So I have been having a somewhat civil conversation with John C. Welch and Pitchguest about my last post “On ‘Not Harassment Per Se’” and the subject came up that part of my problem is that we diverge on what constitutes harassment at Women in Secularism 2 should Justin Vacula attend.
I suggested that perhaps it might be helpful if I made a list of ten or more things that I would consider “harassment”, and ten or more things that I would not consider “harassment”. So this post will hopefully assist in at least drawing my line in the sand regarding what I would consider appropriate and inappropriate contact with someone who has made it clear that they don’t wish to engage with a certain attendee.
I’ll start with what I deem “normal, casual contact”
- Being in the same room as another guest if it is a common area
- Being incidentally within a few feet of another guest for a short period of time
- Being in a room where another guest is giving a presentation, assuming no efforts are made to be disruptive or undermine their wishes.
- Happening to be in a bar or restaurant that another guest happens to be at, assuming that it is coincidental
- Speaking to guests who have not made it known that they desire “no contact”, assuming they are not presently conversing with guests who desire no contact.
- Passing another guest in the common area-assuming that you don’t attempt to communicate with them.
- Staying at the same hotel as other guests of the convention.
- Attending the same presentation as another guest
- Asking conference staff to deal with legitimate harassment by other guests
- Infrequent and unintended non-verbal communication
If Justin was accused of doing any of the things noted above without sufficient grounds to question ulterior motives, I’m willing to concede that this constitutes incidental casual contact.
Now a list of what I believe constitutes harassment, even under the guise of “following the rules”
- A sustained effort to be in proximity to a guest who wishes no contact
- Intentionally joining into conversations that other guests are having with someone who desires “no contact”
- Attending presentations by another guest with the express intention of being visible and/or asking questions of someone who desires no contact.
- Purposely trying to be visible to a guest who desires no contact, or following them if they chose to remove themselves
- Purposely trying to goad someone into speaking with you or putting them in a position where they need to reiterate an established desire for no contact.
- Purposely putting yourself in the path of a guest who does not desire contact or frequently putting yourself in proximity
- Switching rooms to be close to another guest or taking routes that guarantee contact
- Sitting beside, behind, in front of or otherwise near a “no contact” guest if it is unnecessary
- Purposely checking other guests behaviour in an effort to find something to complain to conference staff about
- Frequently trying to communicate non-verbally by making unwelcome gestures, whether seemingly polite or not.
So we are clear, yes, I absolutely hold every guest to this standard. I would consider it blameworthy if conference guests went searching for ways that Justin is breaking policy, as opposed to waiting for him to do so. I also do not think this is an exhaustive list of the ways in which a guest might try to abuse the spirit of a non-harassment policy by following the letter of it.
I understand that Justin is going to go to the conference. I don’t think he should be disallowed from going. I also know that other than some “if I happen to” and “if I’m close to” comments on his own blog, Justin has not outright said he intends to try and be a problem for the people who don’t want contact from him. He also hasn’t said that he intends to go out of his way to respect those wishes.
To reiterate- I have not convicted Justin of a crime before the day he is accused of committing it. I have done to this point what any person should do given the facts at hand. Justin has written about his feeling regarding how enforceable a “no contact” request is. When he had the opportunity to comment on it, he has used lawyering to explain why he thinks he cannot be stopped from at least some communication. Those are not the words of someone who is committed to taking the ethical high ground. I will also note that John C. Welch came onto my blog guns-a-blazing about all the reasons Justin will be totally justified when he gets “harassy” with these people and then simultaneously said I was accusatory for thinking Justin might act that way. You know, that very way JCW thinks is totally justified given Justin’s predicament.
Since Justin doesn’t believe harassment policies are useful (though he would really, really love some groups to enforce them), perhaps he intends to go to the conference and show how absolutely workable self-policing is in reducing harassment. Perhaps that is his angle. Perhaps he wants to show everyone how superfluous harassment policies are by going to WiS2, staying a good distance from Ophelia and PZ and whoever else asks him to keep his distance, being on his “better than best” behaviour, and just reporting on how he fundamentally disagrees with just about everything said at the conference. Then he could come home from the conference and report about how harassment policies are unnecessary because people with fundamental differences can go to the same conference and genuinely coexist without the specter of Orwellian harassment policies dangling over them the whole time. He would be wrong in arguing that (and he and I have had that argument before), but at least his actions would bolster his case.
My concerns, though, have nothing to do with harassment policies. Harassment policies are next to useless in mediating existing grudges and feuds. A policy is great for outlining how it expects people to behave when they are interacting with other attendees and how it plans to mediate issues where someone has crossed an obvious line. Policies do not do well when people have existing history, and what might seem an “undue burden” to place on all guests regarding communication becomes a serious issue between two feuding guests. I want to reiterate to Justin- since he and I have had this discussion in relation to the post I linked to above- that this is not a reason to discount the usefulness of harassment policies. In point of fact- I think that it underlines the need for them. The only reason to believe that a Code of Conduct or harassment policy is useless or superfluous is if you assume that guests at conferences are good at self-policing their own behaviour. The inability to respect other people’s wishes regarding “no contact” requests is a clear cut case of an inability to police your own behavior- and underlines the need to make expectations and consequences as clear as possible to attendees. The fact that a harassment policy is of little use in this particular case- and that common courtesy and common sense is expected from both sides- does not take away from a need for policies.
Essentially what I expect from Justin- as well as from Ophelia and PZ and Stephanie and Rebecca- is that people will try to be cognizant of the wishes of others. That if someone has asked you to keep your distance, you do your level best to respect that. That if someone moves away from you at a conference, that you don’t find other ways to make them unduly uncomfortable. In return, I expect that Ophelia and PZ et al. will not talk about Justin directly without giving him a chance to respond. I expect that people won’t try to purposefully exclude and isolate him in ways that are meant to bully him. This conference will be less fun for everyone as a result of things that have been done to this point- and I hope that everyone makes the best of a bad situation.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 15 so far )
EDIT: If you are here to talk specifically about Justin Vacula and WiS2, I have created a follow up post that addresses many of the issues hashed out between myself, John C. Welch, Pitchguest, and others. See my new post “On ‘Not Harassment Per Se’ Part 2” to join the discussion there.
