Friday, July 25, 2008

On entitlement

Mr. Subjunctive, street fighter.

I spend a lot of time at Garden Web's House Plant Forum. It's a nice enough place, and one of the more active forums, but there's one thing that comes up every once in a while that annoys me enormously. I was reminded of this by a recent post there from someone who wanted to know if she should, or could, put used tea leaves in her potted plants' soil. She got an answer a few hours later from one of the forum regulars, a guy with a lot of experience and good advice, saying basically, no, why on earth would you, and in the response he used the word "allelopath."

Her reaction? To ask him for "English, please," inform him that sometimes he sounded "arrogant," and tell him she didn't want to have to use her dictionary. She capped it off with "not everyone here is a master gardener, some of us do it for enjoyment." Which I think is just as snippy as it sounds; he didn't seem to take it that way, but he's a nicer person than I am.

So, you see, it's okay to pop on a forum and ask a complete stranger to take time out of their day to answer your question for free, using their experience and knowledge, but looking up one word is out of the question.

Well. Windmills do not work that way, so I posted back:
If you don't want to learn, don't ask the questions. If you do want to learn, you might expect that it's going to take the teeniest bit of effort on your part. Be prepared to use a dictionary. Or Google. Or Wikipedia.

And if you want to talk about coming across as sounding arrogant, feeling entitled to a free answer to your question, in a few hours, from a more experienced gardener, and then feeling free to complain that it wasn't presented at the exact vocabulary level you want it in is very. I mean, who are you, that you're too busy to spend two minutes googling a word? At the very least you could ask nicely for clarification, if a dictionary is just completely out of the question.

And then after I posted that, I realized that it would be funny to answer the question after all, but answer it really wrong. I was going to go with "oh, and just to answer your question, even though you asked rudely -- an allelopath is a veterinarian who specializes in the treatment of dogs that are one-half Lhasa Apso," but Garden Web has an anti-spamming measure in place that won't allow a person to post consecutive multiple replies to the same post, so I couldn't put that up until after someone else had replied, and by that time I was no longer in the mood. Which is probably just as well.

It's a touchy subject for me, as you can see. I myself have been asked to speak English on forums (specifically, to provide common names for plants I mentioned, at this post), because "not all of us have degrees in botany or horticulture." Yes. Well. And with that kind of attitude, you never will, either.

What is it about this stuff that intimidates people so? It's not like I have a degree in botany either. They're names. Nothing more, nothing less. If you can learn that your neighbor is John Smith and your daughter-in-law is Mary Brown, you can learn that a Dizygotheca elegantissima is a Dizygotheca elegantissima. (Hell, if you can learn that Mary Smith is Mary Smith but used to be Mary Strazynski before she got married, then you can probably learn that Dizygotheca elegantissima is more correctly called Schefflera elegantissima, to boot. Brains are marvelous things. Often.) If you can't learn a name without a face, then by all means, stick a couple googly eyes on the plant. If you have some kind of name-specific learning disability that makes that just impossible for you (not being sarcastic: I'm sure such things exist), you can still use a search engine. What you don't get to do is pretend that you're entitled to dictate the vocabulary level of the explanation you get, or get huffy because OMGWTFBBQ somebody's using big words and how dare they treat you like somebody who might know stuff or own a dictionary or something.

I've been noticing this kind of thing a lot lately, and it weirds me out. Bad Astronomy, a few weeks back, had to put up a post explaining that his readers, though he appreciates and treasures every one, don't actually get to tell him what topics he's allowed to post on, and if he wants to talk about the election or "Doctor Who" instead of astronomy, then that's what he's going to talk about. Boing Boing recently had a similar thing happen (they took down some links to another blog because they used to like it and then they decided for some reason that they didn't like it anymore, and a thousand screeching netmonkeys descended on them throwing around words like "censorship." Um. No. It's not a freedom of speech issue: the speech is still there. It's freedom of association, which is also important.). I not too long ago saw a post at IO9 about politics where a good third of the comments were in the vein of "I don't come here to read politics, I come here to read about science fiction."

