The Middle Ages are quite an interesting era in human history. Probably what comes to your mind is knights in shining armor, damsels in distress, and Monty Python. Well, that last one is probably just me. At any rate, the knights and damsels are only a very small part of the story. Society was rather complex back in these times. Serfdom existed, nobles existed, the clergy was out there making everyone pay tithes. One thing that has always caught my interest is the old idea of paying homage. Here is a description for you:
“Homage is the most honorable service, and most humble service of reverence, that a franktenant1 may do to his lord. For when the tenant shall make homage to his lord, he shall be ungirt, and his head uncovered, and his lord shall sit, and the tenant shall kneel before him on both his knees, and hold his hands jointly together between the hands of his lord, and shall say thus: ‘I become your man from this day forward [of life and limb, and of earthly worship,] and unto you shall be true and faithful, and bear to you faith for the tenements that I claim to hold of you, saving the faith that I owe to our sovereign lord the king’; and then the lord, so sitting, shall kiss him.” from http://faculty.goucher.edu/eng330/ceremonies_of_homage_and_fealty.htm
Pretty heavy duty stuff, right? When you paid homage to someone, you were literally saying, “I’m yours, man. Whatever you want me to do, you’ve got it. Just give me a nice bit of land and we’re good to go.”
I think in some ways this concept has trickled its way into the online world, but I am pondering whether we pay too much homage or too little.
What does online homage look like?
I think it’s easy to create a relationship online that looks like the 21st century version of homage. For example, if you are fairly new to the online world and a person with a big following reaches out their hand and helps you out, you are going to feel darned indebted to them. I know this from personal experience. For whatever reason, a lot of people who were well-established in the online world helped me out when I was still an online newborn, and two years down the road, I still haven’t seen my gratitude for that subside. So, when someone does you a big favor, if you are, say, nice, you want to repay that favor. In the online world this means talking that person up, commenting on their posts, sharing their posts…you know the drill.
But there can come a point where paying this kind of homage can get carried away, right? For example, if a person starts sending out information that isn’t 100% accurate and they are called out for that (even nicely), you might get carried away and say that nobody should criticize your pal. You might be mean to other people because you perceive they are being mean to your friend. You might even close your mind to other opinions that vary from this person’s. You paid your homage to this person and that’s that. End of discussion.
Then again, maybe we don’t pay enough homage
There are certainly people out there who get caught in the idolizing trap. But I think it’s also fair to say there are people who wouldn’t know a ceremony of respect if it came up and whacked them in the face. These folks always present themselves as “self-made.” Their blog has comments because they started writing such awesome stuff. They have a lot of Twitter followers because all they did was tweet for 17 days straight, right? Regardless of how many people helped them out, promoted their work, taught them things, answered questions, or cheered them on, these folks climbed the mountain based purely on their own skills, wile, and charm. Homage? Hardly.
Is there a healthy amount of homage to pay?
The approach that has worked best for me is something I like to call reciprocation. It’s a revolutionary concept, and something that certainly would have been alien to our Medieval ancestors. I can map it out for you in a pretty easy formula. Hang on, let me get my blackboard out. OK.
You do something for me + I do something in return for you = Reciprocation
Phew. Alright, so, that’s basically the trick there. Now, you don’t have to be OCD about this. It’s more sort of a gut feel. I try REALLY hard, for example, to make sure I respond to comments that I get here on ye olde blog. You took the time to read and comment, I try to reciprocate that by responding in kind. I don’t necessarily need to build you a shrine, but quid pro quo. If you promote a post of mine, I try to share something that you do. Maybe not *that minute* but I try to make sure I let you know I appreciate what you do. Sometimes I fail at this, and that makes me feel bad. So I try to work on it. I don’t tend to mindlessly worship anybody, nor do I tend to ignore when folks take time out of their busy lives to give me a boost.
Reciprocation seems like an okay compromise, at least for me.
But maybe I’m weird.
So what do you think? Do we pay too much homage online or not enough? Where do you fall in this crazy medieval spectrum? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dunechaser/1228875390/ via Creative Commons