Intra-Community Behavior – How Do We Address Problems Constructively?

This was a very long comment on the post from yesterday. However, in writing it I realized that this discussion is separate but related, so I broke it out into its own post. This comment addresses some stuff across multiple comments over there plus some things from this discussion on the anon community.

Just to clarify: For me, my worries over the doubts I had about Kynn and the way I pushed them aside isn’t about whether I should have known she would rape someone. It’s totally separate from that. It’s more about how I shouldn’t have accepted that behavior from a person who very clearly wanted to be allied with my community and me personally. I don’t look back and regret my errors because of what happened to jack specifically. Wanted to clear that up.

While on one hand I agree with the anon that points out that within social justice communities if someone doesn’t speak up and say “hey, I don’t agree with the actions this person is taking” then people may assume that we endorse or, at least, don’t find the behavior problematic. And that can be a problem both within and outside of the community.

On the other hand, I very much agree with Cheryl that I don’t then want us to turn the tone argument on each other or start deciding whose anger is more valid. Plus, I get the feeling that what some critics of social justice want in that instance is a public “I DON’T AGREE” in big letters. I’m not always comfortable with that.

Intra-community discussions of appropriate actions and words should stay inside unless the community decides to open it up to wider discussion.

Examples of this include the recent flare-up surrounding Ashley Judd’s condemnation of hip-hop as sexist. Women in the hip-hop and POC community have been dealing with this issue a lot longer, and many did not appreciate someone from outside the community swanning in to give her ill-formed and unwanted opinion on the matter.

Within a feminist context, women outside of mainstream white western culture are forever dealing with well-meaning feminists trying to tell them how their cultures are evil and should be abandoned. Whereas women inside those cultures and communities are constantly saying “Back off, we got this, we’re working on it from our own cultural framework.”

Those are big picture examples. Those are also more straightforward than what we’re dealing with here.

The dilemma I see is this: how does a community or an individual within a community approach another individual to say I/We think you’re crossing a line? That’s a tough conversation to have. I’ve found myself reluctant to have it the few times it’s come up. And, as I said yesterday, I am not the behavior police nor do I feel I have the right to be.

Still, this situation is making me realize how important it is to discuss this and come up with strategies not only to ensure the mental health of the community at large, but also to achieve our common goals.

As before, thoughts are very much appreciated. And to the anonymice out there — I allow anon comments here, but reserve the right to moderate as I see fit. (Generally: deleting abusive ones.)

ETA: Hey anons, want to further clarify something for those of you who seem to be lacking reading skills. This post is not about reactions to what Kynn did to Jack. I’m not saying AT ALL that intra-community issues need to be worked out around people’s reactions to that. I’m talking here about more general issues using Kynn’s behavior before this incident as a touchpoint, but not due to what happened at WisCon. This is about things I observed before that. How people deal with someone in their group who rapes another is a separate conversation and not what I’m addressing here (for that, see the other post). Okay? Okay.

16 thoughts on “Intra-Community Behavior – How Do We Address Problems Constructively?

  1. In my experience — limited as it is — the public pressure to Not Fail leaks into these sorts of private discussions. I’d like to see us all a little better at failing gracefully, a little better at apologizing, a little more willing to accept each other’s apologies. And I think that would lead to more comfort on both sides of a private discussion where someone could say, hey, this bothered me.

    And, coming at it from the other direction, to *get* to the place where we’re better at failing gracefully & accepting apologies etc., we need to be able to say “hey, this bothered me,” not “hey, you said this thing I think you should say differently.” The latter implies I have wisdom to impart upon you, and then suddenly we’re in this power struggle where we’re each clinging to being right. The former requires personal vulnerability on both sides. But once we’re there, then we *can* have that discussion.

    I guess that’s one reason to have those private conversations sooner, rather than later. Once somebody’s behavior escalates to the point where I really *am* seeing those red flags, I’m not so willing to have a conversation in which I talk about my personal feelings of bothered-ness.

  2. Intra-community discussions of appropriate actions and words should stay inside unless the community decides to open it up to wider discussion.

    You’re on the internet. You open your blog up to the public, just as most SJ warriors unlock their SJ posts and permit non-friend comments on them. None of you get to tell readers that they don’t get to discuss these issues, either logistically or morally — especially since many of you are more than happy to dogpile the rest of us for any slight you perceive.

    1. Thank you for commenting!

      The intra-community discussions I’m talking about here are not the public ones. Yes, I definitely agree, if I post publicly about something then it’s not right to then say “hey, quit talking about that thing!” because, duh, I posted publicly.

      Nor am I saying that no one can or should have discussions about the issues. Never said that and never will. I want more discussion, not less.

      What I’m talking about in this post is how people in a community approach their internal issues or a problem with individual members. When I was troubled by Kynn’s actions, should I have approached her personally, privately, to express my concerns? More and more I’m thinking yes. Since I considered us friends, I could have approached her from that angle.

