The 7 Commandments of Blogosphere (and Life) Self-Defense

82 Comments

letters1.jpg
I learned self-defense early (Tim, first grade)

I love and hate blogs. One minute I feel like David Weinberger and the next I feel like Andrew Keen.

The beauty of blogs: they give every genius a voice. The beast: they give every idiot a voice.
To be fair, most of us are neither pure geniuses nor idiots but seem to alternate between the two. I get stuck in idiot mode at least 60% of the time and don’t realize it 99% of the time.

So the question of blog self-defense isn’t just “how do we defend ourselves against full-time idiots?” but also “how do we defend ourselves against part-time idiots who are probably cool most of the time but woke up on the wrong/stupid side of the bed this morning?”

“Defend ourselves against what?” you ask? Here is a glowing fan e-mail I received one week ago:

[Your sport] shows that you are a hypocrite to profess helping others with your book. You are showing a grave example of the White horseman to our children. Shame on you. Shame on you… Shame. And Wickedness… It is the most evil war on earth, the one for blood spectacle for those who would entertain by whoring themselves prostituting violence to those who seek and lust to watch inhumanity. You are an evil one who has gained the world and lost your soul.

Was this in response to my how-to article on clubbing baby seals? My “Top 10 Places for Tripping Blind Old Ladies” post? No, ma’am…

It was in response to my post aimed at helping the non-profit Donorschoose raise funding for public school teachers. I mentioned my background in collegiate wrestling (and elsewhere mixed-martial arts training), a controlled contact sport between consenting participants. This reader has since sent me more than a dozen increasingly threatening e-mails (BTW, save all of these types of e-mail for law enforcement, if later needed). I suspect that threatening me into embracing the peace teachings of Christ isn’t what good Christians do. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s a sin somewhere. For shame! Shame on you! Shame!

One female career blogger I know laughed when I lamented about these attacks. She gets an average of one death threat and one sex request per week… and she’s trying to help people build more fulfilling careers! How dare she! Shame. And Wickedness.

Why do people attack others trying to do good things? I can only come up with two theories:

1. There are two ways to increase perceived self-worth: elevate yourself or cut down others. The latter takes less time. It’s a case of “the worse you look, the better I feel about myself” and a short-lived high.

2. Empowering others involves removing external excuses for inaction. This is threatening to those who would rather complain than take action to improve their circumstances. Their alternative solution is thus 1 above: attack the messenger instead of the message (referred to in logic as an ad hominem attack).

Here are the 7 commandments of blogosphere self-defense that I’ve found to work.

Most of them are adapted from my time as a bouncer, which was one of several jobs I had to help cover expenses at Princeton. I weighed about 175 pounds and the other bouncers were all between 220-275, which meant that every drunk wanted to fight me. There were five of us who were paid twice as much as other bouncers because we never had to throw a single punch. Here are a few of the rules I used, adapted here for social media:

1. The only way to win a fight is to avoid it.
2. Focus on getting your desired outcome, not on being right.
3. If a fight is inevitable, strike first.
4. To diffuse a fight, admit mistakes and validate others’ feelings.
5. If a group fight is unavoidable, take out the leader.
6. Remove anonymity.
7. There is strength in numbers. Never fight alone unless you have to.

Here is how I adapted them to social media:

1. The only way to win a fight is to avoid it.

No one ever “wins” a fight. There is an emotional cost even for the victor in an argument, and certainly in a physical altercation. It is not possible to win a logical argument with an illogical person, so don’t bother. Your attempts will just fuel the fire and cause the situation to escalate, encouraging them and draining you. The best response is often no response, unless they are recruiting more formidable attackers and becoming a leader. This is covered separately.

I could spend all day every day responding to attacks from critics who have never read the book. It would be a waste of my life and I would get nothing important done. I even told my agent in the beginning — as he forwarded me every Google Alert for my name, including the negative — “Unless it’s something I absolutely need to respond to, please don’t send me the negative stuff. I need my enthusiasm and confidence right now for the bigger picture, and reading cheap shots just slows me down.”

Ignore idiots whenever possible. You do it offline all the time, so why not online?