I'm not sure what this is. Why do people think that they deserve never-ending free entertainment and information, to the degree that if they don't get the exact subject matter they want, with the exact vocabulary level they want, they feel entitled to get angry with the provider? (As opposed to, say, looking elsewhere, or skipping that post, or googling an unfamiliar word.) I mean, this is part of the beauty of blogs, that you can post about whatever interests you at any given moment, without having to stick to a single topic all the time. Even within the plant posts I do, I try to throw in other stuff that relates the plant in question to the rest of the world, be that contemporary Hawaiian or Puerto Rican culture, Buddhist goddesses, "Futurama," my personal semi-estranged relationship with my family, British royalty, eighteenth-century children's literature, actual honest-to-God botany, The Breakfast Club, drag queens, medical research, the Holocaust, Amy Winehouse, plant patents, Aboriginal culture in Australia, hard-boiled-detective novels, tree frogs, cathode-ray radiation, evolution, Greta Garbo, Patty Duke, my old crappy jobs, my current occasionally crappy job, etc. etc. and etc. I don't expect that anybody's interested in all of those things except me (and I wasn't necessarily interested in them myself, until the research got me interested), but the point is to show that things are connected to one another, that everything, looked at in the right way, is familiar. And that everything is strange, viewed from the right angle, as well.

(In fact, if PATSP has a mission statement, this is it: to take familiar plants and make them strange, and to take strange plants and make them familiar. How am I doing?)

So let's get something straight here, you and I. I love that you're here reading this, and that you might actually care enough about it to comment, or Pick the post for Blotanical, or even that it might upset you enough to leave a comment, angry, encouraging, or otherwise. There is, however, no way that you get to dictate to me how I will talk about a particular topic, or which topics I'm permitted to cover. You have that kind of control on your own blog, if you have a blog (and if not, how come? All the cool kids have one. Some of the really cool kids have several, even.). But this is my blog. Don't confuse the two.

Not that I thought anybody was going to be doing that here in the first place. I just wanted to be really really clear where I believe the line to be. And also to vent about it, because it turns out that I'm still mad, even though it was a couple weeks ago, and this was the only way I could think of to get over it. Which I probably shouldn't be making your problem, but there you go.

I also don't mean to imply that this is all that common a thing. I mean, most people on line are very good about just asking, "what's an allelopath?" or looking it up, because they actually want to learn something. Maybe two people out of ten thousand feel entitled to complain about the answer instead of attempting to understand it.

The woman who got me all riled in the first place, incidentally, responded to my post by saying that of course she knew how to google, and it didn't take her two minutes, as I'd said, it took mere seconds.

Yes. I know. I was being extremely (almost uncharacteristically) generous. So go do it already.

She also said that she wasn't looking for answers from a "more experienced gardener," she was looking for someone who had tried it before.


Because trying things is different from having experience, I guess.


Julia said...

I used to be on a forum where a woman (who hadn't discovered how to take off the Caps Lock key) would basically ask us to help her answer weekly quiz questions for her local newspaper. I was perpetually tempted to merely post links to one of my very favourite websites, but that would have got me booted off for hurting someone's feelings. As it was, I did eventually get booted off, but it was no great loss.

I know the genus and species of all my plants, and where it was given, the variety or cross. One of my best friends has no idea how I remember all the names, but she has 600 Facebook friends! It just comes naturally to me. But then I'm a palaeontologist and I have to remember hundreds of animal species at any one time.

Sylvia (England) said...

I can't imagine why people are like that, it is horrible. I don't blog but I am grateful to those that do, they give there time so freely that it would be churlish of me not to comment occasionally. I am glad that I can be a non-blogging member of Blotanical (Thank you Stuart) because picking their post an easy way to thank people for their time and effort.

Botanical names can be difficult to learn and remember but common names are even more confusing. Especially with international blogs, even with Google it can be difficult to be sure which plant is being written about. I am one of those people who have difficulty with remembering names especially as I have to learn everything twice, the written and spoken word are very different for me (spelling is worse!). The internet and computers are wonderful for me, they have changed my live - there is very little I can't look up.

Thank you for an interesting post. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

Niels Plougmann said...

BUT - how do I find Google on the internet so I can find out what a dictionary is?
Is Amy a drag queen, who grow grapes in her green house, to make wine? Is s(he) really a gardener - or is s(he) just growing weed? Also I am not sure you explained allelopath so everybody got it - please try again in plain english - OK? At least I understand that the plant you keep referring to must be elegant since it end with elegantisssima. Also I think you mixed up buddhism with hinduism. Not many goddesses in buddhism - I have tried it, but not hinduism. I also have a question: All my indoor plants die - should I try to grow Kalanchoe daigremontiana since you rate it so low, or should I try Gardenia jasminoides instead that has a higher rating and must be better? I have tried the latter, and it seems to drop the buds, if I even look at it. Maybe it does not like me? Should I try giving it used tea leaves in the soil? Or coffegrounds? - which is better those from Starbucks or is those from Wendys good enough? I tried telling the fortune of the Kalanchoe daigremontiana plant observing tea leaves in a cup ( A trick passed on in our family from my great-great-great grandfather before they burned him on a nearby hill - they obviously did not like wise-guys then for some reason). Also something is eating a plant in my garden. I do not know the name of it. I do not know how to post pictures - please help! Have someone tried this too?

PS: I picked your post on botanical - I have no idea why they keep insisting on spelling it with L - obviously they can not find a dictionary either. And that word is not even one of the harder ones.

Julia said...

My plants all prefer the taste of Krispy Kreme coffee to that Starbucks rubbish. Starbucks just isn't strong enough to perk them up in the morning. And they don't much like soy milk or sugar-free vanilla either. I tell you, they are NIGHTMARES if they don't get an extra shot though. Like bears with sore heads all day, the lot of them.

Anonymous said...

mr s, I so enjoyed your righteous indignation. Very few people know how to look up a word any more. Remember how we used to have to walk across the room, pick up a five pound dictionary, and page through those flimsy pages until we found it? Now that took 2 whole minutes, maybe 3. Then we walked 2 miles uphill both ways to school with no shoes in the snow...

One of the reasons I enjoy your blog, apart from the fascinating topics and dry humor, is because you actually know how to write. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, all that good stuff that will be gone entirely within a few generations.

I too spend a lot of time on GardenWebs' Houseplant Forum. I have learned so much from the kindly and smart gentleman who explains the WHY. I often know what works and doesn't from years of trial and error (witness the corpses of many innocent plants), but I enjoy his explanations and they help me take better care of my plants.

I'm working my way through a book called Botany for Gardeners. It's a little dry, but it teaches me all those big words that botanists like to throw around. I recommend it. I even think alleles might be in there!

julia, I love your "very favorite website"! I wish I had the nerve to send it to someone!

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

You are the coolest, Mr. S. The more I come to this blog, the more I like you. If I was having a barbeque this weekend, I would invite you and your husband to come over. Or if you were running a charitable organization, I would be writing out a cheque to you. And I certainly would vote for you if you were a local politician.

You just covered one of my biggest pet peeves: ‘People who (sincerely believe) are entitled to their entitlements’ At other people’s expense and time. I’ve been pretty fortunate so far. The people visiting my website have sent me emails to thank me for providing so much information (at my expense and time). I’ve hardly ever received any demands. Well, except for a few. I’ve had a few emails come in recently that go something like this “Please explain your growing style and how to set it up”

Okay, like I’m going to sit and rewrite in an email what has already been said on my website so many times. Sheesh…. There are over 100 pages on my site with so much detailed information, you can’t possible miss it. So, I send them a few links, which I shouldn’t have to. But I’m too damn soft…

Anyhow, I love your blog and your way of thinking. It gives me hope that there are other sensitive, considerate and LOGICAL beings in this world.

Colleen Vanderlinden said...

Oh, Mr. Subjunctive, you are officially my hero. I got an email (all in caps, of course) from one of my readers this week, informing me that she bought healthy tomato plants (like I told her to, she said---I'm guessing she was referring to an article on my site) and that now it's brown and the tomatoes are all black and soft on the bottom. I got the distinct impression that this was all somehow my fault and that I was expected to fix it.

I don't mind helping, but, come on, don't blame me when you f#$k it up, you know? She wasn't watering right, and clearly didn't want to admit that. But I'm supposed to fix a problem she doesn't want to acknowledge from several hundred miles away. Yeah, okay.

