It bothers me when visitors to this blog don't talk courteously with each other. Now, I realize that this is an endemic problem in cyberspace. Anonymity breeds contemptuousness.
Everybody who leaves comments here is a person (possibly aside from some robo-spam, which I have to delete now and then).
Yet if the people who engage in heated Church of the Churchless comment conversations were face to face in a coffee house, it's hard to believe that they'd be talking to each other in their online fashion. Even, or especially, if they'd just met.
There's no hard and fast rules for talking with each other. All I can do is share my own experience about what works and doesn't work.
By "work," I mean that the conversation, the dialogue, is satisfying and productive. For everybody. People feel that they can say what they want, and be understood by others. Disagreements don't degenerate into verbal fist fights.
This isn't rocket science. Mostly it's common courtesy. And application of the Golden Rule. Talk unto me as you'd like me to talk unto you.
I'll listen to you if you listen to me. I'll consider what you have to say if you consider what I have to say. If you don't like being called insulting names, then don't call me insulting names. If you can't stand self-righteous proclamations, then don't proclaim self-righteously.
I've done a lot of public speaking. I'm married to a psychotherapist (recently retired from many years in private practice). I got a master's degree in social work myself, before I realized that I wasn't cut out for counseling. I've been part of a monthly Salon discussion group that has met for many years. I organized dozens of community meetings where controversial death with dignity and health care rationing topics were discussed. I've been in the thick of highly emotional land use battles on both our neighborhood and state level.
So I know something about talking with people.
And this is why I get bothered when Church of the Churchless comments flow into my Outlook inbox that have a tone which wouldn't be tolerated if expressed in my living room (being the creator of this blog, TypePad emails me every comment).
Don't get me wrong. I'm not into censorship. Or keeping anybody from using whatever language they want, profane or otherwise. Fuck, sometimes no other word will do but an obscenity.
It's just that I consider myself the host of a discussion group which happens to meet in cyberspace, rather than a physical space. Like my living room.
If some people were sitting around in my house, conversing with each other, and one person started calling another an idiot who should shut up and go home, I'd feel the need to restore harmony. "Hey, that isn't appropriate. You can disagree without making personal attacks."
I usually don't do this on my blogs for a couple of reasons. One, people can stop reading anything they don't like, whereas you can't not hear whatever is said in a living room. Two, the medium of expression is part of the message being conveyed.
Thus how someone talks, in speech or writing, can communicate as much as what they're saying. So if someone claims to have knowledge into what life, spirituality, religion, and/or the cosmos is all about, how they share their insights is part and parcel of what they supposedly know.
To take a fundamentalist example, if a Christian says that he believes in a God of love and proceeds to vilify gays, abortionists, unbelievers, and sundry other heathens for being the Devil's spawn, I sense that the guy isn't living the faith that he claims to profess.
Realize that I appreciate each and every comment people leave on this blog. I understand the passion people have on subjects that are near and dear to them, because I'm the same way – when a certain button is pressed, I get fired up.
I just wish that when people write something – me included, naturally – we visualize that those we're speaking to are face to face with us. Real people, just like us. With feelings, emotions, egos, failings, blind spots, hang-ups, just like us.
To disagree is divine. But our disagreement should be with what a person is saying, not with him- or herself.
Good post as I feel it.
Posted by: Sita | February 25, 2008 at 03:22 PM
Here, for the record, are my own responses to a few of the things Brian has said. My responses are not just for Brian, but for others readers as well.
Brian wrote: "if the people who engage in heated Church of the Churchless comment conversations were face to face in a coffee house, it's hard to believe that they'd be talking to each other in their online fashion."
-- Whatever I say here I would also have no problem saying in public, face-to-face and in person. I own whatever I think and say, and I have no qualms about ssimply aying it in person without anger or violence. However, how other people might respond to what I say, I am not responsible for. If others treat me respectfully, then I do the same. If they don't... well then you all know how I sometimes deal with that. So if people don't want me to give them shit, then they should not make the mistake of giving me shit. Is that very christian/turning-the-other-cheek of me? No, but I am not a christian. In other words, if you go wrongly fucking with me, then I may just fuck with you, slam you back. If you think you are going to dish it out, then you are likely to find yourself getting it dished back.