2. Focus on getting your desired outcome, not on being right.

Fix the problem, not the person. Being effective doesn’t require being nasty. One reader posted a comment on the blog calling me a fraud for not allowing him to access the “so-called” bonuses on the reader-only section. This was immediately followed by “If your moderator does not post my comment, I will post it on several sites that discuss fraud.” Both comments were approved, and I responded with the following:

Dear [no need for names, right?],

I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve had some trouble. Are you referring to the reader-only section on http://www.fourhourworkweek.com? We’ve worked really hard — there is a team of four or so who work on the site — to add even more extras than are listed in the book. We are really proud to have less than a 1% inquiry rate from those who attempt to register, but sometimes things do pop up, like glitches related to Firefox 2, spam filters for Earthlink/AOL, etc. We also sometimes take down a bonus to add to it or make improvements. More are on the way.

I apologize if you ran into problems and promise that my tech team is really doing their best. They respond to at least 98% of our tech-related e-mails in 18 hours or so, and we’ve made repeated improvements to the registration area based on user feedback.

In all cases, I can’t stop you from putting us on fraud sites, but I’d ask you not to, as there is no fraud here. Please take a second to give it another shot at http://xxxxx.html and email Steve at guru-at-fourhourworkweek-dot-com if you still have problems. We’re really doing our best. Alex and others may also be able to help.

Cheers,
Tim

So, what was the problem? The lead of my tech team spent close to five hours with him, and it was an issue with how he had ZoneAlarm firewall configured on his computer. He thanked the team profusely via phone and said he would post a retraction on the blog. It never came, but the accusations ended. Problem solved. Focus on outcomes, not on being right.

3. If a fight is inevitable, strike first.

If someone is lining up to punch you, there are clear warning signs that a strike is coming. If it’s inevitable, you pre-empt the attack with a loud verbal interruption or you subdue them (for you aspiring bouncers, finger locks work well) so no one gets seriously injured. Knowing that I would be the lightest bouncer on staff at all of the clubs, I fully expected that the drunkest athletes would aim for me at around 1:30am.

The solution? Invite a few of the biggest football players to judo practice for a few consecutive weeks–I was the president of the club–and toss them around or choke them. Word spreads fast and problem solved.

In the case of the book launch, I knew that most people would find my bio unbelievable and aim for personal attacks. To pre-empt this, I put video documentation on the site of the USAWKF kickboxing (sanshou) national championships in 1999, the tango world championships, breakdancing, etc. It didn’t stop people from claiming I was a liar, but those who did due diligence were satisfied. Predict the objections and accusations and pre-empt them.

4. To diffuse a fight, admit mistakes and validate others’ feelings.

and

5. If a group fight is unavoidable, take out the leader.

As a bouncer, you follow the rules of the club and allow in who they want to allow in. This, as you might imagine, produces all sorts of anger in people who are turned away. Simply saying “I don’t make the rules” doesn’t appease anyone, but pointing out that “I would feel the same way, and I hate doing this, but these are the rules I need to follow to keep this job” helps them to empathize and averts most disaster. Emotions run high at the door, so apologizing for an overly aggressive comment also goes miles.

On June 14th, a reader (thank you, Scott!) pointed out a mistaken attribution for the “slow dance” poem featured towards the end of my book. I had hired an intern to double-check the source on this specific reference, but she missed what Scott found. Mistakes happen. I immediately contacted the original author and made the correction that same week for the next printing. Here it is:

letters2.jpg

On the 15th, Robert Scoble e-mailed me about someone–let’s call him NBTD (“Nothing Better To Do”)–attacking me all over the web, who was now trolling on Robert’s blog.

Group fights are dangerous. There is a mob intoxication that can drive normal people to attack without good reason. One of my fellow bouncers, a physics graduate student and former amateur middleweight boxing champion of the USSR (this is a world-class accomplishment), had his head kicked in by a group of four shot putters from Princeton and nearby Rutgers. Based on his account, one of them was clearly the leader who incited the rest of a hesitant group to do the unthinkable.

It is near impossible to defeat multiple opponents. The good news is that you don’t have to. If you cut off the head of the group–the leader–in full view, the rest usually regain their sanity or lose their mob-induced balls. I once faced a similar situation with athletes at the door of a club, and as soon as I saw it escalating with one clear alpha-male leader who squared off, I hit him with ippon seoi-nage onto the grass. He just had the wind knocked out of him, but it was so decisive in appearance that the rest of the group dispersed.

NBTD was clearly becoming a potential leader, and I soon saw the extent of his slander all over, but I chose to respond on Robert’s blog because it has the most exposure. Here is part of my response:

I appreciate the skepticism, as I realize that my bio seems unbelievable. I’m a skeptic myself and would probably respond the same way.