This is going to be one of those harder posts for me to write. I’m going to be talking about things I’m not that proud of; I’m going to be recounting a time when I wasn’t at my best.
I had a pretty steady girlfriend in High School. We started dating when I was in Grade 11 and she was in Grade 9. We were together for 5 1/2 years over the span of about eight years. We had, as you can imagine, many of the same friends- being together as long as we were means nurturing many common friendships. As with most relationships, there are several sub-groupings of our common friends- there are those much closer to her, those much closer to me, and a large swath in the middle that hold no immediate allegiance to one of us more than the other.
My girlfriend and I once broke up around the end of May in my Grade 13 year. The whole thing was rather anti-climactic as far as break-ups between us usually went; there was no yelling or fighting or schisms within our group of friends. It was really just her telling me that things were done, and me not really liking it but trying my best to be mature about the whole thing.
There was an end of school party planned by several of our friends- we were all going to camp out in tents and toast the end of another school year. My ex didn’t want me to go to the party. She made that pretty clear to must of our common friends, perhaps hoping that I would get the hint. At the time I thought it was pretty childish of her to try and prevent me from going to this party, after all these were our mutual friends and I knew and had good relationships with many of them. Why should I have to stay home while she has a good time? In her defence, this party was going to be overwhelmingly occupied by people who were closer to her than to me- and I knew this. In my mind though, these were my friends too, and I was not about to sacrifice my social life for the increased comfort of my ex girlfriend.
Just to make sure my bases were covered, I took special care to let as many people as possible know that I was going to be coming to the party. Most were very supportive of my coming, though some indicated some trepidation at the prospect of having to be put in the middle of things. Those who were closest to me were of course excited that I would be coming and considered my ex’s protestations to be petty and unfair. The friends who were closer to her tended to suggest that maybe my going was not necessarily wrong per se, but that it might significantly impact the enjoyment of everyone there and that I might want to avoid her as much as possible if I did decide to go.
Once it became apparent that I was most definitely going and that I wasn’t about to change my mind on this- my ex made a very public decree that if I were to show up that I was not to speak to her at all. She told everyone that if I was in the same circle of conversation- that she would leave, if I attempted to speak to her- she would not respond, and that several people she knew who were very close to her would be avoiding me as well. Lines were drawn- and the ball was in my court.
So the day of the party I did what any reasonable person would do…. I showed up and made it my mission to make her look bad.
I didn’t go up to her and speak to her directly because I knew that she explicitly had said that would be wrong. No, instead I told everyone that I thought it was just so childish that the two of us couldn’t exchange cold pleasantries- that I understood how hurt she was, I understood her decision, but that perhaps- just maybe- it was a little immature and petty and cheap. I took special care to join into conversations in which she was one of many participants- surely she could not tell me when and with whom I could have conversations, right? I made a concerted effort to involve myself as much as possible with her close friends, thus forcing them to choose between being being dicks to me or anger her. If she was in a certain area- I was happily found within earshot, but never speaking to her or hanging out with her specifically. I made a conspicuous show of just how much fun I was having with everyone, laughing a little louder and drinking a little more and hamming it up in general.
What I never did was talk to her. What I never did was break the rules that she had set for that party. I never tried to turn people against her, or take friends away from her or confront her in any way. Not at all.
What I did instead was just have a good time with my friends. Sure, maybe I really needed to speak with that person who she was presently engaged with. Maybe I spent an inordinate amount of time within 10 yards of her present location. Maybe I was having an absolutely wonderful conversation with her two best friends that night. Perhaps I was really genuinely enjoying a wonderful party.
So how do you think she reacted?
She got mad.
She had to be consoled by several other guests, she made a scene, and then she left.
“It’s not my fault” I said, “I never spoke to her or confronted her at all!”
Some of the people on Team George said it too….
She was being unreasonable. She couldn’t expect me to not go to the party- even if most of the people there were more closely aligned with her. We were still all friends, right? George didn’t confront her. He didn’t speak to her against her wishes. He didn’t do anything that was harassing her in any real way. She was the one with the problem.
See? I was not harassing her.
Well, not per se.
Did I purposely do things in an attempt to force her hand? Yes. Did I do things with the intention of making her look silly? Yep. Was I enacting a calculated and methodical plan to ruin her experience and try to get her to do something irrational and blameworthy? You bet I was. Not just that, but I was manipulating friendships and social conventions to make other people complicit in my passive-aggressive vendetta.
Yet I really didn’t do anything that I couldn’t explain away as normal party behaviour. I was just having fun at a party, right? I knew those people I engaged with when she was talking to them. I wasn’t ever in her personal space. I was never threatening. I was just conspicuously there.
Could a case be made that my ex was being unreasonable and petty by asking me to be uninvited? Certainly. Someone could make the case that people need to be aware that when you have a relationship long enough you are going to have many of the same friends and likely find yourself at many of the same gatherings. Perhaps it is immature to ask someone to not speak to you at all at a group function or to foster the kind of tribal loyalties that are a reality in and group of feuding people. Some people might see what I did as a reasonable punishment for being unreasonable.
I just look back and feel like an ass.
What I accomplished felt very satisfying at the time. I was cheered on by a bunch of my friends who felt she deserved to be shown as a fool. My ex was hurt by the whole thing- as were some of her closer friends who had to deal with the fallout. In the meantime- though they wouldn’t necessarily say it- I managed to alienate several of the “fence-sitters”, those friends who really didn’t want to take sides. Most of them were smart enough to see through the “just a guy having fun at a party” act. They knew I was punishing her- and whether they called it harassment or not- they knew that it was genuinely wrong and just as petty as anything she had done to that moment.
I’m not proud of any of this. I just read something today that reminded me of what a complete jerk I was and the sharp pangs of guilt and remorse came bubbling up to the surface. What felt like requital now feels like hollow contempt. Some people might not call that harassment.
I guess it isn’t harassment per se, but I don’t particularly want my actions to be thought of as “not harassment per se“.
This is one of those moments that I wish I could have back. What if I had have passed on a party that I was destined to sour? What if I had have gone and just made an effort to live and let live- to consciously avoid putting either of us in an unnecessarily compromising position? What if I had have been the bigger person and tried to build solid bridges and fences instead of charging around with a battering ram?
