I am a person. So are you, and all of those around us – that we know and don’t know – are people as well. But isn’t it strange how easy it is to forget that when you can’t see their faces, or when you don’t interact in person? Isn’t it easy to sit at a computer and rant, rave, and project your dislike of ideas, before remembering that it’s not a computer you’re subjecting to that negativity, but a person. Isn’t it easy to turn someone into a snarling demon, or a sniveling child, when your computers separate you?
On Sunday I attended TEDx Bradford on Avon. The final speaker was Pip Utton with a talk titled ‘In the beginning was the word’, and it caused me to have a revelation of sorts. His talk wasn’t religious in nature – it focused on language, words, and communication, and the revelation I had was probably more a moment of clarity during which I realised that my words aren’t always used how I want them to be used. By me, as much as others.
Utton told the audience that if there was one thing to be taken away from his talk it was that saying something positive to others might be something we forget in a day or two, but that our kind words could stay with that person for their whole life. Words are that powerful and can have that much of an impact. As a blogger my words are permanently online (even if a post is removed, it still hangs around the internet like a ghost), and I realised that my words could stay with people for their whole lives, and that was a thought that scared me a bit because I haven’t always been the person I want to be, here on my blog – and I know why. It’s become clear over the last two months, you see.
Online you can become involved in debates when they don’t involve you, and you can project other peoples negative experiences onto your own without even realising it. Before you know it, you’re perception of your own experience is coloured with the negative perception others have of their similar experiences. Only they’re them and not you.
The injustices effecting other people in society are problems that we want to eradicate, but online, the dialogue moves along so quickly that you can find yourself caught up in the current and suddenly speaking as though you have experience of that which you wish to eradicate, when in reality what you have is an outsiders view of the problem.
It’s also easy to think that all of those who agree with you about an injustice think in the same way as you do, and that when they say things they mean those things in the same way that you do. That’s something I thought regarding the use of the word misogyny – I thought other bloggers were using it to describe certain behaviour in the same way that I was, when it turns out they probably weren’t. I thought the same of mansplaining – a horrific turn of word that I thought others were using jokingly, when it turns out they’re probably not. It was something I saw directed at men who I happened to agree with on a subject recently, whose whole input was disregarded because of their gender, by people I thought I respected.
Hmmm, I pondered…
It’s similar to the experience I had after I blogged at The Heresy Club about the Page 3 debate. I never expected to be told by other people that I was ‘championing my own oppression’. I had obviously been too hopeful that people would see sense – or the lack of it – in the petition being discussed, as I did. Alas, they didn’t.
I’ve seen friends used as pawns in games and have been saddened by the actions of those I thought were rational people, and recently I was saddened to see my words misrepresented by users of the Atheism+ forum when, after commenting about a thread that I thought was particularly illogical on their forum, some users twisted what I had said to make it seem as though I had told Atheism+ to ‘fuck off and die‘ or that I despised them completely. I did not and do not. It was a ‘them and us’ attitude, if you will. I can never take seriously people who use absolutes when absolutes are not… absolute.
I get why they want their safe space and, although I have some reservations about the Atheism+ brand, I respect their decisions. It’s a shame that respect couldn’t be mutual. I do want social justice, I do want equality, and society-wide respect, but I don’t want these things because I’m an atheist, or because I’m a secularist, or because I’m a feminist – I want them because I’m just that sort of person.
A final thought. Another speaker at TEDx Bradford on Avon – Veronica Hannon – spoke about creating communication that resonates and how we need to turn inwards to investigate who we are before projecting ideas. I’ve come to understand that I haven’t been doing enough of this. In the future I’m going to be a lot more careful about who I throw my lot in with, I’m going to think more carefully before acting on impulse, and I’m going to ask more questions of myself and others. I’m going to spread my skepticism equally to those who sound the same as I do, and those that don’t, and I’m not going to jump through hoops for anybody other than myself. I’m just that sort of person, the type who got a little lost along the way and thinks she might finally be back on the right track.