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.