Toward Greater Civility

For as long as the internet has existed, so have communication challenges specific to it. The fact that you aren’t looking a real human being in the eyes consciously and subconsciously changes the way we enter into conversation. It’s easy to forget about the human who is on the other side of the digital ether. Over the last few years, however, we’ve witnessed significantly more devolution in our digital conversations. On some platforms, you can’t even call what’s happening a conversation anymore.

iRunFar, and the trail running and ultrarunning community as a whole, have in large part remained an insular offshoot of all this, a deviation from the digital norm. We are relatively small and so many of us actually know and sometimes run with others with whom we are digitally speaking. And even if we don’t know each other, we know that the strangers with whom we’re in discussion are like us; we are all forest roamers, stay-up-all-nighters, and push-harders. Familiarity inspires civility.

iRunFar has always asked–and expected–those who comment here to treat each other with respect, even or especially when they disagree. Almost seven years ago, we put that expectation in writing when we developed iRunFar’s Comment Policy. We took time to develop the policy by studying what other websites and communities were doing and asking for advice from those within our own community. It was with deep care that we developed the guiding practices of how we ask people to converse on iRunFar.

Of course, just like any couple or family or [insert whatever group you can imagine], our community sometimes disagrees. I know most of us try our best to debate well, or to maintain respect for the people with whom we disagree and the ideas they hold dear. But sometimes, even with the people we love the most, we get carried away in that disagreement. In the heat of the moment, we lack the capacity to navigate the situation and so we name call, or lose our temper, or stomp out of the room. In real life and here on the internet, we teach ourselves to walk back to the table, sit down and say we are sorry, and reenter the dialogue. All of this is very natural, as I don’t think any of us are born with the ability to navigate communication challenges seamlessly.

That said, I feel that there is an increasing trend on iRunFar for people to speak unconstructively with each other. This needs to change. Sure, our community is bigger and, therefore, we know fewer people in-person than we did five or 10 years ago. However, we are still just a collection of people with the same quirky interests and abilities. And never have we agreed on all things! We have and will always differ in perspective on everything from how much water we should drink each hour as we run to our much deeper community issues.

In order to be a fully-fledged and functioning community, we need to speak with civility as much as we can. I’m here today to ask each of you to help us return to a place where we can have respectful discourse. I’m not asking you to pretend you agree with others or to refrain from constructively sharing your dissenting opinion. Debate is not only healthy, but I feel it’s necessary. Very simply, we ask everyone to enter each conversation we have here with respect for everyone else who is a part of it. I am confident that we can work together to bring our conversation back to a place that allows all of us to share ideas openly, engage with different issues, and come out the other side with both problems pondered and relationships intact.

If you choose to participate in conversation on iRunFar going forward, I ask you to commit to doing these three actions:

  • Follow iRunFar’s Comment Policy as best as you can.
  • Check out columnist Sabrina Little’s essay about the importance of reasoning with others who share differing opinions and how exactly to go about doing it.
  • When you see conversation devolve from our guidelines in the comments section of one of our articles, contribute to trending it back in the right direction with a constructive comment.

iRunFar as well as the broader trail running and ultrarunning community have always been a collective. We are shaped by the ideas and actions of many. I think that’s in part why our sport has made it to 2020 and still has no real governing body. This evolution requires the effort and action of most. In the end, we remain a great, big family–yeah, one that’s expanded into most corners of the Earth and one that possesses just about every possible viewpoint–but we believe in the collective power and strength of that size and diversity. We welcome it. We hope you will join us in a path toward greater civility.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 45 comments

  1. Jon

    Couldn’t agree more with this. There are plenty of times lately where I catch myself typing some snarky response on someone’s post on FB or Instagram or myriad other forums that just isn’t constructive or helpful at all. I always feel way better deleting those posts and just moving on with my day then I would by getting into some bickering match with a friend or stranger. It’s definitely a good time to focus on how we can forge connections, not decimate them.

    1. Jeff Rome

      Well, decimate only means destroy by ten-percent, so decimating connections really isn’t THAT bad …

      But yes, I find myself writing sarcastic or snarky comments all the time (see above).

      I think some of us runners can let our egos get in the way of being a good person. It doesn’t really matter who’s right or wrong in a forum, and somehow we think it does. All of our hard work running sometimes may make us a better runner but a less pleasant person to be around. Maybe there are too many comments posted from someone who just needs a snack, because people really aren’t as argumentative in the world wide real life as they are online.

  2. Meghan Hicks

    Thank you for the support and encouragement, Jon, John, rld_7b, and Lisa.

