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In my question, originally titled "How to respond to a pushy vegan?", now titled "How to ask a vegan to stop telling me about veganism because I am not interested in it?", I described my two vegan coworkers who approach me at lunch to an annoying degree about how my diet contradicts their values. I used two words to describe them, which were subsequently edited away by Catija, a moderator:

  1. "pushy" - which means "aggressive often to an objectionable degree". Since they are approaching me and it's making lunch uncomfortable, I think this meets the definition.
  2. "militant" - which means "aggressively active (as in a cause)". This, again, is an accurate description of my two coworkers. Though I didn't elaborate on this in my original question, one of the two is proud of their activism, which includes rallies, picketing, etc. I meant to communicate that with this word.

Several other users (myself included) objected to their removal, because we felt that these words conveyed important information both about the situation in objective terms, and the impact my coworkers's behavior has had on me.

I feel it is important to establish guidelines for distinguishing negative description from judgment. It is similarly important to decide whether or not the distinction should matter from the moderator's perspective.

Catija encouraged me to raise this discussion on meta, so here I am.

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    Thanks for bringing this up. I've noticed the same sort of words used in other questions here (one instance, I think, by me). It's certainly hard for the OP to give a truly unbiased account of the situation, and in cases of conflict, it's going to be a running issue. At any rate, this isn't the only time we've had this problem here on IPS. – HDE 226868 Aug 10 '17 at 20:57
  • This community so far is tending toward overly cautious. I had a comment deleted because I suggested it's a bit psychopathic to want to do that. It wasn't an insult, just a description that the action would require a total disregard for the legitimacy of others' feelings. So, "pushy" and "militant" will likely be interpreted in similar ways: Unnecessarily negative. – user5547 Oct 17 '17 at 23:17
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First off, let's get one thing out of the way: no one asking questions here is objective.

I don't mean that in some vague "true objectivity is impossible" sense; rather, as a practical concern we have to assume that if you're coming here for advice then you're stuck on finding an effective way to communicate in some situation - that's your perspective, that's what drives your question, and the job of folks answering is to help you improve your understanding in such a way that you're able to resolve the problem.

So yeah, you're biased. It's not inherently a problem, so don't worry about it - just be aware of it, else no one can help.

Naturally, this bias is reflected in the wording used in the questions themselves, including your own. You're clearly annoyed by the actions and attitudes of some of your co-workers and you're looking for a socially-acceptable way to let them know that their attention to your diet isn't appreciated... But in order to do that, we need to understand the people you're communicating with! Referring to them as "militant" or "pushy" doesn't help - those are your words, and remember - we have to assume that you're biased.

This, again, is an accurate description of my two coworkers. Though I didn't elaborate on this in my original question, one of the two is proud of their activism, which includes rallies, picketing, etc. I meant to communicate that with this word.

You should've put that in your question, and probably elaborated further. Something like,

I'm concerned that my request will be ignored because one of the two is visibly proud of their activism: [specific examples of how this exhibits itself in the workplace]

You may have intended to communicate these concerns via the term "militant", but all you're really conveying is your own perception of this person; if we were sitting down over a pitcher of beer and plate of nachos such a description would aid in commiseration with you, but does little to help further our understanding of the person that you wish to communicate with.

We can see this reflected in the answers (and comments) that collected on the question: lots of discussion of your attitude toward your co-workers in lieu of constructive advice. Hence the edits - which were a push in the right direction, but not a solution: as your post here indicates, you don't feel the current question adequately reflects the problem you're trying to solve, and you're quite right... What you're hopefully now realizing is that it didn't adequately reflect the problem before the edits either.

  • +1 Thanks for this, @Shog9 -- I think you've identified some actual issues with my communication in this question (oh, the irony of miscommunicating while asking a question on an interpersonal skills site!). This doesn't really answer the question about the words themselves though. Would it be acceptable to say "my coworkers are being pushy by doing XYZ"? – ArnoldF Aug 10 '17 at 23:56
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    @ArnoldF if you really need to use the word pushy, go with the phrasing "I feel like they are being pushy because x". It's less provocative when you phrase it as something you think than as a fact (e.g. saying "they are being pushy") – user288 Aug 11 '17 at 0:00
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    Does it add anything, @ArnoldF? I mean that sincerely - if it helps in understanding your attitude, sure; if it's just superfluous detail, no. As an absurd example, you wouldn't lead with something like, "The light reflected harshly off of the polished formica table as I cracked open my Tupperware container of goulash; the vapor immediately softened the glare as the savory aroma rose to great me like an old friend. Suddenly, the light was blocked by two imposing figures, and I felt my heart sink - the Vegans were back." – Shog9 Aug 11 '17 at 0:03
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These words are useful in that they indicate that the OP has strong feelings about this, and that the OP characterises these people in a certain way. That's useful info for anyone writing an answer.

If there is bias involved in a question, one of the things answers might do is walk the OP through the other side of the story. But to do that, answerers first need to know how the OP views the other parties involved. Removing these words would hinder answers in doing this.

It certainly is a good idea to ask questions to be as detailed as possible, as Catija's answer suggests. But words such as militant are useful and shouldn't be edited out.