What I’m saying is that victory never tasted so sour or left me so wanting.
With all that said enjoy Women In Secularism 2. I’m sure nobody is planning to follow around certain speakers in a totally non threatening manner. I’m sure no one is planning to ask questions of speakers who have asked that person not to speak to them, or conspicuously “just need” to speak to that person who is currently engaged with certain speakers, or find themselves always in the next conversation over in the room, or otherwise try to “do absolutely nothing wrong” in an effort to make others misbehave. I’m sure it will be an absolute blast…..Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 75 so far )
I would like it if all of my readers read this pledge- and if those that were in agreement that civility is the key to productive discourse would sign it. I worked with Dan Finke and several other bloggers to help craft this pledge (though admittedly I didn’t contribute a fraction of the time or energy that Dan and others did). I think that the rules laid out here are important; I believe that if we wish to have constructive dialogue that focuses on ideas and doesn’t devolve into nasty epithets and hard feelings- then we ought to all support this effort.
I normally would link to the original post and let my readers read the full text there, but since I was
part of the group that worked on the pledge and Dan has generously offered to allow it reprinted verbatim- I have decided to print it in its entirety here (including all links that reference Dan’s fantastic posts on these subjects at CWH). I would like to have it handy so that I can link to it when people commenting here step out of line and also so that I have a standard to be personally accountable to.
I hope you read the pledge, sign it here or at CWH, and share it if you agree.
“THE CAMELS WITH HAMMERS CIVILITY PLEDGE”
by Daniel Fincke
Reasons for the Pledge:
I want to be able to engage in vigorous, rigorous, constructive, and truth-conducive public discussions about both the most philosophically fundamental and the most vitally urgent questions related to beliefs and values.
For truth’s sake and for freedom’s sake, I want no controversial topics to be made taboo in all discussion forums and I want no disputable propositions whatsoever to be shielded from all sincere and thorough rational interrogation. I accept that either my beliefs and values, including those I that myself cherish the most, can prove themselves against vigorous, sincere, rational skepticism and challenge, or that they need to be modified or abandoned.
I want to argue for what I think is true and good without hesitating over concerns that my views are too unpopular or unpleasant, and I want others to feel free to do the same.
I want periodically to publicly reexamine my own beliefs and values for any possible errors they may contain, and to critically examine others’ ideas until I am adequately satisfied with them before feeling like I have to endorse or adopt them.
I even may want the latitude of intellectual honesty to test ugly ideas that neither I nor most others even want to believe. I may want to do this so that we can thoroughly understand exactly why, or whether, such ideas are indeed as false as we would hope, or are as pernicious as we presume. It is important that rational people of good will have well-developed reasons, rather than just dogmatic moral condemnation, with which to answer the false and pernicious ideas of irrational, ill-willed, and bigoted people. This means rational people of good will should at least sometimes open-mindedly explore hypotheses that they or others may find morally or intellectually upsetting, and that they have the room to do this without being demonized.
I realize that a huge obstacle to honest, thoroughgoing, and challenging public inquiries into the rightness of beliefs and values of the most fundamental importance and urgency is our shared natural tendencies to take abstract criticisms personally. I realize another huge obstacle is that most people naturally are tempted to become more dogmatically committed to their existing positions precisely when presented with potentially unsettling counter-arguments. I realize that in most cases these and related problematic tendencies are only exacerbated, rather than alleviated, when we explicitly or implicitly turn abstract intellectual inquiries into interpersonally hostile confrontations.
I also realize that attempts to bully people into agreement with me by taking recourse to interpersonally aggressive treatment are antithetical to a principled commitment to respecting other people’s rationality and freedoms of intellectual conscience. Even where such appeals are successful, they come at a moral cost that should be seen as unacceptable to people committed to reason. I should want to persuade others into genuinely justified agreement with the best arguments and the most fair and relevant emotional appeals, rather than socially, emotionally, politically, or physically coerce them into acquiescence. Outside of the most extreme life and death circumstances, I should not consider the cause of winning people to my side philosophically or politically to be so important that I am willing to treat others abusively.
It is, in the vast majority of cases, unethical to verbally abuse or otherwise attempt to emotionally bully others, no matter how right I might feel myself to be or how cathartic I might find the experience. Self-righteousness is a dangerous, blinding temptation. It leads to hypocritical double-standards, remorseless cruelty, smugness, authoritarianism, and false beliefs held with self-satisfaction. Worst of all, self-righteousness tempts us to become like the hateful people we start out opposing. So I should foreswear and guard against self-righteousness as conscientiously and with as much regular self-examination as possible. I should never consider myself to be so much better or righter than others that I see them as worthy of maltreatment and myself as morally pure enough to mete out their punishments of my own initiative.
I understand also that I am not perfect. I may not have always lived up to the highest standards of civility, compassion, or rationality in the past. I may struggle as much as anyone else to do so in the future. Nonetheless, I resolve to the best of my ability to make the commitments in the pledge below in order to ensure that I am as constructive and ethical a participant in public discussions as possible, and to live as consistently according to my professed belief in the intellectual and moral worth of reason, freedom, and compassion as possible.
1. I commit that I will engage in all public arguments with a sincere aim of mutual understanding, rather than only persuasion.
I will make being honest, rationally scrupulous, and compassionate my highest priorities. I will conscientiously remain open to new ideas. I will consider the well being and growth of my interlocutors more important than whether they simply agree with me at the end of our exchanges. I am under no obligation to respect false or harmful beliefs or to hold back from expressing my own views or reservations forthrightly. I may even express them with passion and conviction where such are justifiable. Compatible with this, I will always respect my interlocutors as people and their rights to express their own views without personal abuse, even when I find myself riled up by them. I will cut off communications that are counter-productive to others’ well being or my own. I will respect others’ attempts to bow out of debates on particular topics or with me in particular. If I feel that I am in a position where my anger and frustration at the behavior of others, even entirely legitimate anger and frustration, is making the conversation less capable of constructive progress, I will remove myself and come back only at such time as I can be constructive again.