    Jon, thank you for sharing that thought process. It’s a really honest one and I think not unlike to that of many people. I think it’s really natural to go through a sort of mental dialogue as you process a piece of information or opinion presented to you. When Sabrina Little wrote that essay for iRunFar’s readers last year that I linked to in this article, I was really struck by her pause-and-listen/think recommendation, have intentionally incorporated that into my inner journey before responding in difficult conversations, and am feeling like this is a good reminder cue for me.

    Thank you again, all.

  3. Bob

    Totally disagree. What a stupid suggestion. And you’re a big dummy stupid head for suggesting it.
    ;)
    No but seriously folks, great to see you making the effort to reinforce these common sense good behaviors.

  4. Karina

    My knee jerk reaction is that any call to “be civil” tends to police the voices of people who inherently are disadvantaged by rules biased towards (and created by) the faction who are driving the disadvantaging. But perhaps ultra running is so white that is not the case here and this actually is just a call out for jerks in the comment section (who else comes here anyway?), in either case this does not sit well with me.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Karina,

      Thanks for commenting. Your thoughts are ones that speak pretty strongly to me, as someone who possesses both privilege and disadvantage in the trail running and ultrarunning community specifically as well as society at large. I’m not sure there’s a perfect way to approach this, but perhaps there are better avenues than others?

      Everyone has ideas and emotions and I feel it’s important for people to express them both as they comment on iRunFar. Our comment policy was developed in an attempt to set boundaries that allow people to discuss difficult things in ways that give equal respect to the ideas and emotions of everyone. The boundaries we have set disallow hate speech, name calling, slander, and similar. For example, via the comment policy we attempted to create boundaries that allow a person to say, “I am upset with you because…,” but disallow, “You’re a real a%s.” And boundaries that allow a person to say, “I think this person may have cheated in the race because of X and Y data points…” and disallows, “What a cheater!”

      We are always on the path of trying to create a more welcoming-for-all space on iRunFar and in the trail running and ultrarunning community as a whole, and not at all because we want anyone to feel (further) marginalized. And we will continue trying to do right by as many people as we can. Please contact us if you have ideas on how to better create the sort of space that allows people to share ideas and emotions openly, https://www.irunfar.com/contact.

  5. Diederik le Grange

    Hmm. Why does irunfar again open their platform to a topic relating to politics and so called social justice? I mean look at Karina’s comments above. I for one, don’t need to read that on a running site! I have been following irunfar for years now. I am fond of everything to it. I do recall one instance where a physio and a pro runner clashed a little bit about a training regime, and the physio replied ‘let’s be civil here’. And they were, I think they are fine with each other today. But: I was really frowning when irunfar posted their black rectangle, saying sorry, proverbially doing their bow to BLM. That was uncalled for on the site. And it caused a riot in the comments section. One guy even typed to me ‘fuck off you racist pig’. I blame irunfar for placing that post- knowing (surely?!) that commets were to follow- that would divide runners to politically opposing stances- where the oil on the fire would be that comments get way more hostile than if people were to meet in person. My two cents would be to stick (return) to solely positive running related topics. Monitor the comments sections and block people that – to the best of your sole discretion- do not interact constructively on the platform.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Diederik,

      Thanks for sharing your feedback.

      I’m sorry you had a negative experience with another commenter on iRunFar who was not following our comment policy. However, I respectfully disagree that discussions about sensitive topics here or anywhere will/should/are expected to devolve into unconstructive interactions. Two people divided politically, religiously, socially, name the sensitive issue, can still come together in constructive conversation. To use Sabrina Little’s philosophical terminology, I believe we should endeavor to argue but not fight with each other.

      1. Diederik le Grange

        Meghan hi,
        Sure I hear what you say – I just mean that irunfar determines what articles and topics are published on the site. It is from there that all the followers like me, take suit with comments on it. I do not think any follower will think any less of the site and its depth of content, if certain topics were avoided. It is so easy: just stick to running related topics. For instance, go and publish an interview that you have with a runner that inspires. I strongly doubt that negative comments will follow, just because of that runner’s creed/race/beliefs etc. It’s simple: stick to running. That connects us as runners, even if just subconsciously. It is a means of how runners from different backgrounds and beliefs realise, that we have running in common- perhaps even more than just running? So: It all just depends on what irunfar posts in the first place..

        1. SageCanaday

          Diederik, I get the comment “just stick to running” all the time on my youtube channel and other social media. But I don’t because I’m a human being with other thoughts and interests that intersect with the running lifestyle.

