(UPDATE: in an email conversation, H J and I have made amends, apologising to one another for getting riled up. This post hopes to encourage readers and commenters to avoid getting tangled up in such mutual-riling-uppings in the future. Understand how it happens, seek to avoid it.)
On Monday, an ordained minister and author commenting under the initials “H J” visited this blog and left us five comments. I think it worthwhile to pick apart how this conversation got derailed, or never found rails in the first place.
Cynical and uninformed. What a bore these comments are. Ever thought of checking the facts before opining? Or would that defeat the object?
Comments, plural. I’m not sure which comments exactly she was referring to. Does she include the blog post itself, or does she mean the comments? I think “Turn or Burn”‘s comment was probably the most inflammatory, but she chose plural. Seems like a generally sweeping comment to me? I responded:
H J, do you have some facts to share with us?
While I was being patient, I wasn’t patient and thoughtful enough. In retrospect, I could have gone with “H J, can you be a little bit more specific, please? Is there something specific you could point at that you feel is uninformed or cynical?”
Why would you expect me to do your homework for you? Seems like you have far too much time to chat baloney and party, and not enough work to do. Do your own research, washing, cleaning and cooking, and earn your own keep. By that time, you should have something worthwhile to contribute to society. Being part of the solution instead of part of the problem will make you feel better about yourself, and more positive about living on the planet. Then people will be interested in what you have to say. At the moment the only people who take note are those who share the same grouchy couch potato attitude, and those who happen to land here by coincidence – like me. Here’s hoping you get a life soon.
Now isn’t that a direct personal attack, if you ever saw one? Completely and utterly uninformed, unresearched, unwarranted. Angry? This comment rubs me up the wrong way in so many ways, I don’t even think I should start explaining.
In fact, just revisiting this comment requires me to breathe deeply and calm myself. At this point I didn’t know she was an author (of Christian books) or a minister, or female for that matter. But she obviously considered herself a Christian, valiantly defending Shofar. And unfortunately another giving Christianity a terrible name.
I thought it possible to open a conversation with such a person, both at the time of commenting there, and starting this blog post (at which point I wondered “wait, who is H J?”, and I did a quick Google search based on her email address).
Kenneth was the first to come to the defence of our little community (me the blogger, and my readers and commenters):
The above comment is both cynical.
Pot, meet kettle.
Her next comment had her dishing out advice to me, which in retrospect makes much more sense if you realise that’s the role she typically plays. But again, her advice is premature, because she doesn’t know me. She calls me angry, warns me to keep seeking and avoid becoming a close-minded bigot. She says I have a backlog to catch up, as I received no training in the humanities (being an engineer). But, apart from that, I think some well-meant words of encouragement. Including this cute sentence:
Words create atmosphere, and your negativity and judgementalism about things you do not understand, are attracting negative things to you.
The problem was, in her previous comments, her words had created an atmosphere of negativity and judgementalism of my friends and I, people she does not understand, and this attracted some negative attitudes back to her.
What we must realise is, often people that find themselves in the “One True Church”(TM) or something of similar persuasion, really do believe they have the one truth. They are used to constant reinforcement from their friends and community. A direct and pointed challenge to their claims and ways is something they really are not used to. Now what do you think happens when you attempt to directly and blatantly point out to an ordained minister and Christian book author their own hypocrisy? You don’t get to start a conversation…
Sometimes you have to swallow the abuse other people hurl at you, and return nothing but compassion. After creating a relationship, after building some dialogue and interaction, only then can you find enough to build on to get to the point of explaining how the other’s words came across, carefully and gently.
H J’s last comment was this:
Oh and Hugo is allowed to insult and defame and spread false rumours about Shofar, brand anyone who believes the Bible as a foam at the mouth fundamentalist and offend them. That is perfectly ok. Everyone who disagrees is a troll according to you. Yeah yeah. Same tune, same chorus. It was not entertaining, enlightening or in any way worth the effort. Closed mind. Close the door. What a waste. Ho hum and so goodbye to you.
I would like to understand what she’s so upset about. Apart from the things she seems rather sensitive about: did I even call anyone a fundamentalist, anywhere in the past… many months? I’ve been consciously avoiding name calling for quite some time, and would like to have it pointed out to me if anyone perceives something I did not intend. And yet, “foam at the mouth fundamentalist”…
I realise the other problematic and likely unknown word is “troll”…
H J, I would like to apologise for coming on so strong in my blog. I didn’t mean any disrespect to you, but it is hard to remain completely calm when you and your friends have been accused of a number of horrible things. I’m sure you can appreciate that, as it seems you experienced a similar offence (even if it was not meant). I would still like to converse, if it is at all possible.
I thought a couple of words of clarification might be needed with regards to the word “troll”: it is internet jargon. See the Wikipedia page. The term trolling originates from the fishing technique by the same name. A troll, in the context of the Internet, is someone who throws out some bait on a public forum of some sort with the intent of provoking a response, rather than taking part in any worthwhile discussion. With this explanation, can you better understand why it looked like you were trolling with your first couple of comments? It wasn’t a case of name calling with mythological Scandinavian creatures.
We could have a conversation via email, if you like. If we do, I may write a summary of our conversation, which I will send to you for approval before publishing, or, “as jy kans sien”, we can try and have a civil discussion directly on my blog. This email is a part of a new blog post that summarises Monday’s exchange. I know blogs are often not the ideal place for a conversation. The open and public nature can make it quite hostile. We’ll try our best to remain civil though, if you will do the same. Basically, we only request that people refrain from behaviour that looks like trolling.
In particular, I would like to understand how you experienced the previous exchange. What exactly was it that you felt was “spreading false rumours”? At which point did you feel I was implying anyone was a fundamentalist? (Your words were “foam in the mouth fundamentalist”.)
You know, fundamentalism was originally a positive word. It was used by Christians that wanted to reaffirm a number of fundamentals of their faith. One of my Shofar acquaintances actually told me he’s quite happy to be labelled a fundamentalist.
To be clear about the purpose of this discussion: it will be about mutual understanding. For example, I want to understand what was upsetting to you. I am working on communicating as clearly and neutrally as possible. I would also love to be understood, like any human, and not judged and lectured to from the get go, so if you’re interested in obtaining a better understanding of how I think or feel about things, that would also be great.
I hope to hear from you. Even if it is only a polite request that I don’t contact you again. I will respect that, and take that as the default position if I don’t hear from you. But, like I said…
Hoping to hear from you,