I’ll address both of your points here, as I’ve only now come to realize how many places you’ve posted the same criticisms/comments. I would have replied sooner but have been on the road.

I made the attribution of the poem on p. 284 based on the legitimacy of the source of the e-mail — a close friend and doctor. I only just became aware of its use in chain e-mail thanks to a heads up from one of my readers (thank you, Scott), and this will be immediately corrected in the next printing. No fraud involved. I have nothing to gain from making inaccurate attributions other than headache.

For the fighting, please the multimedia section of my site. There is video footage — and has been since the site launched — of me winning the national sanshou (Chinese kickboxing) nationals at 165 lbs. In 1999 in Maryland. I also have a feature article with a photo of me fighting in the May 2007 issue of Fortune Small Business (FSB). I have a black belt in judo from the Kodokan in Tokyo, Japan, where I competed from 1992-1993. I have also trained at Brazilian Top Team (Rio) (photos on Flickr), Norwegian Top Team with Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen (Oslo), Takada Dojo (Tokyo), Kiguchi Dojo (Tokyo, where Takanori Gomi trains), Enson Inoue’s Purebred (Omiya, Japan), Yuki Nakai’s Paraestra (Tokyo), and Fairtex Muay Thai in Bangplee, Thailand (one of my Muay Thai knockouts — knee to the liver — is also on the fight video on my site), among others. I now train with some of best in the world of MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at http://www.akakickbox.com. Drop in anytime to see me in action.

I hope this clears things up. Robert, I sincerely apologize for the confusion caused by my delay in responding.

Have a great weekend to all,
Tim Ferriss

P.S. [NBTD], I’d sincerely appreciate it if you could hold a ceasefire on the assault. I am not a fraud. I’m just a first-time author doing his best to spread ideas that might benefit a few people.

Did it end all of his attacks? Of course not. But it allowed me to prevent an unfounded en masse attack. More people also came out to ask him to stop his one-man war. That’s the best you can do against those who have NBTD.

6. Remove anonymity.

Anonymity breeds what I call coward courage. For that reason, if someone was about to start a fight with me as a bouncer, I would always oddly stare at their face for about 10 seconds without saying anything at first. “What the $#%& are you doing?” they’d ask, to which I would reply, “I’m memorizing your face so we can call the police and press assault charges if you do anything you’ll regret.” Oh. That drops the testosterone right quick. Be stupid and you’ll face consequences.

In the world of blogs, pointing out that you have IP addresses often silences the courageous cowards. If it doesn’t, silence them with deletion or banning. I never publish comments without real e-mail addresses, and I have no problem with deleting and banning users. I treat my blog like a gathering in my home. Polite and productive debate is great, but I have no time for rude people in my living room. I set the rules–spit acid and nonsense somewhere else. Allowing BS on your blog is a disservice to your readers, in my opinion, and it reinforces the type of behavior that does nothing but breed more idiots.

7. There is strength in numbers. Never fight alone unless you have to.

Don’t fight alone unless you have to. Take a breath and see if the community will correct the attacker. If you give it even 24 hours, this happens more often than you might think. Even in the tsunami of misinformation (and disinformation) that is the Internet, the facts sometimes win.

Here are a few goodies I’ve mentioned elsewhere that were strategically missed for these entries:

-I gave out well over 300 advanced copies of the book. Close to 200 were given to SXSW attendees alone. The fact that there were more than 15 five-star reviews the day debuted on Amazon is not strange at all. It is a reflection of A) the sheer number of advanced copies sent out, B) the content, and C) the fact that I encouraged people who e-mailed me about the book pre-publication to post on Amazon when it went live. Few people spend much time reviewing on Amazon, so I can understand how some NBTDs would turn it into the JFK conspiracy, but the numbers alone explain how this happened.

-The body composition changes and muscle gain I talk about on the blog (what does that even have to do with the book?) were measured at San Jose State University using hydrostatic weighing and circumference measurements, combined with measurements from the Brooks Brothers tailor at Santana Row in San Jose, CA.

