Over the last month-plus, I have watched a few of the online debates over what this means, what constitutes that, how do the following aspects of Paganism work or don’t work. Or to put it in a more appropriate context, the (seemingly) endless debate/battle/war of words/terms/labels within the over-arching Pagan blogosphere.
Now, I am not a fan of debate, argument or in-fighting, particularly where points are rehashed over and over in an endless cycle of descriptives. Or when an individual’s points are picked apart over small perspectives. or even worse, when personal insults begin to take over the field of battle. For me, as a singular individual, none of this is helpful or informative. In fact, its the fastest way to turn me off to even contemplating your point whatsoever.
Granted, there will be folks who will follow onto my statement with a loud: “Who really gives a fsck about you being turned off?” Fair point. Except, I would point out, that when something is posted online, you are making your point to a much wider audience than you might understand or perceive. And if you are trying to make a particular relevant notation to a particular point being made – you would certainly hope to have clarification for a wider audience. Claiming to be offended by a particular adjective or label that is ensconced onto a group that you self-identify with is perfectly fine and understandable. But merely griping that the term was utilized, without provide the context as to why, can be confusing to the casual reader that comes across your statement. Especially those individuals that do not self-identify with your particular group, and cannot understand why the terminology is insulting.
Yes, it really is about context. And in an online debate, where textual context is all your are provided…it is certainly best to be clear. And before anyone states anything – I am far more guilty of that particular aspect than some may suspect. I am an amateur writer. HUGE emphasis on the amateur part. I tend to write off the cuff – though I am trying to do a far better job and editing and proofing what I write than I did in the past – and there were many times I would jump from topic to topic without any connector. There was a connector in my mind when I was writing, I just didn’t articulate that connector well enough in my writing – or sometimes not at all. I would think faster than I could type, and leave critical words out of sentences, which would change the context of what I was trying to say. I needed to really pause, re-read what I wrote, and make sure of what I was saying before I hit “send”, “reply” or “post”. In other words, I needed to take the time to THINK about what I was writing and how well it did (or didn’t) come across in the context of a conversation.
Perhaps, that’s what is wrong with online debates. Its very tempting to type and hit “send” without taking a few moments to look through what was written, the context (there’s that fscking word again) of what is attempting to be conveyed, and whether there is a personal slur or insult veiled within it. Come on, I’m just as guilty as the next person of muttering “what a dickhead” at the screen when reading posts and comments on the internet. But typing it in the open? Ok, I’ve done that a few times too. And regretted it almost as soon as I had hit the “send” button. But its easy to hurl insults around on the internet. After all, as a Cincinnati Reds fan, its highly unlikely I will run across that St. Louis Cardinals’ fan that I just hurled a textual epithet at. After all, maybe his mother really is like that.
I’ve also seen requests for “calm” and “respect” in these same online conversations. Where people reading the back-and-forth grow weary of a handful of folks being insulting to one another. And with the anonymity that the internet provides us, its highly unlikely that any call for such peace may ever be heeded. And while I think its doubtful that any advice would ever be heeded by those who seemingly find offense with anything that another person posts…take a step back, and breathe. Try to remember how you would have responded to the same statement in a coffee shop, with your invisible internet opponent sitting directly across from you. You might use some sharp retort, possibly even raising your voice a little. But would you really stand up, push your chair back, and bellow at the top of your lungs about the foul that the statement raised?
The internet has certainly opened up a lot of contact with other people. We are able to communicate our ideas through text, photo, video, and even audio with others. But it seems that the instantaneous and wide-open aspect of communications doesn’t extend to the other side of the communications equation: reading, hearing, understanding, analyzing, preparing a response – rather, we allow our emotions to take control, and find offense where offense may not even reside. In the essays we write online, most writers tend to take the time to define their terminology, in order to establish similar footing with their audience. And for me, I appreciate this, particularly when its a topic I am not that familiar with. And in many cases, where offense has been taken, that statement of definition is implied by the writer. But before the reader/receiver can leap to a position of offense…perhaps a more sanguine approach would be to inquire as to what was meant by the usage of these terms, rather than to assume.