Your rant seems to be bringing out our rants. This was an awesome post.

Hermes said...

Very good post. I'm also surprised how few people (there are some though) bother to say thanks after I have spent time and effort answering their questions.

Lance said...

You know if you didn't write about more than just plants, I'd probably get bored (I'm ADD that way). So I find it entertaining to see the variety.

I for one have no memory for names at all. But google is my friend. Helps with my CRS syndrome (Can't remember shit).

Years ago - BI (before internet) - I worked for a jewelry store. The woman I worked for had many wealthy customers, but the store got bought by Zales so they wanted all the customers to fill out credit applications. She was offended on behalf of her customers but filled them all in herself. For occupation on one of the richest, she put philanthropist. The woman at the credit agency called and asked what that was suppose to mean. She just said "Buy a dictionary" and hung up.

So it really isn't a new problem. Some people are just lazy, stupid, often both.

But I thank you for entertaining me anyway. I'll probably read it if you write about alleopathic people, since I'm sure you'll be amusing as always.

And Niels - that was good.

mr_subjunctive said...

Yes, Niels, that was . . . actually a little too good, I think.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Mr._S. You have inspired me to start using the word "petiole" in my GW posts again.

By the way, you can make consecutive posts in the GW forums. What you have to do is edit the title field, which is right above the field where you type your response. Just change that slightly, and you can post again immediately after your previous post.

mr_subjunctive said...

I knew about changing the subject line, but sometimes GW lets me post that way and sometimes it doesn't. I haven't figured out what the difference is, mostly because it doesn't come up that often.

It was still really all for the best in this particular case.

perL said...

Thank you for this one, Mr. S! (And thanks Julia for that wonderful link!)

Anonymous said...

GardenWeb usually won't let me post if I change the title either. And I SO think I am entitled to multiple posts! ;)

Back to entitlement, though, seriously, for a minute. This is a commen lament in my social circle, as many of us have teenage children. It goes WAY beyond wanting a quick fix to a question (which of course they would never ask their parents for because we are, by definition, "idiots".) They think they should be able to get the latest and best version of every gadget and fashion that comes along, yet it is beneath them to consider working at a job to help pay for any of this. That stomping sound you may be hearing is the collective "putting my foot down" of parents everywhere, as we attempt to teach our kids that they ultimately are going to have to work for a living, and, God forbid, pay for even less exciting things like food, utilities and insurance!

Guess I'm on an off-topic rant today. Sorry!

Anonymous said...

About 'thank you': sometimes answers are given that aren't quite what was wanted. Others can be downright obnoxious (though they are rare). So it pays to wait...

It seems to be netiquette to acknowledge and thank the various posters-in-reply in a comprehensive follow up post that lets contributors know of a satisfactory outcome.

And for those who ask, grab, vanish - there are many other eyes who will be so glad and thankful you took the time even if they don't say so. Or do so several months/years later.

(PS Thanks for the recent post on the Chlorophytum. You saved a blackened-leafed, miserable specimen from the compost long enough to put out multiple new shoots. :-D )

Anonymous said...

Two things - first, maybe we as a people (people in general) are just getting so self centered we feel the world revolves around us. (All of you other people out there are obviously wrong since the world revolves around ME ;-) ). Of course, that doesn't justify that woman's behavior, but maybe it explains it a bit. Second, the way I look at it is that you pay for the blog, you can post whatever makes you happy for fulfilled or whatever. I know you don't pay for blogger, but you paid with your time when you wrote the post, right? If a reader doesn't like it, they can engage in gentle dialogue with you or take their reading habits elsewhere. I'm all for lively dialogue. I'm NOT for treating another human being with discourtesy or disrespect or even thoughtlessness, for that matter. I read your post all the way through. Whether I agree with you or not (I agree), it's your blog, so post what you want. Not that you needed my permission. :-) And for the record, I wasn't trying to be snarky, I was trying to be clever. If I offended anyone, I'm sorry.

MrBrownThumb said...

I agree with a lot in your post but I can probably guess who it was that gave the answer the poster had the problem with.

