Monday, February 9, 2009

Walking Away From Aggression

Familiar dramatics from those who believe they are my prosecutor, judge, and jury begin here.

While I went to Pearl's place looking for a good conversation, some familiar faces appeared for some familiar treatment.

I know that over the years the "marriage defenders" at Opine Editorials and I have exchanged unkind words. While I do not keep records of past conversations, the name-calling and aggression has been mutual. Unfortunately, I have not always chosen to step outside of the cycle of verbal violence. I have let their unkind words anger me and I, in turn, have used harsh words against them. I regret that. I missed opportunities to stop the cycle of violence.

In admitting my regret, however, my fear is that these men will believe their own abusive behavior against me and others to have been justified. In tracking real and imagined harms done to them, these men have been unwilling and incapable of acknowledging their own past unkindness. The focus is always on how others are Bad People Who Can Do Better. There is no introspection and there are certainly no concessions. I wonder if they believe that they have no past words to redeem at all.

A difference between myself and these men is that I acknowledge both my humanity and my capacity for anger. The Opine blogger who goes by the name of On Lawn keeps record of years-old internet conversations that my friends and I have participated in. Even when I am having good, respectful conversations with other "marriage defenders" on the internet, he has shown up several times only to paste these past conversations into comment threads to show others that I have not always been respectful in the past. I honestly do not know if he thinks that doing so is some sort of credibility-diminishing "gotcha!," but I would not deny or excuse that I have called people names in the past. I'm sure it will come as a shock to no one that I was (and am) an unenlightened human! I remain aware that not one of us is completely outside of the cycle of violence and aggression. It is my sincere hope that these men will one day also see themselves as within the cycle of aggression. As it stands, it looks to me like they place their current location in the realm of total objectivity and perfect morality.

In addition to striving to stop my own participation in the cycle of violence, recognizing that I am experiencing abuse is something I have learned to "do better" as of late. And, I have used this knowledge to inform my opinion that these men are often abusive commenters. They do not communicate effectively, yet they blame resulting misunderstandings on the ill-will of their opponents or on the inability of others to read well. They disregard and ridicule the feelings of others. They are often sarcastic yet when caught, they do not concede that they were being cruel. They frequently offer unskillful criticism that breaks virtually every rule of constructive criticism. Their criticisms are not respectful, solicited, done in private, or with any acknowledgment that they themselves are not perfect. And, in the midst of such critiques they often shift their voices from the first person (speaking to me) to the third (speaking about me), as though they themselves are objective narrators merely telling it like it is and are completely outside of the cycle of aggression themselves. They have no concept of how they are capable of wrongdoing. Sadly, as is true for those who abuse others in the real world, they view themselves as being regularly victimized by others and so they neither acknowledge nor take responsibility for their violent words and aggressiveness.

I wonder if they genuinely are surprised that the wind so often catches their own aggression and blows it back into their faces.

When I visited Pearl's blog, I was sincere in seeking understanding. Unfortunately, the three men from Opine rejected and ridiculed the vulnerable state in which I put myself. After feeling hurt and then expressing that I no longer felt safe participating in the converation, these men disregarded my expression of this. At this point, given our history, some of you may be saying that I fully knew what I signed up for in conversing with these men. Maybe you all are just smarter than me, but I have always remained convinced that if I put myself out there, I could touch the spark of humanity in these men that we all have. Now, I am trying to feel compassion for the wasted energy, anger, and closed-off hearts that these men must feel to keep convincing themselves that they are Good and others are Bad. I'm sure it creates a lot of cognitive dissonance at times, especially when they read my blog and catch glimpses of me as a real person who is something more than the caricatured LGBT Homosexualist "Leftist Gender Warrior" version of me that dances around only in their imaginations.

Unfortunately, I think some people don't let themselves believe that gay people are okay people, because they do not want us to be okay people. Some people have a lot invested in us being "bad." An entire industry thrives on convincing people that gay people are villains. The anti-gay industry makes it just a little bit easier for people to treat us poorly on a daily basis. It is characteristic of those who abuse others to want to think that how they are acting is justified in some way. When we tell them we are hurting they show no capacity to replace themselves with us, because we are Bad and They Are Not. Punching bags are much easier to hit when you put the mask of a villain on them.

So today, I am reminding myself that sometimes, walking away from aggression is one of the most peaceful gifts that we can give to ourselves.

I do believe that we all encounter at least small forms of violence and aggression on a daily basis. I don't want to make light of much more serious forms of violence in the world. In the grand scheme of things, internet aggression is a minor form of violence. But little forms of day-to-day violence add up and take their toll on us all. I find it draining to turn the other cheek in the face of continuous bee-sting-like aggression. I have to fight the urge to swat it away, rather than to keep letting it sting me over and over again. Now, I see that sometimes I shouldn't even be close to the hive at all.

Since we all have the capacity to be aggressive, we all have a responsibility to end aggression when we are confronted with it. It is those who only see aggression in others who probably need to do the most soul-searching. I know that many of the readers here have had their own unfortunate interactions with the Opiners, so I hope it goes without saying that it is not okay to call them names here. Creating a space where people can disagree while still feeling safe is a delicate balance but it is one of my goals. None of us should tolerate abusive behaviors and words, and that goes for those even on our own side. I know that anti-gays all over the internet say things about us that make many of us angry, and that anger is often very justified; but the point of this post is that we all, no matter how much we are provoked, have a responsibility to end aggression. When we act like the good people that I know we are, we take away the only weapon they have against us: their ability to point to our misbehavior and use it to justify their own mistreatment of us.

I know that one day I will have greater compassion for abusers, but today is not that day.

So for now I am consciously choosing to remove myself from a toxic, provocative comment thread at Pearl's. May you all have peace and the courage to walk away from acts of aggression both large and small today.

No comments: