At New Mandala we want you to play the ball, and not the man or woman.

In the 1990s opposition players in England’s football premier league lived in fear of “Hard Man” Vinnie Jones.

The midfield enforcer was known for his physical and bone-crunching style of play. He still holds the record for the fastest ever booking in a matchthree seconds.

Vinnie, whose notoriety as a fighter on the pitch helped land him an equally thuggish role off it — as hired muscle in the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels — wasn’t a particularly bad player. But he wasn’t a ballerina on the ball either, and it would be hard to imagine how we would cope with the likes of the mesmerising Lionel Messi today.

That’s because rather than play the ball, Vinnie often played the player.

Yet while a relic of football’s recent past, today our hard man Vinnie would flourish — particularly on the Internet and the cesspool that is the comments section of many a discussion board, public forum, news site or online publication.

At the bottom of the barrel these places tend to be, angry, angry men vent their spleen at the world. These bearded behemoths of bemoaning brutishness or pimply-faced feckless and testosterone tilted teenagers often don’t even have the courage to do it in their own name – hiding behind avatars and monikers when dispensing their ‘pearls of wisdom’.

And they don’t just play the man – they often play the woman. A recent Pew Research Center study on online abuse shows that young women are particularly vulnerable to stalking and sexual assault.

The Internet makes this kind of behaviour easy to do. Scientific American points out that anonymity, a lack of accountability, physical distance and the medium of writing all contribute to a “perfect storm” for online rudeness. But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

All too often comments (labelled by one writer as the toxic sludge of the Net) are thought of by readers as a right… not a privilege. As our region shows, rights are hard won and often easily lost. There’s no doubt that rights should be respected. But it goes both ways. Those who are entitled to them can also abuse them. Don’t abuse your rights.

Here at New Mandala we are trying to be a little more Zen. And while we will be the first to admit we haven’t quite reached nirvana, we nonetheless think it’s about time that more of us stopped playing the game like my old mate Vinnie. Instead of playing the man or woman, play the ball.

Don’t like someone’s argument? Good! Leave a comment. Not a personal attack on the author. Engage with their ideas and arguments. Offer a counterview, based on fact and evidence – that you can actually point to.

Don’t agree with another commenter? Fantastic! Outline why you think they are wrong… not highlight their personal flaws or stoop to name calling and labelling.

Here’s a list of piggish behaviour that won’t fly: abuse. Pretty easy to remember, hey?

New Mandala is proud to be one of the world’s leading platforms for debate, discussion and analysis on Southeast Asia’s politics and society. Today, genuine insight on this corner of the globe is increasingly important. But that’s what we peddle – debate, discussion, analysis, insight. Not anything else.

Comments are an important mix in all of this, and we value the input and insight that our readers provide. But it’s time to get back to debate and discussion, to having a conversation – not a shouting match.

Or to continue our football theme; let’s all of us start playing a little less like Vinnie and a little more like Messi.

James Giggacher is editor of New Mandala.