Occasionally, critical comments are posted to questions about theory. Once recent example is:

I find this sort of question both pointless and rather sad.

I flagged the comment containing this sentence, and the flag was declined. Does this comment violate the "Be Nice" policy?

My take is that, if a theory question is on topic, then it's rude to discourage the question or discourage the user from asking such questions. A teacher wouldn't do this to a beginner student sitting in their classroom, and I similarly think it's inappropriate on this site. It's unwelcoming, and it discourages those users from asking future questions (for fear of asking a dumb/bad question).

I'm not suggesting that every beginner question is a great question, or that beginners don't make mistakes. I just think there's a kind way to point out someone's mistake which doesn't involve discouraging them from asking questions in general. Even if a question was ill-conceived, the process of asking it and receiving an answer is productive. That makes it a good question (provided it was on topic). Discouraging those questions is commensurate to discouraging the learning process. I'm interested in others' thoughts on this.

(Relatedly, here's a recent meta thread about the "Be Nice" policy and comments.)

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    I would reward this meta question with a bounty if that were possible. Jun 27, 2018 at 13:45

2 Answers 2


My read of the SE meta thread is that we should be more liberal with our comment flags, and we should also be more careful with our comments.

I think the comment you quoted is exactly the kind of thing the linked meta post is about: it's not patently abusive but it's clearly not nice. We should all make sure we do not make such comment and remind and/or flag each other when any of us forgets to "be nice".

As a non-mod, I won't get to review flags, but my personal take/understanding is that your flag IMHO should not have been rejected. Or perhaps the flag could have been rejected because of other content in the comment but a mod comment added addressed to the commenter reminding them of the be nice policy.

Quoted for truth:

there's a kind way to point out someone's mistake which doesn't involve discouraging them from asking questions in general

  • I didn't make the final decision, but I let the flag sit for a few days since I didn't quite know the right way to handle it. The comment was mostly constructive and informative with that quote tucked in the middle. I can see how it can be construed as rude, but reading the whole comment it didn't come off that way because the focus was looking at the bigger picture. We get a lot of question that view every deviation from the standard practice as a major difference, but most of the time they are simply the mixing of two ideas so the question becomes an XY problem.
    – Dom Mod
    Jul 6, 2018 at 0:56
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    The full comment was: Why does it matter what you call it? It's a perfectly reasonable chord progression. It could be in a number of different keys (not to mention modes), but so what? It is what it is. Sorry, but after several decades playing and writing music I find this sort of question both pointless and rather sad - because it often means that the person asking has the wrong idea that all music can be explained by the way it follows one set of "rules". I think the author acknowledges (s)he's being rude by issuing a preemptive apology ("Sorry").
    – jdjazz
    Jul 6, 2018 at 20:31
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    @jdjazz My read of that comment is that none of it is what I consider to be "offensive" and pretty much all of it is what I consider to be "not nice". Jul 6, 2018 at 22:52
  • @ToddWilcox, that's fair--offensive is too strong a word. Calling a question pointless and sad is an attack, though maybe not an aggressive attack.
    – jdjazz
    Jul 7, 2018 at 15:02
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    @jdjazz I would not have declined that flag, personally. I have gotten the impression I'm on the "overly nice" side of the discussion on niceness and the new CoC. An example of what I have always found rude and unnecessary on SE are the "You can just google that" comments. I also find many criticisms of questions really feel like ad hominem attacks, as in this particular case. The commenter doesn't feel like they are calling the asker "pointless and sad", but comments like that tend to come across and feel like the asker is being called that. Jul 10, 2018 at 19:59
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    @jdjazz I've edited that part out of the comment. Sorry it's take so long I've been pretty busy the last few weeks.
    – Dom Mod
    Jul 15, 2018 at 1:13
  • @Dom, thanks! No problem at all. You all are busy and have a lot on your plate.
    – jdjazz
    Jul 15, 2018 at 13:30

I have often struggled with the comment section on SE sites. I think that oftentimes it comes down to web anonymity and the fact that people say things online that they most likely wouldn't say in person.

Very rarely (read: practically never):

  • Is any question (of any quality) asked out of spite or mal-intent

  • Is any mistake bad enough to deserve being name called, or labeled in a derogatory fashion

  • Do such comments communicate anything constructive that could not otherwise be conveyed in more thoughtful and considerate words.

I do think that often, we will say things on Music.SE that we might be sensitive enough not to say in person.

While in day to day interactions, a person may very will think to themselves:

I find this sort of question both pointless and rather sad.

It would much more likely be expressed as something closer to:

I don't really think that this kind of question is very productive.

Or maybe even:

Maybe readers would come to that conclusion on their own anyway, and it avoids even the potential of creating offense.

Now, while I would posit that sometimes voicing this sort of concern can be constructive and helpful, as with all social interactions, it is important to do cost-benefit analysis before you type. Like mommy always told ya', "Think before you speak." (Also, look both ways before crossing.)

Questions that display a clear misunderstanding of the topic that they're about aren't because the asker is there to waste your time or be rude - even if the problem is as fundamental as misunderstanding the Stack Exchange paradigm. They're simply learners.

Grace and understanding ought to permeate all of our comments, especially from the higher reputation members of our community, who, and I can speak confidently as a lower-rep user, are looked up to and respected. For a newer musician who really, really just wants to learn, the way they are treated and encouraged (or discouraged) by other more developed musicians can make or break their journey through music.

People and relationships are really important -- in fact, they're more important than the craft. Remembering that, especially online, and even when we're on after a hard day at work, is I think the best way to conform to the Be Nice policy (which is really one of the most important.)

For that reason, I agree that the sort of comment you described would probably be best modified or removed. Very much in same the vein of thinking as the recent blog post on the Stack Overflow blog about being nicer to new users, we simply must promote a welcoming and nurturing environment to new users, and reinforce our relationships with older ones to build a stronger community, by being careful and thoughtful with the words we choose when expressing our thoughts to each other.

After all, people are way harder than music theory.

  • Umm, is the last block quote intended to be empty (aka. "no comment")?
    – Andrew T.
    Jun 29, 2018 at 8:09
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    @AndrewT. I assume so, along the lines of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all". Jun 29, 2018 at 10:57

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