Of course, if this is the policy that we want to follow, we need to recognise that this will cause a lot of drama. People who identify with the parties who are being criticised will understandably become upset. One way to deal with this is to aggressively edit and turn "they are militant" into "I feel like they are being militant." Other strategies may be useful as well. It will certainly be important to moderate the comments heavily.

I understand the desire to eliminate bias from questions, in order for them to be (1) objective, and (2) more widely applicable. But on a site like this one, I surprisingly don't think that's the right approach. Since this is the internet and we have no way of verifying anything, and since if you have an interpersonal problem there are most likely multiple sides to the story, when we receive questions we should assume that if the other people involved were to ask a question about the same situation, their question would be completely different. We're only receiving one side of the story, and to assume that the one side is an accurate reflection of what actually happened is foolhardy in the extreme. So rather than trying to eliminate bias from questions, we should accept that bias is one of the central features of this site, and that good answers will untangle bias and consider the other side's perspective, not ignore it.

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So, you say that these words are important because they are descriptive. I disagree. The words are only descriptive because you have not given us any specific, concrete actual examples. You need to show, not tell.

Show, don't tell is a technique often employed in various kinds of texts to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author's exposition, summarization, and description. The goal is not to drown the reader in heavy-handed adjectives, but rather to allow readers to interpret significant details in the text. The technique applies equally to nonfiction and all forms of fiction, literature including Haiku and Imagism poetry in particular, speech, movie making, and playwriting.

Show us how they are acting rather than ascribing adjectives to them that each person can interpret as they wish. This gives us a better chance to really understand your situation. Someone who is a vegan may assume your terms are hyperbolic and opt to argue with you about your interpretation. This doesn't help you get an answer, it distracts from your question, and leads to confrontation.

So, tell us a story (a true one). Paint us a picture that maybe even convinces other vegans that your coworkers are a bit over the top. Make it clear to us that their behavior is unwelcome. You don't need to call them names to do this! Your question will be infinitely more detailed if you show us what is going on rather than telling us.

As an example, instead of "pushy" you might say something like "they have been talking to me at lunch every day for the last week even after I asked them to leave me alone and it's making lunch uncomfortable". You've done a better job of explaining the situation in this meta question than in your actual question.

You don't need the words "pushy" or "militant" to explain your situation. Let your situation speak for itself and let readers decide from the concrete examples what an appropriate response is. You will get better and more useful answers and (hopefully) fewer people merely interested in a framing challenge.


As a side note, Stack Exchange has one rule - "Be nice". Recently there was even a Meta Stack Exchange discussion about whether non-users must also be treated nicely - they do.

To quote from the chat transcript I linked to earlier:

honestly I'm pretty much just flat offended every time I hear the word "preachy" for exactly the reasons I detailed here. Truthfully what would be better than an answer is if the question is closed until the OP writes a specific situation they are confronting and removes the baited language in it ("preachy", "off my back", arguably "militant" insofar as I'd rather hear about their actual behavior). In the meantime I really don't like reading other answers exploring the preachiness of these vegans when the interpersonal error is buying into that stereotype in the first place.

If your framing is making people uncomfortable because you are using terminology that is problematic and "baiting", it's time to change the way the question is phrased. Note that djechlin is specifically asking for the question to give concrete examples rather than using this phrasing. And I would say that their request is reasonable.

One thing we forget and that is important to Interpersonal Skills in particular is the thought, "just because it's true doesn't mean it's okay to say".

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    Stackexchange questions are not prose, so you cannot argue with guidelines for prose. He does not try to hook a reader into a world, he tries to explain his situation as clearly and succintly as possible, so in this case there is nothing wrong with adjectives. – user2066 Aug 10 '17 at 22:02
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    @ThorstenS. Perhaps on other SE sites... but here, where subjectivity is part of our process, you must paint a picture. There is no need to be succinct. We need detail to be able to actually answer questions. – Catija Aug 10 '17 at 22:10
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    Replacing "pushy" (one word) with an example of its very definition "they have been talking to me at lunch every day for the last week even after I asked them to leave me alone and it's making lunch uncomfortable" (28 words) is horrible from a prose perspective. It is possible to avoid using almost any word, but that doesn't mean you should. – ArnoldF Aug 10 '17 at 22:28
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I'm going to try to steer a middle course on this one.

Realize that "pushy" and "militant" are buzz words that potentially have multiple meanings, or even no meanings at all. I won't say don't use them, but I will say that they need to be defined before you do. Which you did in your meta question (though not the original). E.g. militant, attends rallies, etc.

The point of doing this is to use one word as a short hand for your definition, several times in your post.

But realize that such words can be confusing, or even offensive to many people. In one question on chess, I was taken to task for calling a sequence "theoretically inferior," even though the commenter admitted that it "DOES violate classical principles" (commenter's caps). It seems that the ideas are more acceptable than the words that sum up the ideas.

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I think Catija made a bad edit and the words "pushy" and "preachy" should be reinstated. Militant probably shouldn't be reinstated as it is overly antagonistic.

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    "I think Catija made a bad edit and the words "pushy" and "preachy" should be reinstated" could you explain why? – user288 Aug 15 '17 at 17:57

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