-I was national champion at 165 lbs. in the 1999 USAWKF sanshou (Chinese kickboxing) championships. I was cornered by Jason Yee of Boston Sanda and hundreds of people watched it unfold. I was nicknamed “sumo”–which was chanted from the stands–for my unorthodox style of throwing or pushing people off the platform to win by default. The African-American I competed against in the kickboxing video here was the silver medalist. Here’s a recent e-mail from one of the coaches, Josh Bartholomew, at Boston Sanda, who videotaped the whole spectacle:

You mean the tournament where you weighed in at 165 and fought at 180. The guy at the scale said that if he put one drop of water on you, you would have been too heavy. You won all of your fights on push outs. You had three or four fights — I have them all on tape. I could probably put them on a DVD for you. Dude I have a memory like a steal trap. I can tell you a great deal more about that event if you want. -Josh

Thanks, Josh! And, no, I don’t want to spar.


After winning the 1999 finals — bowing to the judges.

-Chinese TV? Here is an advertisement I appeared in for one show. I am one of the FBI agents, second from the left, behind the casket (looking very serious and sad). This was filmed in the Bay Area, Daly City, if I remember correctly:

cargot1.jpg
###

Of course, you can’t win them all. You can’t prove everything to everyone.

When all else fails, just remember what Maryam Scoble once told me: “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” Word.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

82 comments on “The 7 Commandments of Blogosphere (and Life) Self-Defense

  1. Fair enough, Tim. Thanks again for the inspiration and blueprints for a mobile lifestyle. Keep spreading the message!

    Happy Travels,
    James Druman

  2. What a wonderful post! I’m not sure that I quite agree with you about walking away (i.e., avoiding the fight). In a real (as in, happening now) fight, yes…you should choose to walk away, at your leisure, and this is usually exactly the right thing to do. BUT I believe it’s sometimes a mistake to assume that there’s GOING to be a fight and to walk away prematurely.

    Few of us are ever 100% wrong or 100% right. The more evolved among us like to listen to the “other” side, and some of us can come to see aspects of things we hadn’t quite considered before. If the situation warrants it, I consider these to be teachable moments.

    I hope that I will always be able to learn something I had not previously considered from people whose opinions differ from mine. If they walked away without expressing the reasons for their views, because they automatically anticipated a fight, my experience on this earth would be greatly diminished.

  3. Great post Tim. Maybe you can offer some advice to fellow Princetonians at TerraCycle who are being sued by Scotts for suggesting their product works better than the “leading synthetic fertiliser”. Can’t imagine what Scotts hopes to achieve by picking a fight with such a tiny company. For shame Scotts! Shame! Wickedness ;)

    MCM

  4. Dear Tim

    I am reading your book with interest. However,being a physician, I find it to be impractical to impliment the four hr week. On another level getting a muse may contribute to the solution.

    I would like to have your input.

    ###

    Hi J!

    Thanks for the comment. The muse will definitely create more options. Second, most physicians are doing the work for reasons other than finance, so your might well opt to spend more than 4 hours per week on your job, as it is also your vocation. This is often true for doctors, pastors, teachers, etc. The muse chapters also elaborate on externalizing your expertise to separate time from income.

    Hope that helps!

    Tim

  5. Lorna – fabulous epiphany. I’ve just been through my first online blogbash. I finally had to switch to filtering comments and erasing the entire debacle from my blog space. I came to your same conclusion: they purport to hate me and everything associated with me (I even won a Wanker of the Month Award on one attacker’s site – which I graciously accepted) because they’re just living from a different paradigm. A small, frustrated one. Not my audience, so not my concern.

    Here’s a thought: List the top two or three most world-changing people that have graced the planet. Think folks like, oh, I dunno, Jesus, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King. Embraced by the world with open arms? Not really. Not that I’m calling Tim “Jesus” (though perhaps a saviour of sorts), but it seems people on a path to help other people just get stones thrown at them. Humans can be dumb.

    For my part in the karmic wheel: Tim, your book has been nothing short of perfect. As a yoga instructor who has wanted to expand into product but is dirt-poor and business-ignorant, your detailed ideas broke the process down to something I simply couldn’t find an excuse not to do, especially when you use a yoga instructor as an example. Not a lot of ways around that one. I’m on my way, and if things turn out well, I will find you and kiss you. A lot, even. (uh … that’s not meant to be a threat … please don’t publish my IP or drop-kick me to the cement if we meet …).

  6. Hi Tim,

    Truly, you are a gift to the world. Your book is fabulous!

    I traveled from 2000 – 2006 and 3 1/2 years of that time was spent sailing. I am so grateful to have had that experience. I have met fabulous people and seen some incredibly beautiful places. Your book has inspired me to pack up and go again.