2. I commit that I will tolerate the existence of people with dissenting ethical, religious, or political views.
I will focus on understanding and appreciating what actual goods my philosophical or political enemies may be mistakenly trying to achieve and what genuinely occurring features of their experience they are inadequately trying to do justice to in their false beliefs. I will try to discern and appreciate what genuinely valuable moral and intellectual principles they intend to stand up for, no matter how wrong I think their ultimate ethical or factual conclusions might be. Wherever possible, I will try to find and affirm their good will, reasonableness, and any other potential sources of common ground, and work from there in order to persuade them of what I take to be their errors. If this proves impossible, I will simply stop engaging them directly and attack their ideas in the abstract, rather than make things acrimoniously personal.
3. I commit that I will always focus first on the merits of other people’s arguments and not disparage them personally for asking unpleasant questions, taking unpleasant positions, or simply disagreeing with me.
I will not assume the worst of all possible motives when people advance theses that I find false, morally repugnant, and/or potentially harmful. I will refute their arguments on their merits. I will discuss with them any harmful real world implications that I think would come from the promulgation or implementation of their ideas. I will not accuse them of wanting to perpetuate evils unless there is specific evidence that their ends are actually so malicious. I will try not to personalize intellectual disputes any more than is absolutely necessary. I will keep any personal fights that erupt limited to as few people as possible rather than incorporate more and more people into them.
When I am having a personality conflict that is making progress in understanding seem impossible, I will drop communications with that person–with or without explanation as seems most potentially constructive. I will not escalate unproductive arguments that are becoming interpersonally acrimonious. I will not participate in ongoing interpersonal feuds between other people but only participate in discussions that stay focused on what is true, what the best principles are, and how such principles may be most fairly and efficiently implemented in the world. I will correct injustices, bad principles, and bad ideas in ways that are maximally productive for changing minds and real world policies while also minimally likely to create or escalate distracting counter-productive interpersonal feuds.
4. When I feel it necessary to call out what I perceive to be the immoral behaviors or harmful attitudes of my interlocutors, I commit that I will do so only using specific charges, capable of substantiation, which they can contest with evidence and argumentation, at least in principle. I will not resort to merely abusive epithets and insult words (like “asshole” or “douchebag”) that hatefully convey fundamental disrespect, rather than criticize with moral precision.
I will refrain from hurling hateful generalized abusive epithets and insults at people. I will refrain from leveling vague, unsubstantiated charges of terribleness at people. I will give them fair opportunities to explain themselves. I will challenge the wrongness of their specific actions or apparent attitudes rather than hastily cast aspersions on their entire character. Before ever making moral accusations, I will civilly warn them that something they do or say strikes me as morally wrong and offensive, and explain to them why. I will give them a chance to retract, restate, and/or apologize before taking moral offense. I will analyze with self-directed skepticism whether my offense is rooted in a morally justifiable anger at provably unjust treatment, or whether it is just my discomfort with being disagreed with.
I will always seek to maintain positive rapport with those who disagree with me as much as they enable. I will focus my criticisms on people’s ideas first and only if necessary criticize their attitudes, behaviors, or apparent character. I will not demean them fundamentally as a person. I will not uncharitably and hastily leap from specific bad thoughts, attitudes, or actions to wholesale disparagements of their entire character until there is overwhelming evidence that I am dealing with a fundamentally immoral person. And if I am dealing with such a person, I will use any of a wide array of highly specific available words
to make moral charges soberly, constructively, descriptively accurately, and succinctly as possible before cutting off communications with them. And I will not take unnecessary recourse to abusive terms when plenty of civil and accurate words carrying heavy moral force are available to me.
5. I commit that I will go out of my way, if necessary, to remember that members of traditionally marginalized groups and victims of abuse have experiences that I may not have and which I may have to strain to properly weigh and appreciate.
People who have been personally abused or systemically discriminated against in ways that I have not may also be acutely aware of a social power differential with respect to me of which I may be unaware. This may make them feel frustrated and intimidated from speaking frankly, as well as more sensitized to potentially silencing and Othering implications of my language and ideas. I will be as sensitive to this reality as possible and as careful as possible with my language to reduce rather than exacerbate their feelings of social disempowerment. I also will take into account and accommodate the reality that people with high personal stakes in the outcomes of certain debates about values are, quite understandably, more prone to emotional intensity in their arguments and especially likely to bring unique insights that are indispensible to understanding the issue adequately.
Of course none of this means I should feel compelled to surrender my own rational right and need to independently and rigorously assess what anyone says for its truth or goodness. I should not feel compelled to always and unconditionally agree with someone who has an experience or life situation different from my own. And I should not pretend to already fully accept beliefs or values of which I have not yet been satisfyingly convinced. I should also not tolerate normalization of emotional appeals of the kind that cross the line into bullying. But nonetheless, I will be extra cautious to learn from traditionally marginalized people about what disparately affects them in negative ways and about how to make discourses and other environments more inclusive to them. I will pay close attention to how hostile environments are implicitly created that exclude, silence, or otherwise adversely affect traditionally marginalized people, especially under the aegis of a perniciously false neutrality.
On the other side, I will also be sensitive to preempt counter-productively defensive feelings and reactions of people in traditionally advantaged groups by carefully avoiding even the appearance of prejudicially disparaging them all as malicious oppressors. I will distinguish carefully between those motivated by animus and those who are in the main only passive beneficiaries and unwitting perpetuators of injustices, or biased in unintentional and unexamined ways. When rightly calling out such injustices and prejudices I will frame my criticisms and calibrate my level of antagonism with respect to how generally good or ill willed my interlocutor actually is. I will scrupulously distinguish criticisms of harmful systems from criticisms of individuals. I will criticize harmful behaviors without hastily assuming people have malicious intentions or morally repugnant character. I will always respect others’ rights to disagree with me, regardless of their race, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, disabilities, sex, and unearned privileges (or lack thereof). I will avoid all disparagement of people based on such core identity-forming traits, whether it be disparagement aimed at members of groups with lesser or greater social power. I will neither flippantly nor seriously disparage people based on such kinds of traits or try to invalidate their experiences, even should I think that they are misinterpreting the significance of their experiences, or even should I believe they are more advantaged than most people and should be able to take harsher treatment on that account.
