Thursday, July 24, 2014

Silenced

I remember the first troll that left me a comment. It was about 3 years ago, when I had just started blogging and there was someone trolling the ALI blogosphere leaving anonymous nasty comments that were meant to tear down the authors. As I had set my comments to moderation and remove Captcha, this author wrote three different versions, each more angry than the last as they were assuming that Blogger was eating them. But the goal was laughably clear: to hit with hatred in order to silence. To spread bitterness to a group of women who were pouring their hearts out online as this individual wanted to make others feel the way they felt about themselves.

Thought policing isn’t a new concept. The idea that people need to be monitored and corrected for expressing ideas or feelings that are undesirable has been around since before the written word. There’s something desirable about this concept, with establishing rules and guidelines for a community in order to serve the greater whole. Be sensitive, support those in kind, don’t complain needlessly or compare pain, etc, etc. After all, there are narcissists and incredibly selfish people who would otherwise suck a community dry with the black hole that is their self-centeredness and inability to empathize. But thought policing can also be dangerous, with a minority quickly shutting down anyone who shares thoughts or emotions that they deem unacceptable. In a way, it is a form of fascism, with a blood-lust that can develop for attacking anyone who deviates even in reasonable ways.

Recently Josey wrote this post where she talked about this vocal minority and how damaging they can be.

In the Infertility community in particular, it becomes an issue when the vocal minority shuts down long awaited joys, tough conversations and legitimate feelings with cliché statements and judgmental tirades.
Just be grateful…
I’d never complain if *I* had a kid…
Can you believe she posted a picture of her [pee stick, belly picture, ultrasound pic, etc]?
The problem comes when the quiet majority ends up sitting by on the sidelines feeling afraid to share everything from jubilant thoughts to frustrated feelings, simply out of a fear of facing loud criticisms and hurt feelings from the vocal minority.”
Reading this post brought up some mixed feelings and emotions. On the one hand, I have encountered blogs where the author seems to be so incredibly unhappy with life, even after finding themselves pregnant or parenting. In these cases, I’ve found myself so annoyed that continuing to read, let alone comment, was a form of self-punishment thus unfollowing was a far better option. But the flip is that there have been and continue to be bloggers I follow who have the posts that ALWAYS start with them apologizing, then writing carefully about difficulties they are facing either with their pregnancy or while parenting. All the while peppering their posts with the required statements that they are grateful for their children and their current situation and ending their posts with some self-deprecating statement. Even then, there are moments where the thought police descend, ripping into the author for being so insensitive and thoughtless as it’s clear she just can’t appreciate what she has or that somehow she is defective as a human being for daring to think or feel that way.
The reality is, every person in this community will find themselves at the end of their TTC journey one day. Biologically, it’s impossible not to. In addition, most here will resolve (though there will be the few that never will). Because of this fact and because of the fact that we live in a diverse world, there needs to be a general understanding that the next steps aren’t always filled with moments of sunshine. There will be moments of fear and uncertainty, pain and despair. Reality, as it usually does, will find fun new ways to smack you in the face. That’s part of life and is true in all aspects.
During my pregnancy with the Beats, I found myself growing more and more silent as time went on. There’s no doubt that I was over the moon to final find myself carrying two rainbow babies after all our losses and uncertainty how to even resolve. But the truth was that pregnancy was very high-risk and scary. While my babies were growing and doing well, my body was crashing with the Beats being delivered early due to me going into both liver and kidney failure. After that, there were 4 weeks of NICU, were I went to bed nightly praying that they would be alive in the morning. I cried daily for a month. Though I know we were lucky and that there were others who were in a far worse situation, with me having to watch parents lose their children as a reminder. But a year later, all of this still haunts me.
Yet I felt like I couldn’t talk about any of this. That by doing so, I believed others would see me as ungrateful. I even had people tell me that I was lucky to have my babies come when they did because I actually got to hold them and no longer worry about having to be pregnant. Never mind the fact that it was general knowledge that they needed more time in the womb and that without the technology we have today they probably wouldn’t have survived. Instead it felt like I needed to be unilaterally grateful because I knew others who weren’t holding their children or would never have the chance to experience half the joy I did.
There’s a problem that emerges when one is silenced. For most humans, voicing worries and frustrations is a way to process what is happening. A form of problem-solving. By being heard one feels less isolated. By putting it out there, we give the experience/trauma recognition and allow for it to be addressed, which, in turn, allows for processing and healing. In some cases, simple acknowledgement is enough, bringing peace to even the most vocal complainer. Silencing takes all of that away, leaving the person instead involved with a growing shapeless form that tortures and torments. It also instills a sense of shame and guilt, all the while destroying.
I struggle with in all of this because there is a need for sensitivity in this community. My experience with individuals like Angie taught me that boundaries need to be established as otherwise there will be a free-for-all will otherwise allow for the leeches to take over and suck everything dry. In addition, we all need our safe havens. We need those places where we won’t be blindsided when we are our most fragile. Hence the need for general understandings and rules to ensure that community stays in tack.

