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 the Managing Editor of iRunFar 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.