"Talk unto me as you'd like me to talk unto you. I'll listen to you if you listen to me. I'll consider what you have to say if you consider what I have to say. If you don't like being called insulting names, then don't call me insulting names. If you can't stand self-righteous proclamations, then don't proclaim self-righteously."
-- Yes, and tell that to the puffed-up preachers of religious dogma and guru-cultism.
"this is why I get bothered when Church of the Churchless comments flow into my Outlook inbox that have a tone which wouldn't be tolerated if expressed in my living room"
-- I am sorry if your e-mail gets dumped in your cyber-living room, but that not my fault. However I would never ever speak to you in a rude manner if I was within your physical house or living room. But out in the public domain is quite another matter. In the public domain, which inclludes the internet, I have no problem in exercising my right to free speech, no matter how prudish and hung-up others may be.
"You can disagree without making personal attacks."
-- I agree. But if someone first attacks me personally, and many have done so here, then that is their fault and not mine. Anyone can disagree with me intellectually, just as I sometimes disagree with others. But you better have your shit (facts and evidence) together, because if you don't, then you may find what you say being criticised and rejected.
"if someone claims to have knowledge into what life, spirituality, religion, and/or the cosmos is all about, how they share their insights is part and parcel of what they supposedly know."
-- Yes, I agree. It's alright for someone to share whatever one thinks, believes, or knows... but if someone tries to tell others what to believe or how things are or they demand subordination to some religious figure, then they themselves are the problem.
"I just wish that when people write something – me included, naturally – we visualize that those we're speaking to are face to face with us. Real people, just like us. With feelings, emotions, egos, failings, blind spots, hang-ups, just like us."
-- I always do that. I try to write what I would say to someone face to face. If you find that hard to beieve, then you don't know me. If you met me in person you would find that I am no different than how I write here.
"To disagree is divine. But our disagreement should be with what a person is saying, not with him- or herself."
-- Yes... but just as long as what the other person is saying is not presented in the wrong way with a wrong attitude. And as long as that other person has not attacked me personally.
Posted by: tAo | February 25, 2008 at 04:04 PM
It needed to be said Brian. I'm glad you have. I support what you have said wholeheartedly.
All spiritual traditions, both ancient and modern teach 'Humanity' as the essential starting point. No why does that make so much sense?
Posted by: poohbear | February 25, 2008 at 04:08 PM
To hell with "spiritual traditions". Live your own life, in your own way.
Posted by: tAo | February 25, 2008 at 05:41 PM
I didn't know that living your life your own way and learning something from spiritual traditions were mutually exclusive.
I owe a lot to learning from others, and conversely I've also come unstuck by doing it my way. Each to his own.
Posted by: poohbear | February 25, 2008 at 06:11 PM
I don't know why. I like creative abuses. Especially, the one by Tao (Maybe because we are in agreement with each others on many issues).
But then, abuses have their own beauty. Is it not? Not all abuses are made of hate. Even among friends, we do that. It's fun.
So I don't care if somebody uses abusive language as long as it is beautiful and creative. The fine art of abuse is difficult to practice.
Posted by: Deepak Kamat | February 25, 2008 at 08:27 PM
I have silently read your blog for many years. I also have read all your books that you have written. I have great respect for you and for what you do here as I see it as a service to all of us and free of charge. I enjoy reading your postings and the comments of the readers in your blog daily. I have, in one of my previous comments, called myself a “spiritual archaeologist” because I dig for bits of truths wherever they may be found; and I have, on occasions, found those bits of truths here in your blog-in your postings and in some of the readers comments and for that I THANK YOU ALL.
