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?
When I was Senior Druid for CedarLight, I tried to take on the precedence of “The Grove is only as strong as its weakest member”. I still try to take on that mindset, but it is flawed. It’s flawed because there are just certain people that don’t fit into certain groups, and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, despite your desire, is futile. My goal was to be a tribal leader of a tribe, and bring the community together to help each other as much as possible. The intent was good, and workable for the most part. But it doesn’t always work.
That being said, there is an article on the ADF website that talks about “Weeding the Garden”. It’s very good at explaining these types of problems and how to handle them. As inclusive as we want to be, inclusive can also mean enabling improper, damaging, and even dangerous behavior. I learned this lesson hard as a leader. The goal is for the community to flourish, and there are just individuals who will try to prevent that. Do you sacrifice the community for that one person? Or sacrifice that one person for the community?
Even with that, however, the negative people and events in our lives act as stepping stones and lessons towards something better. Whether it’s a new situation, a new bond, a new direction or reflective thought. I’m sure this guy may think what he’s doing is what he needs to be doing. Others posted to attack him, which (in my opinion), just makes both sides look bad. Logical reasoning is really the only way to step up from something like this. Not insults and jabs.
My 3 cents.
I guess, the easy answer is to pull the weeds. The hard answer is to get the weeds to turn into flowers.
Honor all opinions, but set limits on forms of expression. All are welcome on my blog. Those engaging in foul language or name calling are given one warning. Our freedoms only extend to the point where others freedom to act and speak without fear are tread upon.
“You cannot be radically inclusive and cast someone out of your space, can you?”
Of course you can. But, before you do, I think you need a clear depiction of what your inclusivity means under the conditions of the current place. For a website or blog, you’ll often find commenting policies; for example, the one at the Wild Hunt. I think Jason Pitzl-Waters’s points in his commenting policy is fairly inclusive; items 1 and 5 describe expectations rather than prohibitions and that’s not too bad compared to some other examples I’ve read. In other words, I he’s included some thou-shalls rather than only thou-shall-nots.
Back to your question, though. To be too inclusive is to be overridden by elements that you do not want in your space. There has to be a line and that line might be distant, but without it, then everything is permissible. Even for a devotee of Eris, as I am, that’s not an goal to be sought after.
Instead, I think to be radically inclusive you simply have to do your best to allow people the most freedom to choose their actions for themselves. That doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree with them for subjectively (or objectively) wrong actions, but that you have to let a person make that choice before you do so.
If I may suggest a great book, Failure of Nerve; Leadership in an Age of Quick Fix by Edwin Friedman (Jewish Rabbi). He discusses systems and how anxiety flows through and that the only solution is to attend to one’s own self differentiation. Whenever you have an emotional reaction like you did to the “heckler”…he is showing up to be your teacher…to help you get clearer about your vision, your goals, your identity…your self. This is not about him….rather is about you. If I sent all my heckler’s away from the church, then I’d be missing the point…. they’re heckling is often a reflection of their own need for healing and they know there is something holy in this space…and they don’t know how else to react to it. A wise leader will know how to connect without excluding. You are well on your way. Peace…
Hmm. Once again, you’ve pushed the boundaries of comfortable thought toward greater depth and meaning. I’m definitely going to have to ponder this for a while. How can one best respond to the heckler when inclusion is the goal? I do my best to invite quiet, respectful conversation, but does the unwillingness to respect the “quiet” portion of that necessitate removal? It’s never gotten to that point in the past, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future, and forewarned is forearmed. Thank you for allowing the plans to be pondered before they are needed. Blessings and gratitude to you!
Personally, I also encourage inclusiveness, and your blog posts have opened some interesting doors for me. While I honor the thoughts and beliefs of all, I don’t allow them to rule my space. When people are unable to carry on a meaningful dialogue in a mutually respectful fashion I have no problem whatsoever with ignoring that person. I wouldn’t want someone in my house spewing filth and anger, I certainly don’t allow people like that to have any power over me, and frankly neither should you. There is a difference between debating differing ideas and behaving like a mean spirited child. Disallowing inappropriate methods of communication is not the same as not allowing a person to be a part of the conversation, it is just setting appropriate parameters FOR that conversation.
Set expectations on how you want people to act while at your blog. When a disruptive influence appears, try rephrasing what they said in your own words as a reply. Start with, “So what you’re saying is…” And end with “Is that correct?” This way you’re acknowledging them, and at the same time, you’re showing them how you expect them to talk in the future. You are not answering what you think they are asking, you are confirming with them that you are both on the same page. If they say yes, then answer their questions as if they had used your words. It also gives them a chance to apologize or rephrase what they said. Repeat as needed until you both are understanding what is said. This is the quickest way of turning trolls back into people.
I always vote for inclusiveness, but to a point. A heckler can definitely force social growth and different viewpoints on conversation. However, if you give them too much attention, they take control of the conversation and steer it away from original intentions; you end up somewhere completely different talking about unrelated items. Also when hecklers lead with personal attacks, they are not interested in furthering a conversation; they are interested in ego stroking to feel superior to a public figure.
Perfect, Teo. I really appreciate that you took time to notice and draw parallels between the two processes: the PPD ritual and your blog. This is so important, and a step that many of us often miss.