6. I commit that I will not use any language that I know is offensive to either a subset of a marginalized group or to members of that group at large, for whatever reason.
I will not use racial or ethnic slurs (like “nigger” or “kike”), gendered insults (like “bitch”, “dick”, “cunt”, “slut”), homophobic slurs (like “fag”), or transphobic slurs (like “tranny”). Regardless of my private standards or understandings I have with my friends or customs within my local culture, in public forums I will respect that such terms make at least a noticeable number of members of marginalized groups feel hated and unwelcome. This risks silencing them in unjust ways. I will err on the side of caution and maximum inclusion by removing such words from my public discourse as superfluous, potentially harmful, exclusionary, and counter-productive to my goals of rational persuasion. The English language is huge; I can find countless better words to use.
7. I commit that I will not use any ableist language that disparages people over physical or mental limitations or illnesses.
I will not falsely imply that people are in the main uneducable or incapable of rationality simply because they either disagree with me, have major intellectual blindspots, make huge intellectual errors, or prove generally unlearned in some specific area. This means that I will not call my interlocutors “retarded”, “stupid”, “idiotic”, “deranged”, or similar terms that convey with contemptuous hostility that I believe them beneath reasoning with and beneath treating as an equal, simply on account of what I take to be some major errors or areas of ignorance. All people can learn. All people can teach. Specific intellectual limitations, errors, and/or ignorance of a particular area of knowledge do not amount to “stupidity”.
Calling people stupid is not only usually false and woefully imprecise, but it threatens to hatefully discourage people from learning and to destroy the hope for dialogue with them. It also disrespects the undereducated (many of whom are financially disadvantaged or otherwise socially disadvantaged and disempowered) and makes them justifiably resentful. For some it continues a pattern of abuse suffered from parents, peers, partners, and others in their lives who damaged them during childhood and have harmfully misled them to underestimate their actual intellectual potential. It also irrationally ignores the reality that all of us are regularly victims of cognitive biases and institutionally inculcated deceptionsthat to a large extent account for their errors. They deserve education, not derision.
My interlocutors and I will both learn more if I try to understand the rationally explicable reasons for their errors and figure out how to most effectively correct them. I will also learn more if I conscientiously try to think up and refute the best arguments for my opponents’ views rather than seize on their arguments’ weaknesses and dismiss them categorically as “stupid”. I can point out the nature of mistakes more precisely, and with better hope of correcting them, if I engage in thinking together with people rather than disparaging and bullying them.
8. I commit that I will always argue in good faith and never “troll” other people. I will respect both safe spaces and debate spaces and the distinctly valuable functions each can potentially serve. I will not disrupt the functioning of either kind of forum.
I will respect that some venues are designed to be safe places for members of marginalized groups or abused people to seek refuge from abuse and certain forms of disagreement that they are, for good reason, not emotionally able to deal with. I will respect that these, and other venues designed for people with a shared ideological or philosophical disposition, are valuable. It is constructive to have some spaces where likeminded people can work out their views amongst themselves without always having to be distracted by calls for them to defend themselves on fundamental points.
I will not deliberately troll or otherwise attempt to disrupt forums that exclude me on such grounds. If they refuse debates with people of my philosophical views, then I will not try to participate in their venue. On the flipside, if I desire to make a certain conversation or forum, even a public one, into a safe space where some types of arguments are not permitted, I will make that clear as early as possible. And if I am engaged in a debate in a public forum not designated as a safe space, I will accept that not everyone present is going to share my basic beliefs, knowledge base, values, or concerns, and I will not treat them with hostility on account of their disagreement with me about fundamental matters.
Regardless of forum, if I decide to play devil’s advocate in hopes that it will help make a position’s merits clearer to me, I will be upfront about what I am doing so that I do not come off as obstinate or excessively antagonistic or in any other way a disingenuous “troll”. I will desist if others do not want me to play devil’s advocate to them whether because they find it badgering or trivializing of something important to them or for any other reason.
9. I commit that I will apologize when I hurt others’ feelings, even when I do so unintentionally and even when I do not think their hurt feelings are justified.
If I want to defend my actions or contest the moral justifiability of an outraged person’s feelings of offense, I will do so respectfully and always with an aim of mutual understanding. I commit to not treating those who accidentally upset or offend me as though they intentionally did so. I will accept sincere apologies that take adequate responsibility without requiring groveling and total surrender on all points of contention (especially if some matters at stake are distinctly separable from the offense and are rationally disputable). I will foster environments in which people feel comfortable expressing when their feelings are hurt because everyone regularly offers, and receptively takes, constructive criticisms. This happens where criticism is regularly free of hatred, demonization, and implicit or explicit purity tests and threats of ostracism. So I will oppose all such things.
10. I commit that I will hold my allies and myself to the highest standards of civil, good-willed, compassionate, and reason-based argumentation and ethical conduct, regardless of whether our enemies do the same, and regardless of the rectitude of our cause.
I will not defensively interpret sincere criticism from my allies as personal betrayal. I will be as above reproach as possible with respect to all charges of bullying, feuding, escalation, bad faith argumentation, ad hominem tactics, well-poisoning, trolling, marginalization, strawmanning, sock puppetry, tribalism, purity testing, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, goading, micro-aggressiveness, passive aggressiveness, and personalization of disputes. While not compromising my intellectual conscience for the sake of politeness, I will manage to model a conciliatory and reasonable spirit. While I may advocate forthrightly for ethical debate and treatment of others generally, I will spend as much or more of my energies scrutinizing my own public contributions for ways I can make them more rational, civil, compassionate, and persuasive than I will policing the behaviors of others I encounter.
11. I commit that I will not make accusations of guilt by association.
I will neither assume that one’s association with another person implies agreement with any specific belief, action, or behavior of that person, and nor will I assume that someone’s agreement with another person on a specific point implies agreements on any other specific points. I will hold people accountable only for their own expressed views and not for the views of everyone with whom they associate. I also will not assume total agreement and endorsement of all the ideas in books, thinkers, or links that someone recommends as interesting.
