One of the most valuable contributions to the conversation around my Pagan Pride Day post came from a single commenter, who I’ll leave unnamed. He joined the comment thread and my Pagan Pride Day post went meta, because he gave me cause to take a closer look at the function of this blog, and the challenge of inclusivity.
This dude took me to town, calling me names like “yuppie,” and insulting my intelligence (he said my post was “shit for thoughts”). He also suggested that I change my name, Bishop, to Nun because, “my skirts showing.” [sic]
My first reaction to reading the comment was a kind of clenching in my belly. I was reminded of being bullied in elementary school. It felt like that all over again. But then I remembered that I’m a grownup, and that this is my space. The feeling receded.
While I was re-living fourth-grade memories, another reader of BITG posted a comment. They came to my defense, which was nice in a way, but which also made it clear that I needed to say something to set the tone of how this would be handled.
So I wrote in response:
This is the first time you’ve commented here on Bishop In The Grove, which is a site intended to create a safe space for dialogue between people of many differing perspectives. I encourage a diversity of thought and opinion, and I’m sure you have insights worthy of discussion. I just wished that you could have found a different way to share your ideas here.
I am not going to address any of what you said, directly. Your comment was mean-spirited and unkind, and I have no investment in getting in an argument with you. I’m simply going to ask that if you wish to be a part of this conversation — one that matters to a lot of people — please do so with respect.
If you feel you cannot do that, you are welcome to point your browser in a different direction.
May you be blessed and at peace with whatever angers you.
This was my way of addressing a heckler. Lay out the parameters, explain how things normally work around here, and be done with it.
What I realize now is that I was explaining to the commenter that this blog — this space I’ve created online for dialogue — is like my own, personal circle. I’ve cast a circle here at Bishop In The Grove without realizing it, and he was sort of standing outside that circle, barking objections and slurs.
He’d become the lady outside the PPD ritual, and I’d become the same ritual leader I was so quick to subject to scrutiny.
In that moment of realization, I felt deep empathy for the ritual leaders. When you’ve got someone criticizing your work – as you’re doing it – it hurts. It’s confusing. You don’t know how to respond, so you respond as best you can in the moment.
[A side note: Since I published my last post I've been in contact with the PPD ritual leader, and we had a really great conversation. There will be a follow-up post about our talk, perhaps even an interview of some kind, next week.]
I’m bringing this up today for a few reasons.
First, I don’t feel that villainizing the commenter is useful, any more that it is useful to make villains out of the hecklers at the PPD ritual. They may both be handling themselves in a way that feels disruptive, but underneath the meanness is a human being.
Second, you can’t control everything. The PPD ritual demonstrated that, as does this situation. You can try to keep a tight hold over your space – to close the circle, to shut down or kick out the source of disruption (which in this case might have been blocking a commenter) but then you rule out the possibility that the chaos they’ve generated brings with it some new insight. Disorder can lead to epiphany, sometimes.
Lastly, I feel this pull to be “radically inclusive,” but then I find myself questioning whether it is appropriate to allow someone to be disruptive and mean on my blog. You cannot be radically inclusive and cast someone out of your space, can you?
There is the real concern about what to do when you’ve created a sacred space — in the case of this blog, an open one — and a disruptive element comes in. Disruptive elements often bring lessons that either we are unwilling or unable to hear. Other times, they just seek to hurt us.
I don’t know this commenter any more than I knew the people outside of the PPD circle, and I don’t know his motivation. In a way he seemed frustrated that he wasn’t being understood, but it could have also had nothing to do with me. I could have been for him a symbol of the things he really dislikes about the Pagan community, just as the hecklers could have seen the Pagans as symbols of something bad or evil.
Make a man into a symbol, and it’s much easier to hate him.
I don’t want to hate this guy. It’d be easier to label him a “troll”, but that makes him into a symbol; something easy to dismiss.
This blog has evolved over the past couple of years to be a place where real dialogue can take place. My PPD post’s 100+ comments are evidence that people bring to this space a wide variety of perspectives and understandings. No one of us is the authority here, most especially me.
That said, this is my blog. This is the space I created. This is, in essence, my Civic Center Park ritual, and I’m standing on the inside of a circle trying to figure out what to do.
How do you acknowledge that a disruptive force is present, and do you cast them out? Do you ignore them?
As my good friend, Seth, asked when we spoke about this situation:
How do you take community ownership of the individual who isn’t taking ownership of the community?