The Problem With Reddit’s AITA Format

AITA: Am I the asshole? AITA is a popular Reddit page where people tell short stories about their lives. Stories that centre on situations where they’re unsure if they’re a protagonist or a bad guy. Maybe they wore white to a wedding. Maybe they accidentally served some meat to a vegan. Well, anyways, these authors will tell their stories, and then Redditors will vote on whether they’re an asshole or not.

In 2013, AITA was created by a photographer named Marc Beaulac. He created this page to determine whether he mansplained during a debate with some of his female coworkers. Since this post was created, AITA has blown up. As of 2023, this subreddit has over seven million followers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love AITA. I love the conundrums people find themselves in, and the narratives that are weaved. AITA is a great way to kill ten minutes while waiting for the bus or a pizza.

Yet, while I love this subreddit, I don’t think that its framing device is always helpful. This is because it’s possible to technically not be an asshole and still be a bit cringe. In some situations, you can be both right and hostile, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have been right and empathetic. 

For instance, in late April, one Redditor posted: “AITA for yelling at a kid for crawling under my table at a restaurant?” Which, to be honest, is a pretty self-explanatory story. This person was eating at a restaurant, a kid crawled under the table, touched his leg, and the author then yelled at the kid.

In response to this story, a lot of folks said that the author wasn’t an asshole. They believed that the protagonist had the right to yell.

“As the parent of a small kid between four and eight,” one commenter wrote, “I say you’re responsible for your kid’s behaviour in a public place. If you’re going to a restaurant, then bring a tablet or crayons or whatever.”

“You don’t let them become a problem for other customers or for the staff!”

What’s more, I agree with most of these commenters. If someone touches your leg under a table, you’re allowed to raise your voice. However, at the same time, it would’ve been possible for the author of this post to approach this situation differently. He could have moved his leg and tried to have a teachable chat with the kid. He could have gone straight to talk with one of their parents.

Granted, these approaches might not have been effective. The kid might not listen. Their parent might have been bullish. But even if these endings were inevitable, being more empathetic would have covered your bases. 

If this author was kinder, then this situation may not have caused him turmoil. If this author was kinder, he might not have gone to AITA for advice.

So, to wrap things up, AITA is a fun subreddit. But the binary that it poses isn’t always a useful one. Sometimes, a gradient of assholes is better. Sometimes, you’re less haunted when you are kind.

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