I have always been, to the best of my abilities, courteous and respectful in my comments. Any of you can go back and read them and prove me wrong; and if anyone feels that I have used crude language here and takes offense in what I have expressed, I will apologize immediately. I have tried to never compromise my integrity. I myself have called for a “toning down” of the language and attitude towards others in this blog. In another comment I said: “spiritual independence” coupled with your right of free speech does give you or anyone else in here the right to say, criticize or disagree with whatever…but does not give you(and I don’t mean any of YOU in particular) the right to disregard people’s feelings and sometimes be bluntly disrespectful. Where is the compassion, thoughtfulness and the understanding for others?
Like I said in the beginning I have SILENTLY read your blog for many years, and I only posted my first comments for the very first time just some weeks ago just because I was concerned that this great blog of yours, due to some rude reader’s comments, was degrading in value to become just another mundane chat place with no purpose. I have called for peace, understanding and unity in here, but for my efforts I have been labeled and called many repulsive things of which, for the respect I have for you and for the readers, I will not repeat; but I believe you all know what I mean(just go back and follow the comments on any posting).
I thank you Brian for keep on doing this and I thank you all that have posted MEANINFUL comments in here which have all enhanced my life experience a little.
Posted by: Zion | February 26, 2008 at 07:10 AM
I personally don't mind your "rudeness" on this blog, especially because I think you often have a conscious point--the point being to challenge the assumption that spiritual language=spiritual attainment. You seem to
recognize that becoming attached to a "spiritual persona" is equal to any other attachment.
I do have one point of feedback for you though. You have claimed that you take nothing personally, which I think is a very important part of your game. Your shredding technique is most effective when it is an impersonal act of shredding--equally doled out to all, for the sake of questioning all assumptions.
But above you write,
-- I agree. But if someone first attacks me personally, and many have done so here, then that is their fault and not mine."
Why do you take such "attacks" personally? Isn't this a contradiction with your other statements? I hope the shredder can stay clean and sharp, and not get too sticky from personal involvement...
Posted by: komposer | February 26, 2008 at 09:19 AM
Dear Sir Brian
Thanks for such a wonderful post. I agree with you 100%.
Posted by: Aman | February 26, 2008 at 10:58 AM
"How to talk with each other", the post is redundant and it was not required. People have their own style. A bird will chirp and a lion will always roar.
Your own posts and comments amply speak of how to talk with each other. It is not the words but intention which is more important.
Bloggers here are unique in their own way and in fact they should be.
I repeat this post was not essential. I would like you to come with something substantial and absorbing.
Posted by: Rakesh Bhasin | February 27, 2008 at 03:17 AM
Rakesh I beg to disagree with you.
I believe that Brian’s posting was very essential to keeping the basic niceties of human interaction; especially when we're talking about the essence of morality.
You’re right when you say “A bird will chirp and a lion will always roar” but I assure you that you will never see a bird and a lion trying to communicate with each other…it’s just impossible. Birds will always chirp with other birds and lions will always roar with other lions…catch my drift?
Posted by: Zion | February 27, 2008 at 06:35 AM
Zion, your arguments are no doubt flawed. Abuses will meet abuses. Intellect meets intellect. Believe in the uniform colours of opinions.
Posted by: Deepak Kamat | February 27, 2008 at 09:00 AM
Deepak my friend (if I'm allowed to call you that), my argument is in no way flawed. Actually your statement proves exactly what I was trying to convey. According to you “intellect” will always meet “intellect” and “abuses” will always meet “abuses”; but I am sure you'll agree that it's very hard or quiet impossible to have "intellect" and "abuses" meet and understand each other on their own terms. It is Impossible for a “lion” to “roar” and expect the “bird” to understand or vice-versa (using the “lion” and “bird” figuratively of course)
Posted by: Zion | February 27, 2008 at 11:11 AM
I have noted your diagreement with me. You can yourself note who is chirping and who is roaring in this blog. We are all human beings and can understand each other.
I was trying to bring home the point that nobody is to be admonished here. I would rather like to have a post "HOW WE CAN UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER BETTER". We are all here to let others know how best we think of a particular subject. No doubt others will react by providing their own material and experience either in favour or against. Everything has to be sifted and accepted.