12. I commit that I will not use mockery and sarcasm in ways that try to belittle other people.
I recognize funny and perceptive satire’s indispensible and unique abilities to illumine truths and rationally persuade people. And I feel free to humorously point out apparent absurdities in others’ arguments or beliefs during discussions. But I will draw the line at using humor to personally attack, harass, or silence individuals with whom I am engaged. I will be cautious that my ridicule during discussions is aimed squarely at beliefs and does not have the likely effect of making my interlocutors feel like I am flippantly contemptuous of their reasoning abilities en toto or of their worth as people. In short, I will use humor to challenge and persuade others, rather than to abuse and alienate them.
13. I commit that I will empathetically, impartially, and with reasonable mercy enforce the standards of civility and compassion laid out in this pledge in any venues (including but not limited to: blogs, Facebook pages, subreddits, and discussion forums) where I have moderation powers with sufficient latitude to set and enforce standards.
Even in safe spaces where debates on certain kinds of topics are understandably restricted for people’s well being, I will still adhere to all the rest of the principles of compassion, charity, and civility in arguments here laid out.
George WayeRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
This post is my contribution to the Forward Thinking project, an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers. For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above.
When we hear the term “Civic Responsibility”, several things come immediately to mind. Perhaps most of us will say that voting is a civic responsibility; maybe some of us would say that engagement in local and regional issues is a civic responsibility.
Though I think those are both good examples of ways in which we can show civic responsibility, I think that they merely brush the surface of what civic responsibility means.
In the last couple decades- maybe even in the last few years- technology has made new communities. Though the definition of “civic” seems rooted in our towns and cities, I feel it needs to be expanded to include these new communities- communities that were not even possible 40 years ago, communities that were the realm of specialized hobbyists a mere 20 years ago, communities that today are an almost assumed and necessary part of life for the “connected generation”. We are living in a world of virtual civics- where our identity, community, and real life successes are increasingly shaped by our connections to people who live hundreds or thousands of kilometres from our doorstep. If the reason we call local engagement “civic” is because these are the people we are most likely to interact or have the greatest sense of closeness and community, then I would argue that “civic” is a word that must be increasingly inclusive of those communities where we have “virtual citizenship“. It used to be the case that community was beholden to the practical limitations of geography; yet yesterday, for example, I had as much (and much more robust) interaction with friends in Florida as I had with the people who live on my street.
It seems to me that if the word “civic” can’t transcend your mailing address- the word is of little use to us at all.
What, then, does it mean to be responsible to your community? When we are talking about traditional civic responsibility the answer seems much more obvious- you are tied to others in your community by the shared experiences of geography and locality. Roughly speaking- you experience the same events, you interact with the same people, you use the same basic services. You want to give back to your community because the state of your community directly affects your own success and your own enjoyment; your community is responsible for your success and fulfilment and an investment is both paid back and in some sense owed. I would argue that these same transactions occur in virtual communities- and that in some sense we ought to be more cognizant of our responsibilities to these new communities because we are the pioneers and founding fathers of a community in its infancy. Just as those who took the initiative to plot the street and sewer layouts, build town squares and community services charted the course that made the future easy or difficult for future citizens- so too are we now making the choices that will make access to enjoyment of our virtual communities easy or difficult for ourselves and others.
In this sense it is not enough for us to be merely engaged in our communities, but we must be looking at the ways in which our own investments are going to make things better or worse for the enjoyment of everyone. Just like the man who runs for town council because he wants to avoid higher taxes or reduced services if the town deficit is not addressed- as a community I think we owe it to each other to invest in good habits today to avoid bigger hurdles in the future.
I feel a great amount of affinity for my online community. Some of my online relationships rival those I have cultivated for years in person. There are people I talk to almost daily, some that I interact with several times a week, others who I speak to from time to time when something of mutual interest comes up. There are those who I know through friends and those who I choose to avoid. There are issues in my community for which I am passionate and issues that are of only passing interest.
In every sense of the word I am part of a community, and that community impacts me for better or worse.
My responsibility to that community is both an investment in my future enjoyment and a way to give back to a community that gives me much. I think I owe more to this community than simply being engaged. I owe it to them to make my contribution as meaningful and beneficial as I am capable; I ought to offer my expertise and resources in ways that forward the best possible goals for the larger group.
Responsibility to your community is not just grand gestures; it is true that for many of us grand gestures and huge commitments are impractical or impossible. Not every person in a town will run for office, or give large donations to local charities; those are noble contributions, but they are practically impossible for many of us. There are those of us in the online community whose voices are bigger- who have the platform or the means to make the grand gestures. Some people in the town donate blood or volunteer a few hours a week to charities; some of us online give to a struggling blogger or join together for small scale projects. Some in the town vote or picket or speak up when they witness injustice; some of us online post or petition or comment. Whatever we can give, however big or small our contribution, we must remember that our actions (and inaction) are contributing to a community.
Each of us is making the community that we live in by our choices, big and small. We are building and contributing to the community- a community that is going to give back to us and be part of our future fulfillment. I think that we have a responsibility to that community both as an investment in our future and to pay forward the good that it does for us.
Our communities are there for us, and we ought to be there for them.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
This story is totally funny.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has come out in public support of same sex marriage. He even donated two tickets to a Ravens game for a fundraiser to support the group Marylanders for Marriage Equality. This obviously ruffled the feathers of State Delegate Emmett Burns Jr. (D- Baltimore County).
Burns decided that the best way to handle the “situation” was to write a letter to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, telling the owner to keep his players in line. The letter can be found in it’s entirety here- an excerpt:
I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.
Please give me your immediate response.
Since the Constitution is a federal document and not a state document, perhaps Mr. Burns could be forgiven for not bothering to familiarize himself with the First Amendment. Perhaps, if he were not an African American preacher, he could be forgiven for not understanding the intersection of sport and civil rights.
It is alright though, because Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote a letter to Burns that explains those parts that seem so woefully opaque to the State Delegate. Kluwe’s totally awesome letter can be read at this link. A highlight:
As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should “inhibit such expressions from your employees,” more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit.
I’ll admit that the letter has a bit too much rhetorical flourish, but I think it expresses how I feel as well.
Sports are not just for “pride, entertainment and excitement”. They are very much a reflection of the societies they entertain and mirrors to our culture. The politics of sport have been the politics of our world. Think of Jackie Robinson. Think of Jesse Owens. Tommy Smith and John Carlos. Think of the IOC and their use of the Olympics as a political tool for change. Hell, think of Tim Tebow.