But on the other end is that silencing someone when we feel they’ve overstepped when they really haven’t. Making it so that once someone goes past point X, they are no longer allowed to speak freely because a random person might take offense. There will always be people who eavesdrop, but that doesn’t this mean that we need to apologize every step of the way.
The thing is, how does one address this? For me, I find that in the cases where I have said something, it's usually because I've developed a relationship with the person. But even then, I do so privately and try to express concern gently. I find calling people out in a public way to be far more telling about the person bringing the issue to light, especially since we are usually only getting one person's version. Sure, there are times for debate and conversation, but when it devolves into a screaming match I rarely find it useful. There are also times where I've defaulted with silence when I see someone venting in a way I don't agree with. I respect their right to speak and use their space, but I also know that I can exercise my right not to read.  All that said, I also know that many don't agree with me as blogging is seen as an ongoing conversation. So the question is, how would you handle it? Is there ever a right time to silence someone?

19 comments:

  1. I don't see the point in deliberately mean comments; debate, sure, but not attack. I ignore when I don't like what someone had to say.

    But to the larger issue, I wish everyone would blog unapologetically, but politely. Talk about your life as it stands without being a jerk about how amazing/rich/fertile/perfect you are. I find the disclaimers before posts actually running me the wrong way, because I don't think there is a need from them. The people who use them are often already hyper- sensitive and are not being jerks.

    So in a nutshell! Write about what you need to say!

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  2. I really like this post, but then, you knew I would. :)

    I love the comment above about blogging unapologetically but politely. That hits it on the head for me! I mean, you should be able to blog about whatever the heck you want/need to write about - but understand that as a public blog it's still important to be a kind, decent human being about things too...

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  3. I think that a blog is like your living room. You invite people in, and you should try to be a gracious host, but it is still your living room. If a reader doesn't like what is being written, they are free to leave.

    I have written posts like this one many times. Infertility is a transient state of being. One way or another we all make it to the other side, and some of us make it to the other side and then back again. Infertility isn't cancer. We may not all overcome it, but we all survive it. Blogging is basically journal writing. If a writer isn't free to write the truth about how they are feeling, than their writing is crap. We shouldn't feel like we have to guard our thoughts all the time or apologize for them.

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  4. I do feel that blogging is a conversation...and I am sometimes a very bad conversationalist. I've had a few trolls/angry comments...and generally I try to address the root of their vitriol in some sort of post. As for following/un-following blogs, there comes a point where I either want to hear what the author wants to say or I don't, and I let that dictate my actions.

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  5. The idea of having a conversation is interesting to me. I like hearing people's thoughts on topic and chimming in. But I also don't like the idea of openly attacking people. Differing viewpoints that are respectfully discussed I'm all for. Cutting comments that are meant to shame the author, not so much.

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  6. You hit the nail on the head. Blogging apologetically, but politely. I sometimes think we can never win being infertile. That being pregnant and having a baby after all this, is just as painful as continuing in the midst of infertility. But you lay it out so well, that no one should say sorry for their successes.

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  7. I still remember my first troll. Interesting how those hurtful things stay with you. I have learned over time to get a thicker skin and now they bother me less and less. I do know that having a public blog not only opens myself up to judgment, but support and I've received so much support over the years :)

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  8. I agree with most of these ladies. Find a balance to your writing where you are being respectful to those in different stages of the journey, but also being true to your own situation. I think it's okay to apologize as long as you speak your heart honestly from there. I find it difficult to read when someone is on either end of the spectrum - too blunt or overly sensitive. If I disagree with someone or am annoyed with something they are saying I tend to also just not comment and ignore. That old saying "if you don't have anything nice to say...", but there are times when having a conversation is warranted. Some people ask for advice or thoughts and in that situation, of course give voice, but still remember to be kind. There are many ways to speak to someone kindly, but honestly.

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  9. Both your and Josey's posts got me thinking. I think we need to protect both extremes of feelings. Parenting is hard. Parenting is damn hard no matter how you became a parent, and it is a huge relief to be able to express parenting challenges, especially on days when my child has gone out of his way not to listen. Does that mean I'm not grateful for my son's existence? Hell no. And I also disagree that people who feel bitter or left out or envious when others have good news shouldn't be able to express that. For example, there was a post a friend of mine wrote a week or so ago about her complicated feelings about the crop of unexpected BFPs in the ALI community. It sparked a convo on twitter about how it seemed bitter and a bit sour grapes-ish. I would hate for this blogger and others in similar situations to feel like they can't express how they feel openly in their spaces. I just wish we didn't seem to have such a knee-jerk reaction to certain types of comments or feelings.

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  10. What Mrs Green Grass said! I know I have almost started many posts with an apology, but then either deleted it or stopped myself from writing it. It is my blog, if anyone who reads my blog reads that post, they will know what I have gone through and what I am like.

    Also, if someone has something to say that I don't care for, I walk/click away.

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  11. I totally agree with Mrs Green Grass! I treat my blog as my diary, a place to write about things I don't want to forget. Not many people even read it, but I don't care. And if you read one recent post of mine, you might not realize that I'd struggled with IF. Maybe it would hurt someone in the trenches to hear me talk of my kids or maybe I'd be venting and they'd think me ungrateful. Some people lash out for little reason other than they can. We can try to ignore, but it is still hurtful and really what good does it do for that person to make us feel bad? Will they feel less bad? I think not.