I've stayed away from the forum because of a couple of personalities one of them being the person I suspect gave that answer. I know people love that poster but there is something condescending about the answers I sometimes see being given. A simple and direct answer is usually preferable instead of the long winded posts filled with five dollar words.

btw the way I get around the post limit is by changing the title. But as you have noticed sometimes it doesn't work. What you want to do is edit the title but no the whole title.

Say the name of the thread is "Ficus" and you post a reply so the title gets changed to "RE Ficus." So what I do is just add a number so my second reply is "RE 1Ficus" and if I reply again it is "RE 2Ficus."

If you change the whole title sometimes it doesn't work so I just add an extra character and voila!

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, naturally now I want to know who you think it is, Mr. BT. But if the person I think you think it is is who it is, then . . . I suppose I can see what you're talking about, but I really don't see it as condescension. Worst case, it's a failure to match the technical level of the answer to the technical level of the question, which if anything is not being condescending enough.

I dunno. In this particular case, the original reply was only a couple short paragraphs, and the meaning was clear even if you ignore the unfamiliar words. (The meaning in question being no tea! Tea bad!)

I don't really want to turn the comments here into a referendum about the merits of the poster who responded (or for that matter the woman who asked the original question, though I apparently can't help myself on that front): one assumes that s/he has good points and bad points like the rest of us, and some of those traits bleed over into his/r on-line conversation. But, you know, nobody else answered the question. The person with the question might at least have tried to meet him/r halfway on the vocabulary.

MrBrownThumb said...


I suppose the person with the question did get off lucky. They could have gotten a reply from that really rude lady on there. Is that teenage kid still around? I remember when she went off on him in the bonsai forum and all the houseplant people had to give him a pep talk to keep him around.

If curiosity gets the better of you drop me an e-mail.

Anonymous said...

Actually Sub, I did check a dictionary (because though the word rang a distant bell, the meaning insisted on eluding me) and it wasn't there. So the lesson? -- Not all dictionaries are created equal. True, I did then "Google" it......

I, too, must agree with Brownthumb about the poster in Q (and I do know who you're referring to) -- his responses can be rather academian and condescending. I think this was one of those cases. I could see someone getting a bit thrown or put off. (Course that may be because I work with high school students and have to bite my lip on a routine basis when I see blank looks because I used language that was above a 5th grade level) Now as to why folks insist on going to 'instant snit' instead of just politely asking, as you mentioned, "What is allelopath?" I still have no idea.

Oh and for those who haven't read posts on GW from the individual in question, the man definitely knows his "stuff". Just an issue of delivery really.

As for that 'entitlement' feeling -- try working with HS students.....There's an ever increasing number who have that attitude (and their parents to boot) While some parents do have clue (God bless them), too many feed into their child's entitlement frame of mind

And since Mr B brought up the bonsai forum......
Don't know if it was the same woman, but do recall a woman on the bonsai forum who told a poster, in quite the elitist fashion, that the poster's plant was NOT a bonsai -- merely a cruelly miniaturized plant -- because the poster had not utilized the "traditional" methods(the ONLY acceptable ones apparently) for creating a bonsai.

Aiyana said...

Look something up? LOL! Too hard. It seems everyone wants all the info they are interested in doled out in 15 second bites, for free. And, we live in a society where even newscasters pronounce words like realtor as 'relator', especially as 'expecially' and asked as 'axe'. And, writers who don't know the difference between 'its' and 'it's' or the difference between plurals and possessives.

Anonymous said...

Ah, lots of comments on this one. From my 3 years of blogging I'll add that YA JUST CAN'T WIN. By which I mean if you use the correct language people will complain and if you use more common but less precise language people will complain.
But if you think complaining about "alleopathic" is bad, I've had clients show irritation that I used the highly technical term "foliage". No lie.

MrBrownThumb said...


Now you got me curious if we're both referencing the same lady. The one I'm talking about I believe is from north of the U.S. My very first post on the C&S forum turned into a flame war after she took offense to me asking a question trying to create a discussion around the pros and cons of plastic or terracotta pots.

Ah memories.

Mr. S

You so need a post where you assign plants based on the archetypes found in gardening websites.

I'm getting nostalgic and I'm thinking of visiting the C&S and House Plant forum tonight.