Athletes have a right to speak their minds. Athletes, as role models, would be wise to use their influence to change the world in which they live, the world that they will exit into once their star has dimmed, the world that they will leave to their children and fellow countrymen. What kind of “role model” stays silent in the face of what needs changing- who just shuts up and knows his place?
It all ended up working out in the end. Burns has since thought the better of his letter. Let’s hope that Brendon Ayanbadejo makes people think better in November.
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Meta-Irony and my Infinite Gladness
So this graphic popped up on my Facebook feed today:
I commented on the irony of it all, which prompted one of my conservative friends to ask me if I couldn’t recognize satire. Oh, I recognize satire alright. Only, this isn’t it.
See, satire is supposed to be ridiculing an opposing position. It is supposed to make the plain reading of the text absurd. I don’t get that here. I get that it is supposed to be sarcastic (clue: a reference to “gay ideology”)- I also think it misses the mark. There is nothing particularly absurd about telling Christian kids that their bible based views are not sacrosanct.
In this case the author of this graphic attempted to use sarcasm as a tool to ridicule people who refuse to give special privilege to ideas because they stem from fundamental Christianity. They attempted to use satire by mocking the It Gets Better campaign launched by Dan Savage. It may seem to be sarcastic (and satire) to a fundamentalist Christian, but it strikes me as a form of meta-irony, where the sarcasm actually paints a relatively positive spin on the very issue (s)he was trying to skewer. So if it is satire, it is horribly ineffective. Even as sarcasm it misses the mark to a non-myopic audience.
It is ironic because the author meant to use sarcasm and instead ended up coming up with a pretty good idea. It is probably in the interests of everyone to educate young Christians that once they exit the bubble of a public school system that walks on egg shells and a social circle their parents have some control over- they will be mocked, vilified, marginalized and ridiculed. It would be positive for all of us if they went into the world understanding that religion is no excuse for sloppy logic, gross generalizations, and Bronze-Age morality.
“But I only said ‘God doesn’t suffer a woman to teach’!- I’m just following the bible“- is not going to cut it in the real world. “Any man who lies with a man as he does with a woman is an abomination and should be put to death” – is totes fine if you happen to be with your fellow Christian brothers, but it won’t win you brownie points in the office staff room. The real world is waiting. The rational world is waiting…..
Maybe we ought to think about telling them that “It Gets Worse”
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The Catholic Church wants to party like it’s 1399. Seriously.
There is a new ad campaign launched by a Catholic blogger that wants to make birth control “like,
so lame” to the hip, impressionable young Catholics (and your kids, too!) out there.
Speaking as a parent, this is infuriating. Speaking as a humanist, it is disappointing. Speaking as a skeptic, it is indefensibly dishonest.
Here’s the scoop, from Claudia at Friendly Atheist:
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Fellow Patheos blogger Marc Barnes over at Bad Catholic has realized why the Catholic mandate against contraception enjoys such pitiful support amongst American women.
It’s not because it’s an archaic, unrealistic standard that turns couples — and particularly women — into slaves of their own biology despite the existence of readily available alternatives. The actual problem is that it hasn’t been sold in a sufficiently attractive package.
Enter the new website 1Flesh, which seeks to sell 19th century ideas (12th? 1st?) in a 21st century package, Facebook page and all. According to Barnes, its purpose is “documenting the silliness that is artificial contraception, a grassroots movement promoting great, natural sex to the entire universe.” He then cites a list of “facts” that range from outright false to outrageously misleading.
I have a confession to make. I am the reason we need to keep harping on about gendered insults. I am the reason we need to keep reminding people not to use words like “Honey,” or “Dearie” (unless, of course, someone posts under the pseudonym Honey or Dearie- which would be awkward). I’m the reason we need to keep reminding people that women are more than just a pretty face- that we should be attentive to measurements of them that can’t be expressed in either Metric or Imperial quantities.
I am a misogynist.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be quoted on Man boobz any time soon. I’m not going to start droning on about how feminists have fucked up our entire society, or how all women are soiled by an overblown sense of entitlement, or why they can’t just shut up and make a damn sandwich for me. Those are things we traditionally think of as being misogyny. We all agree (well…fine, most of us agree) that these attitudes are not welcome in our society at large.
So why do I think I’m a misogynist?
I am generally ignorant of what it feels like to be a woman in my society. I sometimes blind to the ways I treat women different from men. Sometimes there are things that make the women in my life angry or uncomfortable that I just cannot relate to. I’ve called a woman a “bitch”, or used “bitchy” as a way to describe behavior that I would not necessarily have felt was “bitchy” of a guy. I can be less hard on a woman and her ideas than I would if they came from a man. I could go on confessing for hours, but I think you see the pattern.
I’m just not that good at consistently treating women with the respect that they deserve- the respect that I sometimes give all to easily to people who are men.
The fact that I notice these things gives me the tools to change my attitudes. Yet they are attitudes that are engrained in our language and culture- attitudes that inform our socialization. These attitudes take time and effort to overcome. They are part of my psyche, and minds are slow to discard even the most worthless of heuristics. I need to be reminded when preconceptions betray me.
I am a reluctant misogynist, and I’m trying to be a better man.
I am a homophobe.
I pass unfair judgements based on something as simple as who someone loves. I make jokes that perpetuate ridiculous stereotypes. I overcompensate at times.
I am transphobic.
Hell, I don’t even really know anyone who isn’t cisgendered. Virtually everything I know about what it means to be transgendered comes from a single blogger (H/T Natalie). I’m unbelievably ignorant.
I’m a racist.
I cannot really share the experiences of what it is like to be Black, Asian, Hispanic, East Indian, etc. I live in a town where I turn my head when I see a visible minority, because they are so obviously from “away”. I say certain things, at times, that cannot help but “other” my fellow man.