      I would not have felt comfortable coming into a public argument to have that discussion. I would not have felt comfortable making a public post about it here. At least not before I’d approached her and attempted to address the problems.

      The reason I compared this to the in-group/out-of-group stuff surrounding hip-hop and feminism is because it’s a similar dynamic and similar thinking goes into it, though the issues themselves are different in value and scale.

      However, even if I feel that issues in the community should be discussed amongst ourselves to resolve them, that doesn’t mean they can’t be discussed by outsiders at all. In fact, if someone is engaging in “unconstructive verbal battery” in the name of a social justice cause, I’m pretty sure everyone is going to talk about it, and they do. That’s sometimes how I even know it’s going on, because I don’t see everything everywhere. Sometimes the overall discourse informs the internal one. Nothing wrong with that. Just don’t expect the community to have its internal discussion in public.

      That’s what the friendslock is for, right?

  3. Kynn got really aggressive and unpleasant with a black friend of mine on a post in my LJ about how to engage with racism as a topic, because my friend didn’t agree with her. I *did* agree with her on the issue under discussion, but my core rule for talking about racism, particularly on my LJ, is “listen to the POC more than the white people,” and Kynn obviously didn’t have that as a rule, and didn’t respect it when I spelled it out for her. That was eye-opening.

    I think judging someone’s rhetorical style is not necessarily useful in determining where they fit in a SJ movement, because some people can be rude jerks promoting an important and just cause, while others can be sweethearts while they promote oppression. But I do think it’s useful to judge how closely someone’s behavior and choice of targets matches up to the cause they’re promoting.

  4. I know I am idealistic and naive, but isn’t honesty and straightforwardness tinged with gentle kindness the best policy? Some people may not know that they are crossing lines and may just need to see it from someone else’s point of view to know what they’re doing is wrong. And certainly a progressive and aware community would understand the importance of boundaries and wish them to be respected.

    We must also do this in a way that avoids acting like we’re policing people. After all, it was Kynn’s constant policing of others and attempts to be Queen Of The Mountain that made everyone so afraid of her. But I think if we remain respectful (of both our own and outsiders), this would naturally be avoided.

    1. That’s exactly how I want things to work. Not to be the police but to be a good enough friend to point that stuff out to folks in the hope of achieving a good end result.

    2. Same anonymous poster from above.

      Is there room for a simple neutral code-phrase with an understood meaning something like “I understand and respect your anger and frustration, but it looks to *me* like maybe you’d be happier with your remarks if you took 100 slow breaths and then checked to see if that’s what you wanted to say”?

      I’m not envisioning a secret password, and obviously people on the other side would try to use it as a sword.

      How would you feel if someone you knew as a friend and ally began their reply with “100 breaths?” and then moved the conversation forward. Maybe that feels to much like policing, I dunno. Just an idea.

      1. If someone tells me that they think I would be happier doing something differently than whatever I’m currently doing, that is not neutral. It’s parental. If they tell me THEY would be happier if I did something different, that’s another matter.

        Suggesting that I didn’t mean to say what I said is also not neutral; it implies that I’m less aware of what I want than the person who’s suggesting it.

        Even without the suggestion that a commenter doesn’t know his/her own happiness or intention, it’s not neutral to suggest someone re-phrase what they’re saying. Anyone who asks that is putting themself into the role of a moderator. Moderation is a fine thing–including informal moderation by community members, when there’s an existing understanding within the community to that effect. But it can be problematic when it’s done by someone who’s in the middle of having a disagreement, rather than by a third party who’s not as involved.

  5. Posting anonymously to avoid raising hackles. I’m not Will Shetterly, but you might still recognize me as On The Other Team, which would not, I feel, add to the discussion. I’m using my correct email address, so the blog owner can track me down if necessary.

    The reality is that the tone argument IS sometimes valid. Not always, and of course it is sometimes used to suppress debate. Decrying the tone argument is also used to suppress debate, however. Sometimes someone’s tone is too damn over the top, and could be usefully toned down.

    Gentle reader, I ask you in all seriousness, and without asking for a reply: Have you ever let your rhetoric get a little wild-eyed, let your logic get a little sloppy? Have you then been called on your tone which was, at that point, perhaps not really necessary and which was, at that moment, perhaps hindering debate? If so, what was your reaction? Did you then cry “tone argument!”? Did you want to? If so, was it *really* because you felt your tone was not at issue, or was there a little bit, a frisson of ‘crap, I’m maybe a little bit wrong here’ defensiveness? Some of you, no doubt, can justly say “no, there was not!” but not, I think, all of you reading this.

