Updated at the bottom
We have this saying in our family, "don't poke the bear" and it ties into an old Saturday Night Live sketch but at its core is this idea of what you do for shalom bayit--a peaceful house. You hold your tongue, you find a way to put closure on a fight, you take that first step forward. And I think we do the same thing in writing for the sake of shalom kehilat--a peaceful blogosphere. We avoid posting about certain topics that we know are hot buttons or we don't acknowledge the hateful comment or we give people the benefit of the doubt that they meant their words kindly when we can't really deduce tone.
But I feel a compulsive need to poke the bear tonight.
Because even after doing all the things that usually bring me my sense of shalom kehilat, I am still thrown off by the wave of anger that is moving through the blogosphere like California fires. Do we have small flare ups from time to time--of course, one of the core reasons why people blog is that we are emotional and passionate. If humans were non-emotional, non-passionate beings we wouldn't feel the need to connect with others. Blogging is by its very nature an emotionally-connective activity and on top of that, most of us in the ALI blogosphere are writing about family building (or later, family raising or not raising as the case may be), an emotionally-charged topic. We are going to have arguments and hurt feelings from time to time.
But flare-ups aside, I keep closing Google Reader because every post I open seems to be either addressing an anonymous commenter or flame-throwing at a fellow blogger. And while I'm perfectly fine reading anger--I think I've highlighted enough angry blog posts in the Roundup to make clear that I don't shy away from anger--I don't really do drama.
I have anonymous commenting on my blog for two reasons--(1) because we are speaking sometimes about family building decisions and I understand why someone would not want a thought tied to their name for dozens of years to come. There are enough situations where a person needs to speak anonymously either to protect the feelings of their future children or partner or friend. And (2) there are limited options with Blogger and if I want to open up the possibility for anyone in the community to comment--those with blogs or the blogless--I need to allow anonymous comments.
And, of course, not all of the hateful commenting is entirely anonymous. Sometimes people stand behind their words, and that is better if they're listening as well as speaking. Of course, standing there with my name attached to the comment and still spewing hate isn't helpful and only serves to hurt feelings. And, not all of the anger is internal to the community. One blogger had a post up about an anonymous comment she received screaming about the selfishness of those engaging in family building (well, only those who need help with family building. Those who can do it themselves are selfless). And certainly, I don't believe that this post will reach those people or stop those types of comments from happening. I have seen those since the day I entered the blogosphere and I'm sure they'll keep rolling through long after I'm gone. The point is to not muck your way into them, but to learn how to let them roll off your back. It is, though, quite a different story when the anger comes from someone else within the community, who shares mutual readers and who has held your trust in the past. I do not expect those to roll off anyone's back and they certainly don't roll off mine.
For me, anger is about having communication flowing between two people and drama conveys a lack of hearing on one or both sides of the exchange. I think fighting can be healthy and deepen understanding if there is a point to the fight--if both parties are moving towards a new understanding. Simply shouting at another person? That is drama. Leaving an anonymous comment is always drama because all control is removed to address the person directly and continue the conversation. And truly, if the person really wanted resolution, they would address the person privately.
And just to state it here: I don't do drama, but it is not a statement of how much I care. I can care a great deal about the other person, want the best for them and wish there were words I could say that could calm them down. But when I can clearly see that those words don't exist, I take that step back. And I hope in stating that here that people will remember that my lack of involvement never reflects a lack of care. I'll say it again: I simply don't do drama or engage in conversations where the person is continuously not hearing me.
To me--and I know this is solely my opinion--a comment box is either there for conversation (and it can agree or disagree with the person) or to open up healthy debate. It isn't really a forum in which to have a fight or to call someone hateful terms. All of that can be done off-blog in an email in order to allow both people to save face. When you open up something publicly, you remove that courtesy to allow the other person to save face and you send a very clear message on how much you care about them. This, of course, assumes the blogger has left a way to contact them clearly on their blog. Those who choose not to give people a way to contact them privately will need to accept that people will have to address them publicly.
I do not want to get all kumbaya on your ass, wrapping my arm around your shoulder in a death grip and forcing you to sway to the acoustic guitar solo. And certainly, I don't think this post will change the minds of people who desire to create drama. I am perhaps only searching for like-minded individuals in poking the bear. I want to know who else is sitting in this circle with me, who is sick of the anger and feeling like they're in a tug of war with shalom kehilat. Who has clicked off a blog feeling slightly ill that another person has felt that their only option is to leave the blogosphere in order to stop being mocked or harassed.
This post is a plea for everyone to chill the fuck out. To click away if they're reading something (including this) that doesn't agree with them. I recently explained to someone who complained about my blog that everyone is welcome here, but not everyone will want to sit here. Meaning, this place is like a restaurant and everyone can walk inside and be fed if they wish to have nourishment. But sometimes, you're just not going to be in the mood for this kind of food and I completely understand if you bypass this place. Not everyone wants the brown rice with tofu and bean sprouts.
And by nourishment, I hope you feel supported by me. I hope you know that you can come here and someone will listen as long as you're speaking to the waitstaff respectfully. You can bitch about the chewiness of the brown rice, but that's quite different from taking a dump in the middle of my restaurant floor. I mean, it is understandable that people will have different experiences with the food at any establishment and will want to (and should) inform the staff whether they like something or not because the restaurant will only be able to do better with feedback. But it's pretty off-topic and doesn't ever help the restaurant if you just drop trouser near the hostess stand and evacuate your bowels (hungry still?). Do you see the difference?