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  12. Of course blogger ate my comment. Argh!!!!!

    The long and short of my comment was that these are awesome comments following an awesome post!

    I agree with all of the above - if you can't say anything nice (or with an underlying tone of empathy), why say anything at all? It's certainly not socially acceptable to attack people face-to-face and I don't think that hiding behind a screen using a pseudonym should prevent people from complying with basic social norms.... Although not everyone can keep it together in person either.

    I think we all owe each other the decency to always be polite, even if you don't always agree with another person's point of view. Other people's blogs aren't personal to others - although you may identify with messages conveyed in what other's write, I don't think it's very often that blogs cuch as ours in the ALI world are meant as personal attacks on anyone.

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  13. I'm with Chickenpig. As for trolls, I feel like they must be really missing something in their lives, to want to bully people they don't know. It's sad, really.

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  14. I always feel that it is a privilege to read others' thoughts, their innermost emotions, even if I disagree with them. Part of it is that "being invited into their living room" factor, even though their blogs are public, I think being polite is important, both as a poster and a commenter. Maybe it's my diplomatic background, but I think you can say what you like and what you mean without actually being mean. Personal attacks are not okay - I think they just reflect the poster's inability to express themselves or to understand what it is about the post's content that has so irked them, and what they really want to say. Unapologetic, but polite, as someone else said, is my aim.

    I comment (when iPad and Feedly are willing) when I want to support, or when I think I have something to add to the conversation. If I disagree with a post, I might still comment, but again, I must feel that I bring maybe a different perspective, or that I have actually have something to say.

    If I just want to scream "you're bonkers!" then I do that privately to the screen (or later to a friend or husband), and walk away. We can vehemently disagree, but I think the comments section isn't the place to convince someone to change their mind. (I recall one post I read where I felt a person was making a major life decision without considering both sides. I strongly disagreed with the poster, but in the end walked away. They wouldn't change their mind, and they would have no doubt taken offence at my comment, however diplomatically worded.)

    I've had a few trolls, most recently one who patently hadn't read the bulk of the post, or had any idea of the topic of my blog, and finished their rant with the comment "wait until you have children!" I had to laugh. Some of the trolls I delete, because I think their comments could be upsetting to some of my readers. And if they don't contribute to the conversation, I think that is my prerogative. I haven't had any really that have commented on current posts, so they don't really affect our conversation on the blog.

    But I do think that anyone should be able to say anything on their own blog. Of course, we all have to realise that if we do that, then we might lose readers, or friends, or respect, just as other posts might bring us new readers, friends and respect. You can't please all the people all the time! (I actually blogged about that - people being too grateful - as you remember. ;-) http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.co.nz/2014/02/you-cant-please-all-people-all-time.html)

    Many of my posts are prompted by something I've read elsewhere (as this one is, I suspect). And I think that is a is very legitimate (and polite) way to get our own thoughts across.

    And finally I guess it is important for us all to remember that the vocal minority is in fact that - a minority.

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  15. Hmmm - in addition to my previous comment, I have just remembered that I have in the past self-censored (beyond just being polite) because I was a bit scared about the response I might get. A number of times. So now you have me thinking some more ...

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  16. I'm sorry you felt silenced, and it's really a common theme among IF bloggers who get pregnant, isn't it? There seems to be a a missing piece in our corner of the blogosphere, and that's the support of pregnancy. Once you're a parent, then you can find other bloggers parenting after IF pretty easily it seems. These are just my observations as I haven't experienced pregnancy, but now that I'm following a lot of other parents both through pregnancy and adoption, this theme of feeling silenced keeps rearing it's head. I've only had one or two trolls aimed at making me feel bad for pursuing adoption, and of course they waited to hit my blog when I posted about my baby shower and was feeling especially vulnerable. It sucked, and I'm lucky that I haven't had any others (yet). I really like Chickenpig's comment too!

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  17. You're back! Or maybe you never left? So weird, I couldn't access your blog for a while... anyway, glad to see some meaty posts here again. I agree that this is such a hard thing to figure out. It makes me think of Scrambled Eggs because Belle so often has an apology paragraph whenever she's about to talk about how difficult breastfeeding is or how she sleep-trained her babe with some cry-it-out, and on the one hand I think it's so considerate and self-aware of her, but on the other hand, probably not needed. She writes from the heart and is obviously such a good person, one would be crazy to think she doesn't appreciate her baby just because she's complaining a bit. Anyway that's just one example, but sooo common in the IF blogosphere. Weirdly, the whole to-silence-or-not-to-silence question feels even more pressing right now with all the Israel-Palestine stuff happening -- for the first time, I've actually had to hide people on my Facebook feed because their posts are just too offensive and make me so upset. And these are friends/family/coworkers who I know in real life! I really hesitated because it felt like I was being cowardly or sweeping my anxiety under the rug, but upon reflection, it had nothing to do with me not respecting others' viewpoints and opinions -- it had to do with me not supporting hate speech. Debate is one thing, attacks are another (as Mrs Green Grass has already said).

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