As I hope you are all aware, I have taken The Mom Pledge. And I take it seriously.
As you may or may not be aware, but a lot of the expectations that we had for adulthood were pretty far fetched. Adults DON'T always know what's going on. They DON'T mysteriously have all the answers. They DON'T have constant confidence in the place in the universe.
So, like children, adults bicker. And they argue. And they bully.
As much as we like to think that bullying is a problem of children and children alone, this is just not the case. And, sadly, mothers are some of the worst offenders I know.
I believe that parenting is hard- and as a result parents take the parenting choices of other people very personally. This is silly, one parent's choices have no bearing whatsoever on the choices of any other parent. But if you do something differently from me, it's not hard for me to infer that you are doing it wrong. And amazingly, it is just as easy for me to assume that if you have any success, it means that I am doing it wrong. Which means that your parenting choices are actually an attack on my parenting choices.
This is, as I said above, just plain silly. Your parenting choices have nothing to do with my parenting choices. The same way that your marriage has nothing to do with my marriage, and your religion has nothing to do with my religion. Until your parenting/marriage/religious choices involve attacking me, it's just plain none of my business and we can lead our own separate lives.
That said, there will be disagreements between parents, just as there are always disagreements between people, and it doesn't take long for a disagreement between people to escalate into a full fledged, mud flinging fight.
And nowhere is that easier than online.
In the course of stating my opinions I have been called a child abuser, accused of calling people Nazis, called a criminal, had my own words taken out of context to discredit and insult me, and been generally attacked for my beliefs and my shared thoughts.
And I invite a lot of this. I invite it by existing in an ephemeral space filled with anonymous (or even known) people who feel it is their right to punish me for disagreeing with them. I invite it for discussing controversial topics- which I do very deliberately and (I hope) with a great deal of respect and sensitivity.
But that does not make it okay.
Part of The Mom Pledge reads,
"I will welcome differing opinions when offered in a respectful, non-judgmental manner, and I will treat those who do so in kind."
This is, I have found, one of the easiest things in the world to do.
Unfortunately, it is rare. I almost never experience respectful disagreements. I almost never get a comment that says, "I hear what you're saying, and I disagree with you for this calmly explained reason."
What is much more common is differing opinions in the form of attacks. "You are a criminal and you should be arrested." "You are wrong, and because God tells me so you are going to Hell." "Your culture is evil and is comparable to another culture for its brutal treatment of women/children." "You must not love your children." "You must not even LIKE children."
When people say things like that, be they strangers or otherwise, it hurts. There's no getting around it. It just plain hurts my feelings.
And of course, one impulse- and one that can be very hard to fight- is the impulse to direct my righteous anger into an attack against them. Against the person who has attacked me.
I try never to bow to this impulse. I sometimes fail. I sometimes find myself using language that I know is incendiary, bringing personal matters into a completely impersonal issue. Being a gigantic jerk, basically.
But I find that I only fail, I only rise to the attack if I am attacked by somebody that I know in the real world. Somebody I have some manner of respect for. Because in the course of being attacked, I lose my respect for that person, that former friend or acquaintance or whatever. I stop thinking of them as a person I know who doesn't deserve to be hurt, and instead think of them as a failure of the potential I knew in them. As somebody who would respond to an impersonal choice or opinion of mine with anger or even with threats, they become somebody that I want to show that I don't care about them anymore.
And that is wrong. That is not a reasonable way to handle a disagreement.
I get some comments on my blog, or my facebook page, or through Twitter, that disagree with me. Some of them respectfully so, and others... well, others that are basically trolling. And I am always astounded, relieved, and incredibly grateful to be disagreed with respectfully.
I learn things. Most importantly, I learn to communicate myself better. Nine times out of ten, if I have offended somebody I have done it through some kind of miscommunication.
Unsurprisingly, the posts that have generated the most disagreements are my End of the Month Controversies- one of which is coming up next week. Most particularly, my opinions regarding abortion and marijuana use.