And I mean that--I think most readers will back me up and say that while I'm not always timely in returning emails, I always return emails and even have a daily space for people to use to extend the reach of their own blog. And I like to think this is a safe place where you will not be mocked or made to feel like an idiot. But if you are not loving Jewdhists or vegetarians or those who would go to San Francisco with flowers in their hair, you may not love this place. And that is okay too. It's a big blogosphere; no one needs to read this space daily in order to use it when you need it or not use it at all and if this isn't your cup of tea, there is a blogroll of almost 1800 blogs where you can connect with a similar story. No one needs to feel alone or think that they don't have a place to stand in the ALI blogosphere; we are a diverse community.
In the end, though, we're all responsible for this collective figurative restaurant called the ALI blogosphere. Someone called me a leader this week and it's actually a term I really don't like and find mildly offensive and perhaps this reveals how kibbutznik I am at my core. In our home, Josh and I have the role of guider. It's understood that we're making some of the decisions because we have more information, but whenever possible, we allow the twins to be our equals. They get to choose meals or pick family activities and can (and do) call family meetings. We're the only ones allowed to drive the car by state law, but that doesn't mean we get to determine everywhere the car goes. Doing so would state an imbalance of power and I respect them too much to ever place myself above them or below them.
And therefore, I reject the notion that I'm a leader. I am one voice in a chorus of many and to borrow the motto of my college's student union: "it's your unique expression that adds to the whole." The whole song changes whenever someone steps out of the blogosphere, and while that thought is not meant to trap you here forever (like a horror film! She started a blog not knowing that SHE COULD NEVER STOP!), what I mean is that every person who leaves is missed. I don't think any of us can fathom how our words or our selves have positively affected other people. We simply aren't privy to that information and can't follow the arc of our words.
So, yes, I am important, and so are you, and so are you, and you over there as well. And therefore, we are all leader and hopefully, if you are willing, we can lead ourselves out of this month-long mess. I am asking three things: (1) click away when someone is saying something hurtful; do not engage unless you know the person is receptive to hearing ideas and is therefore inviting conversation (two of my favourite bloggers both respond to comments--especially the argumentative ones--off blog in order to treat it respectfully as a private conversation rather than create drama in the comment section). (2) do not engage if someone leaves a hateful comment on your blog. Delete it if it that is your policy or leave it up and ignore it. But do not allow yourself to be sucked into someone else's irrational thoughts. There is a big difference between a comment that begins, "I have to disagree..." and one that begins, "you are a selfish bitch." One invites a response and the other causes the person to throw up their hands in order to deflect the volley of hateful words.
Oh, and (3) I wrote this post despite the to-do list that is creating a cacophony of background noise right now because I thought it was important to say. Because it addresses the numerous emails I've received this week saying, "did you read X's blog?" or my own horror at opening up yet another blog and seeing it begin, "in response to the anonymous comment on my last post..." And because I want to know if I am alone in this--in noticing the hate flooding the blogosphere right now--or if I am sitting in the grass with a circle of friends. Because frankly, I feel like I've lost a bit of my safe space, my trusting space, reading some of the posts and comments from the past four weeks. And rather than sit here alone wondering when the fire will burn out, I am asking who else will stamp down the flames.
I am sure this post will bring out the anonymous comments. And you should re-read everything above before you use that anonymous function. If you're using it because you feel uncomfortable leaving a message of support and want to do so anonymously, that is perfectly understandable. If you're using it to spew hate, you should know that I may delete it. And if you're going to leave a comment saying, "but people invite commentary when they post their thoughts for the world to see and blah blah blah," well, you missed the point of this post and you should go back and carefully read how I distinguish between the hate that is upsetting me and my feelings on respectful disagreement. And if you want to say, "but Mel, I think the blogosphere has been more loving as of late," you can respectfully disagree with the way I've been seeing the blogosphere and I hope you tell me which blogs you're reading so I can head over there. Because, as I realized this week, I have a lot of time for love; but I don't have time for anger.
And yes, it's all false bravado to name this post "poking the bear." I have never been more anxious or unsure about hitting publish.
People have emailed and asked if this was in regards to the post titled "Crash" last week and while it certainly refers to that too, my understanding was that that incident was put to rest. I said what I needed last week and closed the door on that one. What I am referring to is the anger popping up in the blogosphere as a whole. I think the rash of anger started external to the community with a site writing about an infertility blog and it has certainly continued until today with a blog I read (and I am purposefully not linking) explaining why treating infertility isn't selfish and another explaining they had to take down an anonymous comment on a post about giving support. There has just been anger everywhere. And the point of this post, even though I refer to it as poking the bear, is not to stir up more anger and I apologize if that is what happens. But my message is solely please stop and deep breathe (and perhaps click away) if something has you upset rather than respond with more angry words.
I don't want to discuss the anger or explain the anger--I simply want to know who else is turned off by the anger, finds reading blogs currently a difficult endeavour, and wishes we could get back to using this community as a place of support. I want to know who else is going deep breathe through their anger and help restore calm.