So when I hear people throw around these words at people like me, and my compatriots get entirely bent out of shape about how unfair it is to point out the ways they could improve- I get concerned that we aren’t really being internally skeptical. A misogynist is not just some guy harping on about Feminazis- he’s also the guy who thinks that harassment policies are a priori designed to prevent them from expressing sexuality in healthy and constructive ways. A homophobe is not just some guy who thinks that gays are morally depraved, he’s also the guy that tells us that he knows how they feel because he was bullied in school. A transphobic person isn’t just the person who assumes that they are all depraved, confused perverts- but also the person who refuses to acknowledge their preference in pronouns.
Fighting these attitudes means accepting responsibility for the ways we perpetuate bad behaviors. Racist jokes perpetuate attitudes that allow for systematic and overt racism- even when we think we are just being “funny”. The intent to harm or marginalize may not be there- but the repetition and perpetuation of lazy heuristics does the dirty work. We need to be conscious of those times when we let shorthand give an unintended narrative. One turn of phrase might take us 1000 words to set right.
I like being called a racist (well, not really- or at all, honestly. I appreciate the opportunity for self-correction). I like knowing that others are looking out for those times when I’m being lazy. I value being reproved when I’m approaching things from the wrong vantage point. Don’t get me wrong, I can be defensive. I can be skeptical of the degree to which I’m culpable. Those are human reactions.
We can’t stop calling out misogyny just because it is sub-contextual or unintended. We can’t stop calling out homophobia, transphobia and racism because it is harmless ignorant privilege and not crafted hateful attacks. We need to consciously decide to point out not just Man boobz level misogyny, but those innocent-enough moments when we parrot the ideas that are the mortar of institutionalized mistreatment of our fellow human beings.
If you won’t call me a misogynist- a racist, homophobe, transphobe- whatever, then we have a problem. We have a problem because you evidently don’t understand what those concepts mean. They mean that I am someone who needs to pay attention- I need to check my privilege. They are descriptive words for people who are not just blinded- but also shortsighted- by regressive patterns of thought.
So now that I’ve come clean about my faults, here is what I intend to do about it: I’m going to listen when you tell me I’m being insensitive. I’m going to gladly support you when you try to make common sense codes of conduct institutional- so that I’m reminded of what ought to be self evident. I’m going to use my skepticism as a tool of understanding as opposed to one for dismissing.
I’m going to go to great lengths to protect you from my bad ideas- and I hope you’ll do the same.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 11 so far )
I bet you’re wondering why I’m writing you this letter. You might even be wondering why people are all so mad at you right now- and why they are calling you mean names. I know, I know- you were only trying to help, right? You just wanted to see a little decorum, a little civility- and everyone is just amplifying the very thing you are trying to help them discard. It must be frustrating. It must feel as though you are experiencing the cruel effects of tribalism- a sort of “internet xenophobia”, if you will. You are a mere missionary preaching the gospel of civil discourse and the lynch mob stands with torches and pitchforks waiting for you at the county line.
Here is the thing. Those people you were trying to help? They are having a conversation. That conversation has a topic. That topic is important to them. It is important enough that they are wearing their gut reactions on their sleeves. So when you come waltzing in, and you say “Guys- hey, guys- Y U mad, bro?” they are more than likely going to turn on you.
Why, you ask? You’re only trying to let cooler heads prevail, right? I totally get what you’re feeling right now. I understand.
What you need to understand is that the reason they are mad is right in front of you. It’s right there- in the post you are reading. Heck, it may even be summed up pretty succinctly in the title of the post. Yet here you are, telling these people that you don’t understand what could possibly have them up in arms. This, to them, is the problem.
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Imagine you find yourself in a hotel burning to the ground. You see a number of people frantically yelling to wake the guests up- pounding on doors and shouting. You have that mental image yet? Don’t worry, I’ll wait….. (more…)
So as promised, I’m blogging my impressions of my brother’s wedding to a wonderful Muslim girl- which happened this weekend. This event will be followed by their coming reception on July 2nd.
My post has taken a different turn though. Things did not go as expected.
My wife and I dropped off our middle three kids with relatives and headed down on Friday afternoon to attend the wedding that was scheduled for Saturday. As you can imagine- when you have five children- we had to make several concessions in order to make this trip
happen. My second had a birthday party to attend (he doesn’t get invited to many of them- it was a big deal)- my wife and I had to watch him cry when we told him he couldn’t go. For the last several years, my wife has spent Father’s Day weekend with her dad- golfing one day and going fishing the next. Ahh, but it’s my brother’s wedding- and things like this are important.
So off we went with oldest and youngest to make it down for the barbeque Friday night with family to celebrate the coming wedding. Friday was great. I finally got to see my Aunt and Uncle’s new house, it was great seeing cousins and my brother and his bride-to-be. Everything was planned for Saturday, we would all meet at the Mosque and share in a nice ceremony and a different culture together.
Saturday morning- and the bride calls to let us know that women will not be allowed to attend the ceremony at the Mosque. When I say “women”, I mean all of them- bride included. Now the dynamic changes. My wife is mad- and rightfully so. She thought she was making all these special plans in order to go to a wedding. Now she is told that her vagina disqualifies her as a guest at the wedding. I’m mad- I can’t believe that anyone would be okay with telling women they are not important enough to be included in a wedding. My Mom is here, and she is finding out that she will not be attending her son’s wedding. She seems unfazed- my Mom always seems that way.
Any of you who follow me on Twitter (and, because the accounts are linked-Facebook) know how I dealt with the issue. I live-Tweeted my personal ruminations on the visit to the Mosque. The tweets were petty. They were cheap shots. They were purposely offensive:
I’m sure that people are offended. That’s good. They should be. They should be offended that my wife and my mother were forbidden from being at my brother’s wedding. They should be offended that people think that this is okay. They should be offended that some cultures think women are so unimportant that not even the bride needs to be at a wedding ceremony.
The problem is that those who so far seem offended (save a few- shout out to Nelson!) are offended because I dared disparage Islam on my Brother’s wedding day. How dare I ruin their special day! How dare I make a scene by doing this on their wedding day!
I guess nobody cares to ask “How dare they treat women that way?”
So my actions- grounded in my deeply held beliefs- made family and friends uncomfortable and offended.
What is the lesson I’m supposed to learn about my bad behavior?
I assume it is that decent people don’t let their deeply held beliefs ruin a moment by making friends and family uncomfortable and offended.
To that I would say
“EXACTLY!”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 15 so far )
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