public email lists and writing blog posts on freely available web sites. Their comments are read by thousands of competitors and help improve our sport/hobby.

Whine Off!

After all of that I still believe that we should help one another when and how we can. Without the help of some great trainers I wouldn’t know what I know now. Most people are good, thoughtful, courteous and often kind. I’ve met many of you at trials and you’ve always buoyed my spirits with your kind words to me about my blog and websites. Many of you thanked me for email responses I offered.

I’m greatly encouraged by agility trainers and hobbyists who let me share their knowledge, techniques, courses, and analyses freely on this blog.

I’ve also met people, virtually, who have volunteered their time to translate to their language; to make it accessible to people speaking their language. They make me feel like my efforts are worthwhile. Altruism on the web may not be dead.

I’m also encouraged by the dog agility action day bloggers, an informal group that joins together periodically to blog about common interests in our sport. I love that these people have the desire to share their knowledge with our community - fractured and contentious as it can sometimes be.

So I won’t shut it all down or delete it. Maybe just to spite the bad apples out there, I’m going to stick it out until, at least, 2014; that will make 10 years blogging about dog agility. Ten years is a good number. Maybe by then the shape of the dog agility web will be completely different and I’ll be interested in the next big thing. For now I’ll still try to reply to emails in the hope that doing so will encourage people to reply when I have a question and make this little corner of the web more like a neighborhood.

There is something you can do too: be involved in the online dog agility community. Please, love it or hate it: comment on a blog post, click a “Like” button, share a blog post with a friend, and thank a writer for taking time doing what they do. That’s the “payment” that means the most to me and other folks who write on the web. It means our hours of work have value to you and you appreciate it.

With your help, courtesy and altruism in our little agility world will live on.

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