          The issue I see here is this: Running (and our passion for the sport) crosses over into other value systems. For example, we could start talking about diet and nutrition (As related to running) Or environmental sustainability (as related to trail running etc), but that will “get political” very quickly. Politics are involved in environmental laws and regulations and trail use etc. An interview with a top runner that talks about their lifestyle factors and what they are passionate about can lead to very political topics…

          Media in general is always going to have a bias. There is usually an element of political influence there. We all have personal bias and other influences outside our running what will be reflected even when we are “just talking about running.”

          So what I’m saying it is: There is probably going to be “political overlap” in pretty much everything centered around value systems, lifestyles and our differing world views. As human beings (operating websites like iRunFar or our own social media accounts) we don’t just exist in a vacuum and spit out content that is totally unbiased and only (Very narrowly) defined within the parameters of what is objectively “just running.” Inevitably politics and other value systems are intertwined…even if it is just our hobby or main fitness activity.

  6. caperboy

    +1000 if I want political opinions I’ll go to twitter (I never go to twitter). I come to irunfar for inspiration, advice, scientifically sound information, friendly banter and smiles. I don’t come here to listen to political groups, political opinions, poop heads spouting off opinions or fake anger behind a keyboard. If that’s your stick good for you, but keep it elsewhere.

  7. Random runner

    This is a topic that comes up often in online forums. Civility can only exist if the distance between the views is not great. For example, a person of color will not just sit patiently and listen to a privileged white person saying that racism does not exist in America. Ultrarunning is an ultrawhite community (pardon the pun), and many runners tend to be liberals that have conservative family members, and have to balance this all the time. Personally, I am a progressive that has lost patience with the injustices of this country. Calls to civility and kindness are a white person’s problem, and definitely low on the list of pressing issues in this country. I am not hoping to convince anyone conservative reading this. But if you are a liberal white person calling for civility and read this, please take the time to follow some prominent people of color on Twitter. Learn about policing, incarceration, voter suppression. Then you will start to understand the dangers many people are facing. And then you’ll find it harder to be civil towards people who say everything is OK.

    1. Tim

      Similar to this comment, I’m a bit nuanced place for online discussion. I think a call for civility is a great reminder. At the same time, nobody should feel restricted from making heartfelt comments. The cost of civility for the sake of openness is worth it. Dialogue, even if uncivil, is worthwhile as the path forward is not linear, clean, and without discomfort. History has proven time-and-time again that when people feel like they should be silent due to mental or physical pressure then bad outcomes emerge.

  8. Ben A.

    I respectfully disagree with those who think that iRunFar needs to stick to simple tales of trails or avoid topics that might raise peoples hackles. Please keep inspiring thought and discussion. And it’s a very reasonable request that the comments be constructive.

  9. Pete

    Also, attempted humor, sarcasm and cynicism don’t transmit well over e-communications, especially as the community grows and not everyone knows each other anymore. A pattern I’ve seen in here involves well-known runners that insert seemingly harmless comments (perhaps trying to be funny) which is then taken the wrong way by readers and leads to some aggressive back and forth. Best to save your comedy bits for in-person at the races or on the trails.

  10. mike

    I am a great believer in free speech and, full disclosure, have been chastised for my tone in past IRunfar reader response bruhahas. I tend to fall on the “more speech is the best solution to objectionable speech” side of the fence and usually oppose civility mandates. But taking this out of the abstract and looking at the comments left on the excellent IRunfar Allison Marielle Desir article, it’s really easy to see how some folks on this site really just want to enflame and exclude, which isn’t really adding to a the community discussion whatsoever and seems aimed at destroying whatever community exists. So Meghan’s request is reasonable and, unfortunately, necessary.

  11. Jason+M

    Diederik is correct, if I want to get my fix of liberal white privilege stories I’ll go watch CNN. Love everything else about iRunFar tho!

  12. Carrie

    I prefer to put my $$ where my mouth is. I have strong opinions about those who use performance enhancers or anything on the WADA list. Or who cheat. So I make a donation every time it is noted that so-and-so served a suspension for whatever it is they mistakenly took.

  13. JacobsA

    The “just stick to _____” in itself is a political statement. I want this sport to be as equitable as possible and am willing to listen to people outside of my perspective as a straight white dude, even if it is difficult for me to understand. Yeah, it is uncomfortable to think outside of one’s paradigm, and I get that, but outright hostility to the idea of others experiencing something differently should never be considered civil. Keep writing things that force us to confront.

  14. Jason

    How about this for a radical thought…America is the greatest civilization that has ever existed in the history of the world. It’s provided more OPPORTUNITIES to more people of all races, backgrounds, religions than any other country anywhere at any time. I’m GRATEFUL to live in a place as wonderful as the U.S.A.