    This is the internet, not Debate Club. We’re all too prone to brawling, and insufficiently prone to calm and reaason — me too. Definitely me too. My point is that Kynn used “don’t call me on my tone!!!” as a sword, but her usage was not unique in kind, at best it was unique in degree. There’s a little bit a Kynn in all of us. Maybe there’s a lot of Kynn in some of us. In an internet brawl, we tend to reach for whatever’s sharp — all of us — you too, Gentle Reader. I’m not convinced that Kynn was flying any Red Flags at all, Kynn was just debating and brawling like everyone else, with her own unique style, like everyone else.

    Trying to parse out and explain why Kynn is BAD and we are GOOD (in the realm, of course, of Discourse On The Internet) is risky, and dubious reasoning.

      1. And that’s ok by me. Calm disagreement isn’t something to fear. Perhaps someone will find something they can use in my remarks, perhaps not. I appreciate your willingness to moderate my remarks into the conversation.

        (no need to moderate THESE in as well, obviously, since they’re just chitchat)

  6. I think Alexandra makes a great point about lines of communication. I absolutely agree with her comment. I also think it’s disturbing that any individual should feel that she can’t speak up about something she’s uncomfortable with without being labeled as the behavior police. (I think it’s a completely legitimate fear, given the way I have seen people — including myself — react to certain individuals speaking out, but I don’t think it’s appropriate, constructive, or healthy.) I’m not familiar with the details of this situation and I don’t have a grand solution to offer, but it’s definitely important to have this conversation and make sure that communities of support don’t end up unintentionally silencing individual voices. I think it’s natural to want to avoid difficult discussions or seemingly intractable problems, but fighting that tendency is why we’re here, right?

  7. The tone argument objections started from a good place. Someone shouldn’t be disregarded because they sound angry (or the reverse, that they didn’t sound angry enough). But I see it being abused a lot as a behave-how-you-want-and-get-away-with-it card. Saying that it’s okay to be angry isn’t the same as saying it’s okay to do anything you want to other people.

    In this case, it’s clear that the public social justice behaviour mirrored what was going on in private. People were having their personal boundaries pushed until they snapped and they weren’t happy about it. But as it hadn’t been discussed, people thought they were being unreasonable for saying no or feeling uncomfortable. After all, no one else appeared to have a problem with it.

    It’s dangerous for a community to get to that point. If someone’s approach is problematic, people should have the space to say something, without feeling they’re the ones being unreasonable.

  8. Two things have struck me, in reading people’s responses to this topic.

    One is that there are a lot of people who want to put it out there that they don’t see ______ (which might be anger, bullying, or even the extreme of rape) as a situation where “excluding” or “shunning” by the group is automatically called for.

    The other thing is that I’m hearing the same refrain over and over again, in variations of “I didn’t quite trust her/something about her was off/she skeeved me out, but I said nothing because she had my back/my friends liked her/I respected her progressive ethics”. And some people are calling fair-weather friend on that, but it resonates with what I experienced so much that I believe it’s true.

    And both of these things are why I think that when dealing with problems that arise within a community, it’s better to create a space where individuals can react as individuals than to focus on The Community™’s response.

    I mean, when I look back at my own behavior over the past year I realize that at no time did Kynn actually meet my personal criteria for someone I’d really want to invite into my life. But I did. I invited her into a D&D game, I introduced her to my partner, I vouched for her as a good person in the individual sense because of the communities that vouched for her as an ally/member.

    Another person in my place might not have done the same thing, obviously… but when you feel like you can’t call someone out for their behavior, then eventually you’re basically left with the choice of working your head around to the point where their behavior seems acceptable, or sitting around biting your tongue all the time.

    The human brain has a tremendous capacity for irrational rationalization. If the choice is to sit there knowing you’e being silent while something Wrong might be happening, or believing that everything is all right… well, it’s easier to believe the best of one’s allies and perceived allies.

    So, no, I agree you shouldn’t have acted like the behavior police… but ideally, you would have been able to say what was on your mind without having it feel like or turning into policing behavior, or otherwise become a big group political thing. If we can’t talk about problems without it becoming a matter of choosing sides and voting people off the island, then problems will be brought up most often by the people who care the least about being divisive.

    This set of observations is nothing like a solution or even a map to a solution, but I really do think it should be a matter of more lines of communication and not more lines in the sand. Setting up a rubric to try to spot and exclude predators before they strike would just create another set of rules that predators within a community could learn and exploit, but if no one’s talking about the people who’ve sounded alarm bells in their heads it’s more likely that someone will chalk them up to false alarms when they shouldn’t.

    To put it as concisely as I’m able: when someone in a community transgresses, we don’t necessarily need a community collectively deciding to exclude the transgressor or not so much as we need a community of individuals who are informed about the transgressions.

    1. I’m going to be quoting bits of this forever. Especially this: “it’s better to create a space where individuals can react as individuals than to focus on The Community™’s response.” because you’re absolutely right.

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