Thursday, August 28, 2008

Civility...with a little help from the Internet

Okay, I'm not sure how I feel about this, but just the other day I read an article in The Washington Post about a website that allows you to send anonymous, helpful hints to friends and co-workers. The site,, gives you oh-so-polite ways to tell someone their breath stinks, their office behavior gets on your nerves, or that they have the fashion sense of some of those Red Carpet disasters we love to mock.

At one time or another we've all had the experience of catching someone with their slip showing or what is euphemistically referred to as doggie breath (no offense to the dogs of the world). Whether we broach the topic depends on the likely embarrassment quotient...for them and us. takes the embarrassment out of it, unless you happen to be on the receiving end of a message that says, for example, "It looks as if your zipper is down" or "a breath mint would be beneficial today." One actually focused on out-dated ties. Is this a big concern where you work?

At any rate, on a visit to the site, I found that in the office category, the item receiving the most hits lets someone know they're not being a team player. Let's say this anonymous note arrives in your inbox. Do you (a) straighten up and become a better co-worker or (b)launch an investigation into who in the office is the coward who sent it to you, rather than confronting the issue head-on?

By far the most hits (over 3200 when I checked) had been for the suggestion that a breath mint would be helpful, which may show that the world's priorities lean toward personal hygiene.

My personal favorite was one which politely suggests to a neighbor that they remember to close their blinds at night. Hmm? I do recall one instance when this would have come in handy. A friend holding a dinner party one night looked out of her window directly into the window of the house next door to find a couple actively engaged in what should be, generally speaking, an intimate, private moment. To this day I have an image I can't shake of her talking fast and furiously to keep everyone's attention focused on her...and not on the neighbors.

Do you think this anonymous form of communication means we've finally found a civilized way to mention the unmentionable? Or is this yet another way that we've found to let the Internet intrude into our lives in a way that actually lessens civility and encourages people to take pot-shots at one another? As I said, I have very mixed feelings about it, so I'd love to hear what you think. Click on comments below and send in your thoughts. Whatever you do, don't go to this site and send me an anonymous email about anything.

Sherryl Woods

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