  15. Delia

    I particularly appreciate Meghan’s third request: “When you see conversation devolve from our guidelines in the comments section of one of our articles, contribute to trending it back in the right direction with a constructive comment.”
    When I see a long list of heated comments, I’m more likely to shy away from the whole thing and not comment, even if I had wanted to contribute. So that’s a good reminder.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Delia,

      I just wanted to say thank you for considering this. We really believe in the power of the group effort, that if most people, most of the time, are treating each other with respect as they comment on iRunFar, we will get further with our conversations. Thank you again.

  16. Josh T

    Great article! The “path toward greater civility” is surprisingly challenging, but very rewarding. Good thing we ultrarunners love a good challenge :-)

    1. Pete

      I appreciate that Jason – a person who genuinely believes that America is ‘the greatest civilisation that has ever existed in the history of the world’ is probably pretty impervious to facts.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Jason,

      It doesn’t appear that we’ve received a comment from you since yesterday at 4:51pm US Mountain Time which reads “Respectfully Pete, I don’t care about your opinion.” None of us have edited or redacted any comments in what has to be over a year (doing this is incredibly rare and usually involves us having a conversation with a commenter privately beforehand), and no comments from you were funneled into our spam or moderation folders.

  17. Paul

    Very cool to hear Meghan on NPR this morning discussing the rising popularity of FKTs. She was very civil with her comments (keeping it on topic).

  18. Jason

    My apologies Meghan…Pete, you sound like a very angry person. I’m sorry you don’t see our country as a wonderful place for all people like I do, it’s not perfect of course, no place is. But it’s sad to me that whatever deep rooted issues you have are showing themselves through anger at America, people whom disagree with your extreme outlook and lashing out. I’m going to say a prayer for you tonight and hope you are able to work through the real source of your anger which I’m afraid you have yet to face. God Bless you.

  19. Pete

    Hi Jason. Few points. 1. I’m not American. 2. Thinking that America isn’t the ‘greatest civilisation that has ever existed’ isn’t an extreme position. It’s a view held by almost everyone in the world. 3. I appreciate you praying for me, even if it is just an attempt to patronise. Cheers!

  20. Random runner

    As the anti-BLM/no-politics/”America f*** yeah” comments nicely demonstrate, civility isn’t the big problem we’re facing. To the folks at iRunFar, you should be clear that the call to civility is between your liberal white readers, and your conservative white readers. That’s it. If you want a future community that welcomes more folks, you’ll need to rethink a few things, e.g., not tolerate thinly-veiled racist viewpoints.

  21. Pete's history teacher

    Hey Pete, I’ll let my WW2 veteran Grandfather know you said thank you for not growing up under Nazi rule. He was happy to help.

  22. Jason

    Pete, I’d advise you to go learn up on American history. Again, we’re not perfect – but the entire world has benifited from our existence. American’s have given their lives to help people all over the world over and over again…and we will continue to do so as needed. I’ll leave this on a positive note, I believe you are a good person and I’ve enjoyed our dialogue. I mean it when I say it- God Bless you and your family.

  23. Ib Erik Söderblom

    Totally agree.

    In general I find long distance runners to communicate calmly and respectfully i writing as they do in words, when we meet in person.
    And can only add, that I have never seen any writing hatefully or with disrespect on irunfar.
    Well, I clearly have missed some commentsections.

    And then I read through the comments here, and was… negatively surprized.
    Whats going on in the US at the time ?

    Well as long as long distance runners stay positive, filled with empathy and the most helpfull sportsparticipants (and crews) ind the world in any sport, then there is always hope.

    1. Gil Jordan

      Yeah, me too. Was reading along enjoying the thoughtful comments until the Pete/Jason exchange came close to proving Meghan’s point. While it didn’t devolve into blatant name calling (“very angry person” doesn’t quite qualify as name-calling), it does show how easily non-face-to-face internet dialogue can go off the rails. That said, I come down on the side of not restricting articles or comments to exclusively running related (it is a complicated world and we need to keep addressing it), so long as it remains respectful.

      Here’s a lovely reminder of who and what we are as a running community, and why we should remember to be kind to one another, from one of Liza Howard’s Age-Old Runners series, a comment from one of the subjects of the series, Anita Ortiz:

      “Hey ya’ll—thanks for all the nice comments and compliments.
      I believe that everyone out there is the same. We are each working as hard as everyone else…it’s one big, hard working, quirky family. Some people move through time and space faster and some less so. But we are all in it together and in the long run, how we treat each other is what’s important. So thanks to everyone that I’ve met along my journey! We all succeed together.” –Anita Ortiz

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