Posted by: Rakesh Bhasin | February 27, 2008 at 09:30 PM
This post received so many more comments than i thought it would... i suddenly felt compelled to write too :)... Its cool that you tried to keep things peaceful Brian, a noble endeavor of course. A blog this beautiful is bound to attract a lot of attention and i guess these sort of "reactions" or name callings are bound to happen more and more as your blog grows in number of visitors in years tome. Do you think a spiritual maturity comes with practicing spirituality? In whatever way one wishes to practice of course, but does a maturity result from it? A maturity in the sense one becomes more noble, more inclined to be in harmony with others, more loving? I sure hope so, Spirituality to me is nothing more than love. falling in love with God and seeing Him as part and parcel of the creation. For a scientist that doesn't believe in God, hopefully she can have some belief or experience of love, and thats more than enough to realize that if we have more of it-that if we share love with others, (as much as possible) we ourselves will be happier people. So my question to you Brian, what do you think; do you think spiritual maturity comes with practice or effort in that direction? and does meditation play a role in that? Plus i would like to add that i do feel that one does become more noble if effort is applied in that direction. And not by some miracle, or its not that we become noble after some transformation occurs. We become more noble by taking action now. By starting where we are today. If i wish to become more humble i need not wait till i become Godlike to turn the other cheek... It would probably to me better to turn the other cheek right now, even that it pisses me off a little bit to do so, its where i want to end up... More noble today=more noble tomorrow, inshallah.
Posted by: aviv | February 28, 2008 at 10:09 PM
I don't want this blog to resemble hate talk radio. This realization dawned on me this morning. It goes a long way toward explaining why I'm so turned off by some Church of the Churchless comments.
I listen to quite a bit of talk radio while I'm driving around. Frequently I turn it off, or change stations. Both conservative and progressive talk radio is prone to the sort of conversation-stifling stuff that happens on the Internet also.
A listener will call in with some cogent observations. Which don't agree with the host's political prejudices. So he or she will cry out, "Shut up, you big fat idiot!" and disconnect the caller.
Or, the host won't let the caller talk. He or she will keep interrupting.
I suppose most listeners love this behavior, because it reinforces an "I'm so right" mentality. Well, if people want to preach to the choir in this fashion, they shouldn't visit a churchless blog.
I want to hear different views. I don't want people to be told "Shut up, you big fat idiot!" That's childish and boring. The conversation is what's interesting, not the attempt to shout down the other person.
Posted by: Brian | February 29, 2008 at 10:47 AM
In My opinion, you have one of the most stimulating and thought provoking blogs out there. You always touch on array of subjects which all incite some lively discussions among many of us readers. However, I grew concerned that the uniqueness of this blog was being jeopardized by some hateful comments, stereotyping and name calling. My opinion may not matter to you or the frequenters of this blog, but I can assure you that there are a lot of people that read your blog and do not post a comment or ask a question for fear of being stereotyped or called a cult-parrot, among other things, and really miss out on the great opportunity that this blog present; the exchange of ideas, theories, stories etc and get a lot of good feedback from a many of your readers that have something significant to say. We can all disagree, criticize or pass judgment, but let’s do it within the boundaries of respect and we can all learn something from each other.
Posted by: Zion | February 29, 2008 at 12:21 PM
Zion, I hear you. This has been a concern of mine also. My natural inclination against moderating comments led me to what probably was an excessively passive position -- not objecting to hate-filled speech when it bothered me.
To repeat: I'm not against passionate debate. I'm not against profanity when it's directed at ideas, rather than people. "That's the stupidest fucking notion I've ever heard" is entirely appropriate, because a person's belief is being attacked, not the person.
To me conversing is a game where you throw your ideas out onto the playing field. You "score" by elevating your notions above others (naturally people have different ways of keeping score).
I don't like it when someone tries to cut the game off by shoving a player off the field, telling them they shouldn't be playing, or getting into a verbal fist-fight with them rather than focusing on the ideas (like when hockey players stop trying to get the puck into the net and start punching each other -- entertaining, but not really part of the game).
