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Thinking about online community [Jun. 28th, 2007|06:55 pm]
In a newsgroup I read from time to time, there was some talk about what people want to think about community. I've distilled what I want in a relatively-safe-space into two basic ideas. I don't know if they'll match anyone else's, but I figure I'll throw them out because I love to hear myself talk. Since this is long, and some readers of my journal are sick of the thread on the newsgroup, I'll put them behind a cut tag...

The two things I want are a sense of importance to my ideas, and a sense of importance to my feelings.

That is, if a person were to misunderstand my ideas, and most especially, to make incorrect assumptions about it, it would require evaluation. "Okay, did I really make a good faith effort to understand? Whether I did or didn't, is there something I could do in the future that might help that understanding?"

Part of this is personal; I take what I say too seriously sometimes, and that's a flaw, but in the moment, it still feels important. Misunderstandings can seem painful, and as important as what's been said (which, again, gets over-inflated by me sometimes).

The other part is feelings. I want my feelings to be important, I want people to consider it a meaningful cost if those feelings are hurt. "If I rip this argument to shreds, it might be painful; is the gain (demonstrating my disagreement) important enough to justify the cost (possibly hurting feelings)? If so, I'll continue, if not, maybe I won't."

If my feelings were hurt, I want to know the other person has considered it meaningful, and if it was due to a misunderstanding, considers it necessary to try to make some minor amends, e.g., "When I said that you were an evil Nazi kitten-murderer, I didn't understand that you were merely suggesting that privately funded homeless shelters are a good thing. I wish I had understood better because you didn't deserve to be talked to in that manner."

That's what would make me feel safe. What's wrong with it?

Well, as an outside observer, how the hell can I tell who's making a good faith effort to understand? People will misunderstand things. And how can I tell if feelings are considered important? Other things are valued differently by other people. A person could find another's feelings to be *very* important, but consider saying or doing something that much more important, and carry on.

Only the last one is one that I can be certain about. Sadly, in many online communities, berating someone over a misunderstanding often ends with a final insult, like "you should have been more clear in the first place, asshole!"

So, for me, it's always a matter of "how do I feel? Do I feel that's going on?" If the answer is "no",then it's time to take a break... possibly even a permanent one.

[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-06-29 02:30 am (UTC)
I think these are reasonable requirements. I recently left a mailing list I'd been on since the late 80's because it had deteriorated to the point that neither feelings nor ideas were respected. It was a VERY tough decision, but since I made it, I haven't missed the list at all, which has struck me as extremely odd, but significant.
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[User Picture]From: ruth_lawrence
2007-06-29 05:32 am (UTC)
Over time and with meeting folks who participate, it does seem to become clear who cares about feelings, and who will blow them off.

Me, I think that on Usenet there are fewer minuderstandings between long-term posters than is made out, but I'm cynical (and in the past have been sick on the grass over stuff that has been written, not necessarily discted at me).

I don't know that you taking yourself ordinarily-seriously is any kind of a flaw at all(but I know too many utterly false indivuals IRL). *Too* seriously is your call, I guess.
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[User Picture]From: ruth_lawrence
2007-06-29 05:33 am (UTC)

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[User Picture]From: kightp
2007-06-29 06:03 am (UTC)
That's a big part of why I finally walked away from the newsgroup where we met, darlin'. Especially because the nastiness there was so often plastered in a veneer of fluffy fake niceness.

I'm an optimist, though; I'm heartened by the fact that the discussion in question appears to have moved past "you should have been more clear in the first place, asshole!" and on to people asking - and answering - straightforward questions that seem to be aimed at understanding each other.
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[User Picture]From: eleccham
2007-06-29 07:07 pm (UTC)
Well... that, combined with a... I don't know, a drifting away, or a "subgrouping"?

I know that when I popped my head in around 2000, I had more the impression of the difference between a large high school vs. a small club - in the former, there's "your group", and the different groups often don't get along in a way that can't exactly erupt into open warfare - it wouldn't be tolerated - but rather into bickering and exclusion.
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[User Picture]From: nsingman
2007-06-29 01:03 pm (UTC)
There's no reason why even vehement disagreement can't be carried out politely. I've never seen a reason for anyone to be mean-spirited, no matter how much disagreement, on simple particulars or fundamental principles, there might be. When people disagree with me, we can continue the discussion, at least sometimes (occasionally, we must agree to disagree). When they venture into insult, however, they've told me that polite argument is no longer of interest to them and I stop participating. I consider a "safe space" one in which the participants generally agree to this.

That said, there's also no reason to feel hurt if someone meticulously dismantles an argument, as opposed to ripping it to shreds. :-)
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[User Picture]From: firecat
2007-06-29 08:42 pm (UTC)
The two things I want are a sense of importance to my ideas, and a sense of importance to my feelings.

I think those are reasonable things to want.

When dealing with a community rather than an individual, I don't think I can get everyone to act as if my ideas and feelings are important. (I'm not saying that's what you expect, just noodling.) I seem to have a hard-to-precisely-define sense of when it feels like enough and when it doesn't.
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[User Picture]From: kitsunegeek
2007-06-29 09:43 pm (UTC)
I think that's perfectly reasonable, and also very self-aware. For years I thought I was doing/ looking for the same thing; when actually I was more focused on feeling "valued" than feeling truly safe. I thought that if people seemed to like me, and no one was ever mad at me, then I was safe. So I backed down from every confrontation, kept my opinions to myself, bent over backward to make everyone happy, and put my own needs aside for later.

It doesn't work. The dam breaks eventually.

And in the past year I have learned a lot about people that only want you for what you have to give them, and people that can only see their own visions and hear their own voices. And I have learned that to people like this, it doesn't matter much what the topic is, what the discussion was about, or if there ever was a right or wrong; they're always right, everyone else is wrong.

I've also learned a lot about communication, about speaking my own truth, about listening, and about talking about things in different ways and from different angles until everybody in the discussion feels good about the outcome; even if the outcome is to agree to disagree.

No one can be crystal clear all the time; and we all view everything we see, hear, and read through the lens of our own understanding and experience. Yet it really costs us nothing to say "Can you clarify this point for me?" or "I think what you're saying is..." And that is what makes discussions productive, lively, and fun. And that is what makes people emotionally safe, even in heated debates.

And that was a rather lengthy ramble, I hope it made some sense. *grin*
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From: leowulf
2007-06-30 04:00 pm (UTC)
My thoughts and feelings being validated, being treated as worthwhile; that is exactly what I want too - you're saying what we're thinking! :)
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