One reader who disagreed with me wrote an entire post about my post... only with dramatic changes. He took my words out of context, he isolated sentences (and I do tend to write in sentence fragments on occasion- one of my writerly affects) in order to give his own readers the impression that I was saying things that were, frankly, absurd and offensive.
He claimed to have left comments on my blog that I never responded to- which was untrue. But worst of all were the comments on HIS blog.
There were categorically an attack on me. And despite the fact that my opinions were not accurately portrayed, that my character was not accurately portrayed, and that he had done me the kindness of leaving me essentially anonymous... I felt incredibly hurt.
I couldn't believe what I was reading as I went through the comments. A group of people, ranged against me, to attack me. Being facilitated by what were essentially lies.
I responded as calmly as possible, by addressing some of the misinformation that he had portrayed. And my respectful comment was treated respectfully. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.
But I will never forget how much it pained me to be made into a pariah- into a caricature of myself- and to be openly berated and ridiculed.
Some people, anonymous or otherwise, will refuse to see that you are not attacking them merely by having different views. Some people, parents or not, will assume that when you disagree with them you are attacking them, and they will attack in perceived retaliation. Some people, perhaps even friends or family, will attack your character and send you angry messages loaded with inflammatory language and claim the moral high ground. Friends of friends or friends of dissenters might mob together to attack you as one. This actually happens.
You can control your environment, though. And your blog, your facebook page, those are your environment. You don't have to let people line up and attack another person even if it seems like it's on your behalf. (So please, no bashing the blogger who took my words out of context.) You don't have to publish comments by trolls. You don't have to rise.
It can be hard. When suddenly your inbox is flooded with the ranting of angry strangers- calling you all sorts of awful things- it can be hard to remember there isn't actually a crowd of angry people staring you down, chasing you with pitchforks and torches. It can be hard to take a deep breath and start casually hitting that "delete" key without reading the full content of what lies within. It can be hard to accept a comment and calmly say to the author, "I disagree with you, and this is why."
It can be particularly hard when somebody ends a rant against you by signing off, "Respectfully." As though by adding this to the end they suddenly erase all the hurt they have caused.
I struggle with this. I try to be better. I can't claim that by taking The Mom Pledge I have suddenly lost all of my reactionary faults. But I am more aware of them. I know that I only fail when the attacks come against me in my personal life, away from my Becoming SuperMommy persona.
I have drafted more angry comments and facebook posts than I can count. I write about controversial topics. There should be no surprise that occasionally people will call me names or try to hurt me.
Human beings are sensitive creatures. Particularly when it comes to sensitive topics. And on some topics, my writing can be much less sensitive than I would hope after a day or two of hindsight.
That's why I don't publish those comments. That's why, on this blog, you will (hopefully) never read that I am RIGHT and somebody else is WRONG because they are a BAD PERSON.
If I disagree with somebody, I try my best to do so in a reasoned manner. I do my utmost to make sure my attacks are not personal, if I must make any attacks at all. I try to write about controversy as it applies to me, my life, my history, my circumstances. And the only expert that there is on me is me.
I am a growing, learning individual, as are we all. I am an adult who is capable of making mistakes, of learning from them, and of improving.
I am not the grown-up that I hoped I would be. I am not mysteriously confident, in control, and all knowing. But I do hope that by the time I reach my dotage I will be the sort of adult I believed I could be. That I will be in control of all of my actions.
The Mom Pledge is about improving. About helping make ourselves, our space, our lives a little better through kindness.
We don't have to agree. We don't even have to be respectful. But we do have to coexist. And sharing a space, even a space as vast as the internet, is always made better by kindness.
Please, if you haven't already, take the time to sign The Mom Pledge. It's not just for moms, it's not just for bloggers, it's for everyone who exists in a digitally enhanced social world. And take the time to think before you react to the unkindness of others.
If we all behaved in such a manner, the world would be a very different place. But through conscious action we can improve it. We can make it better. At the very least, we can make OUR space a place where the overriding tone is of kindness and welcome. Even the welcome of differening opinions.