Posted by: Brian | February 29, 2008 at 01:10 PM
I am not a hockey fan, but I do know that players use rough tactics that are tolerated, up to a point. However, a blatant foul results in a trip to the penalty box. If one fouls repeatedly or expecially violently, it is not tolerated and they get thrown out of the game. It is unfortunate to lose a good player because he couldn't control his temper or resist bullying because he thought he could get away with it.
Posted by: tucson | February 29, 2008 at 04:42 PM
tucson, a pretty good analogy -- but nobody is being thrown out of the commenting game. True, I've decided to be a bit more assertive about pointing out the rules as I see them. However, I want all the players on the blog floor, for sure.
Here's how I see it, after some additional reflection today. A blog is an invitation to come visit a location in cyberspace. Comments allow visitors to speak their mind.
I consider myself the host. It's my blog -- my place, my space. I want visitors to feel welcome, even if they don't agree with what I or someone else says.
Problem is, sometimes visitors feel like they're being pushed away by other visitors. And I can understand why they feel that way. They get attacked not for what they're saying, but on a much more personal level.
A host has the right to tell someone to leave their property. A guest doesn't. So guests, or visitors, should respect the host's cyberspace property. They can disagree strenuously with other visitors, but not to the extent of making them feel maligned or unwanted.
Blogger is free. Anyone can set up their own blog or web site these days. There they can set their own rules, say whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want. But they shouldn't drive people away from blogs or web sites run by others.
Posted by: Brian | February 29, 2008 at 07:51 PM
I have written one more article on anti-brahminism. Peraps with this, you can see things in the right perspective.
Posted by: Deepak Kamat | March 01, 2008 at 02:24 AM
I am happy to note the contents of your
comment dated February 29, 2008 at 07:51 PM.
In fact many a time I have specifically commented on your post addressing to you by name expecting a reply from end. But somebody else will come forward to reply which I would never mind. But it seems that the other person is writing on your behalf as you do not care to even acknowledge the comment. You must be having your reasons for it.
Nevertheless I am glad that you are putting the things straight now.
Posted by: Rakesh Bhasin | March 01, 2008 at 03:29 AM
I was on a dating site, here in Texas. Under religion, I was other. This caused a stir. Men who, on first contact asked about other, were told my family is Native American and we have a spiritual outlook that has been passed down many generations. Their interpretation-"heathen, unwashed one in immediate need of ministering to with possible salvation as goal." They cut and paste gospel and scriptures, lectured...etc. I read it all including the many book recommendations. I responded the same way every time. "I was not trying to get saved, just laid" They probably knew I was beyond redemption at that point. (I feel this is the way people talk to me, I hope I have commented in the appropriate area.)
Posted by: Holly | March 05, 2008 at 08:48 AM
To hell with "spiritual traditions". Live your own life, in your own way.
i.e., "You can be enlightened and continue to abuse. It works the other way round also. You can abuse your way to enlightenment if you do it totally."
* * * * *
"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."
One can certainly be an enlightened asshole -- as there are no rules -- but then you're still an asshole.
Posted by: | March 05, 2008 at 09:26 AM
"... as long as what the other person is saying is not presented in the wrong way with a wrong attitude."
ah, so many false dualities, so little time.
Posted by: | March 05, 2008 at 09:37 AM
Whoah! What an active and interesting blog & comments!
Tucson - hey dude, why do we have to be in a 'team', for this or against that, at combat?? Seriously, isn't the drive for truth the only side here? Aren't we being untrue to ourselves if we've set ourselves up on 'sides'? Don't we lose ANY possibility to learn that way?
Let everyone make their statement without personally abusing them, I say? Isn't it common sense? I mean, I enjoy many of Tao's posts, but chill on the personals and the aggressiveness!?! Leave a little room for the conversation to breath. I know I personally enjoy reading contrarian viewpoints that may, occassionaly, make me THINK...:-)
Marcel - Wasn't that a bit of an exagerrated response to Brian's reaction to the vid??!! :)
Posted by: Manjit | March 05, 2008 at 02:01 PM