It is interesting that I wrote my blog post this morning before reading this. We ended up with overlapping themes. I won’t link it here, because this is your space, but folks are welcome to come think with me over at mine, too!
love and blessings.
I’m glad to link to it here, @twitter-245071650:disqus, as I just posted a comment. In fact, I was clicking “submit comment” just as you were!
I encourage people to go read your post and share their experiences.
Teo, thank you so much for raising this question. It’s a hugely difficult one, which has plagued inclusive groups and spaces for a long time. I don’t know that any group or space has managed to come up with a definitive answer, partly because each group and space is different, and partly because each ‘disruptive element’ is different.
For me, a lot of it comes down to the capacity of the group or the person/people who are holding the space to bear with discomfort and conflict. It is also about priorities: how much of a priority is it to keep the one ‘disruptive element’ included? How much of a priority is it that the rest of the group don’t get pissed off and go away because of the disruption? Sadly, choices have to be made, and there isn’t a ‘right’ one.
Teo you have such honest, personal insight. One thing that R.J Stewart said to me in a workshop really reminds me of this situation. “When you invoke justice remember that she will come and work on you first.”
“One Size Fits All” is perhaps the bugaboo of the Bureaucratic Soul, knuckles turned white by their grip on the “Infallible Book of Rules” they go by. (Also of those who like me are rather out-sized physically — cave bear like in my own case.)
On the scale of:
Radical — Liberal — Moderate — Conservative — Reactionary
I personally find no use for the words from most Reactionaries, and of the more fringe-ward end of the Radicals. This is because they mostly seem to be unable to live here in the real world with the rest of us, and keep on about how the Universe where they happen to be has special rules it allows them to live by that contradict the rules of the rest of Existence.
It’s as much the eternal battle among Facts vs Opinions vs Beliefs, as that between “good and evil” vs “good and bad.”
I really was awestruck when I read this through the first time. I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion lately on the topic of moderation on blogs and forums, and people do sometimes bring up the “what if the trolls provide a learning experience?” Question. But usually it’s a question asked hypothetically by someone with no apparent skin in the game, someone who generally comes off as a “concern troll”, as opposed to someone who sincerely thinks that those who charge in spewing epithets might have something valuable to add.
Nobody (that I’ve read, at least, sure it could be out there) has raised the point with the reality and sincerity that you did above.
Very few have pointed out that trolls are human beneath the grime.
Granted, that’s because many of the ones erupting right now are saying such incredibly vile things it’s difficult to want to grant them human status. I generally don’t want to myself.
What blindsided me the most about this post, though, was simply the honesty. I am so used to maintaining my shields and seeing the shields of those I interact with online. And as I read your words, the statement I heard ringing behind them was “Here I stand. I offer no defense, only who and what I am.” And that’s unnerving, and humbling. Thank you for sharing it.
I’m going to do something I don’t normally do – respond to the blog without reading any other responses, in order to express my feelings without taking on anyone else’s.
I think that it’s important to remember that this blog is your space in much the same way your home is. It is your space to share your thoughts and feelings, and you open it up to others to respond to. If a person came into my home and was throwing that much negativity about me personally around, they would be invited to leave. I think that’s a normal, healthy response to antagonism.
Having this space online and public though, does make it different. I don’t think of BITG as a circle closed to outsiders, more of a pavilion open on all sides so we can come rest in the shade and discuss the topic of the day you present. I didn’t see the “tact-challenged fellow” or his post, so I can’t comment directly to that, but did he offer any opinion that wasn’t a personal attack on you? If not, then let me pose this thought – you are the caretaker as well as the host of this space and the discussions we all have. Your general attitude is welcoming and inclusive, and anyone responding is part of the temporary community here on the blog page. Does the responsibility for maintaining peace here fall on you, or the community of respondents? Keeping in mind the tendency for people online to turn into “keyboard warriors” and get much more confrontational than they might in person, mob mentality could kick in and distract everyone in their attempts to defend you (because you’re a heck of a likable guy) and prevent further discussion on the actual topic.
I think your response was appropriate, to be honest.
You can be inclusive and exclude individuals. Inclusivity is about accepting people of all walks of life into your nemeton regardless of class, gender, sex, sexuality, race, nationality, etc, but it doesn’t mean you can’t throw out the disrespectful, Those “Cold of Heart & Dim of Mind”, the very Fomori that the Tuatha threw out of Ireland, the mythological nemeton. Some of the best thoughts on this are in the section “Weeding the Garden” in the Grove Organizers Handbook in the ADF member section of the website.
Hi there. I love your blog, and am a new reader. I would like to offer an answer and or a suggestion. I am a mother of three, and this statement comes to mind: “This behavior isn’t what we value here, and if you continue being disruptive we will have to ask you to leave.” I find that to be a great honest and respectful way to communicate desire, thoughts, and consequential/karmic action. It will also open up the discussion for the person to be able to state whether or not they too value such disruptive words and actions or if they were in a dark place and now see some light shinning in. Another thing that can be added to the statement is, how uncomfortable you feel because of their actions, yet you will keep your mind focused on love and light and not join them in their dark space. (Thanks for sharing all that you do with the world.)