    As a traveler, I’m sure that you have lots of crazy stories to tell, I know I do. My family and friends often accuse me of having a ‘weirdo magnet’. I seem to attract unusual characters and amusing (usually in hindsight)situations. So on that note…

    I’m just building a website and several people have suggested I start a blogging. After reading your blog, I’m a bit concerned about drawing attention from
    NBTD’s. Do you have any advice for a novice blogger before I get started?

    I have a feeling we’ll meet someday so until then..

    Cheers!

  7. Hi Tim. I was looking for a relevant spot to add a comment and I found this one pretty hilarious. Hilarious because of the language that this lady used, “shame and wickedness”. Anyways I’ll leave that to the movie “Zeitgeist” to get into.

    The reason I wanted to contact you was because I have been reading your book and im really devouring it. I want to let you know that Im so grateful that you decided to write a book that really reveals a lot of details.

    Im not going to ask a question right now but I do have to say that the Relax in Public comfort challenge is serioulsy awesome (in my opinion). I Love a good hard belly laugh and when I get the nerve to do this, I know that I will feel so alive afterwards.I love being authentic with a side of crazy, to me that keeps me young.

    And- will you post a pic of you doing this?

    Thanks for being yourself and sharing with others- Fierce.

  8. Hi Tim.

    The reason I wanted to contact you was because I have been reading your book and im really devouring it. I want to let you know that Im so grateful that you decided to write a book that reveals tons of details. I have been looking into building an online business for about a year now, and ive found some ok stuff, a lot of overpriced coaching courses, and all of it was information-overload. So glad I didnt bite the hook!

    Im not going to ask a question right now but I do have to say that the Relax in Public comfort challenge is serioulsy awesome (in my opinion). I Love a good hard belly laugh and when I get the nerve to do this, I know that I will feel so alive afterwards.I love being authentic with a side of crazy, that keeps me young.

    And- will you post a pic of you doing this?

    Thanks for being yourself and sharing with others- Fierce

  9. Our school system contributes to the emotional immaturity in our culture. In 1852 Horace Mann adopted the Prussian education system here in the US. Forced schooling plucked children from their communities into large scale behavioral experiments inspired by Frederick Taylor’s “social efficiency” movement. Funded by industrial capitalists, it was a breeding ground for the service of corporate and political agendas. Routines were established to create ideal factory workers. Boredom reigned to ultimately create adult consumers. Inquiry based learning through critical thinking to acquire self-knowledge lagged since this trait could threaten the establishment. As a result we have a nation full of adult-children. I agree that the best way to handle one of these dullards is to disengage. If you must then use Sun Tzu’s Art of War as a guide.

  10. Good post. Covers a lot of good terrain. The negative stuff is usually not worth even addressing, but at least we can take comfort knowing we don’t have to go through life being that person.

    Love to spar with you sometime. I have to free up some time first, so I’m taking notes out of my second read-through.

  11. Cool article! You should call it “The art of war” for bloggers, heh.
    You came up with 2 answers to the question “Why do people attack others trying to do good things?”, and I have another one: the more miserable some people feel, the more inclined they are to vent their frustrations on others.
    I always remember the old saying “the best revenge is living well” ;-)

    Robbert

  12. If you blog, you’re bound to have someone troll your site at some point, especially if you write about anything controversial. Here are some great tips for diffusing the situation.

  13. These 7 commandment to self defense as discussed by you is such a very interesting blog and it is worth the time checking on it. By offering wise suggestions on how to cool down heated issues in a very mature way, you gave people the right understanding of how real self defense should be.

  14. Self defense, as we normally think of i just looks like a game but in reality a very useful tactic that anyone should learn to get away from danger and to instill discipline as well.

  15. Ohh.. I am touched by the sorry note you wrote for your mom and dad. For kids it is so hard to admit to parent about mistakes and naughtiness. If I was your dad, I will totally understand and forgive you for what you have done. But of course hurting someone is not good, right? If you still have other options then do it… Make punching be your last way out.

  16. On the flip side of haters, these two women HATE MY GUTS on twitter and by them talking about me weekly in the audience we share, I went to bed one night with 1941 twitter followers that I gained in about six months, to waking up the very next day to 12, 648. I was speechless and thought something was wrong and am always waiting for the number to decrease but I’ve been holding steady for six months. No such thing as bad publicity I guess.