Saturday, May 19, 2012

What I learned while blogging

This is something that's been rolling around in my head the last few days and I thought I'd take a stab at writing about it. I'm pretty sure it will be interesting to no one but me - but hey, this is my blog so that's the fun of it. I get to please myself.

I first noticed blogs back in 2004. I've always been somewhat of a political junkie. But it was Howard Dean's campaign that introduced me to them as a way to connect with other political junkies online. I didn't participate - but I read and didn't feel so alone.

Like many liberals, the first community blog I found was Daily Kos. I started reading there around the time of the 2004 election and felt such relief in hanging out with others who were just as depressed and enraged as I was at Bush's re-election. Again, I didn't participate - just read.

And then the pie wars hit. It all started over a pretty sexist ad that made me somewhat uncomfortable, but I was willing to look beyond it. What rocked my world was the flame war that started in response and the incredibly sexist remarks my so-called "liberal brothers" made as the conversation turned away from the ad and became more generally about sexism. Call me naive, but I usually assumed those kinds of attitudes were restricted to our opponents on the right. So I had to do some soul-searching.

A bunch of refugees from the pie wars migrated over to BooMan Tribune. And I went with them. It was really a lovely community for a while. And it was there that in a matter of a day or two I signed up, made my first comment, and actually wrote a diary.

I won't go into any specifics, but after awhile both political and personality clashes started to happen between regulars there. It was finally those mostly related to personality that caused a blow-up and permanently fractured the community.

A few of us wandered around awhile on existing blogs and even created one of our own together that didn't last long. About that time Docudharma was formed by a crowd of Daily Kos writers. I found the site and settled in. As at BooMan Tribune, a wonderful community formed - although there were occasionally personal and political tensions.

The real rift for me came when Barack Obama was elected. I had become quite impressed with him but others on the site decided that they couldn't support him unless he prosecuted Bush/Cheney for torture. We had some pretty serious discussions about that and eventually I found that the personal relationships I had developed with folks there couldn't withstand the disagreement.

I went back to writing/talking at Daily Kos with one goal in mind - to see if people could actually talk to each other past their differences. I didn't want to give up what I believed and didn't expect others to either. I just wanted to know if we could still converse.

The result was that I honed my skills as a writer and debater, but overall it will come as a surprise to no one who witnessed the Obamarox vs Obamasux wars there that the experiment was a failure.

That's how I landed here. I had created this site on a whim between my time at BooMan Tribune and Docudharma - but hadn't used it very much. I finally decided that I just wanted a place of my own where I could say what I wanted.

What I learned from those travels comes down to basically 2 things:

First of all, the personal and the political are inescapably combined. It hurt to see friendships die as a result of political differences. And I suspect that I am much more cautious with sharing personally online as a result. I try not to go too far with that - but I'm here to talk politics. I truly enjoy the friendships I've made in the process, but perhaps you'll understand from all of the above why I might be a bit slow to "warm up."

Secondly, I learned that we are absolutely lousy at knowing how to disagree with each other. We take it all so g-d personally. If someone doesn't see things exactly like we do, they must be either blind or evil. And then our response is to either cut them off or trash them personally.

This is one of the many reasons I became such an Obamabot. What I see in our President is something I aspire to - the ability to be confident enough in your own self to be able to actually listen to others you disagree with respectfully. And to be open to the idea that they might not always be wrong.

This doesn't mean you don't get angry. It just means that you know your anger is about a disagreement, not a need to destroy or discard the other person. In that way you can stay engaged to either find some resolution or simply agree to disagree.

Let me just add that its those who discard you over differences that - to me - are even more painful than those who try to destroy you. That's because it tends to come from those you consider friends. The message is that their rigidly held beliefs are more important to them than you are.

So I'm still a work in progress on all of this. A comment by a reader at Andrew Sullivan's blog captured my aspirations.
Our culture has an overabundance of professional arguers: people with opinions firmly in place who set out to convert us to their way of thinking (or, more often the case, to increase our certainty in the way we already think).

What we don't have much of are writers who allow us to see their own uncertainty and who invite us to think along with them.


  1. Good Morning SP! Got to tell you you're not only pleasing yourself with this entry. I'm honing in on the pleasure. ;-)

    The paragraph ending 'And to be open to the idea that they might not always be wrong' and the one immediately following are the clinchers for me. THIS is exactly what I have been learning from the President and watching him live it out in real life in the face of very blatant, bitter opposition has been a perfect example of leadership and strength in my eyes.

    I first got the message on the night he won and declared that he was the President of all America (versus a pres only of those who voted for him). For some unknown reason that jumped out, slapped me on the side of the head, and realigned my thinking then and there. The other point that kept resounding for me has been the ability you also noted - a need to leave the opponent his dignity/humanity.. if s/he chooses to take the hand you hold out. That cartoon re NC that you shared recently touched on this in a way.

    Rambling aside, my shorter version is that I don't blog, but I can truly say I've learned a lot from this President, and nothing positive from his predecessors.

  2. Excellent post, Smartypants. Staying open to various viewpoints, while valuing our own, yet not cherishing them, benefits any and all who want to expand their state of consciousness. There's tremendous freedom that comes with this act of humanity.

    1. There's tremendous freedom that comes with this act of humanity.

      There sure is - but its damn hard!!!!! For me anyway.

  3. Now know why my commenting policy on Stonekettle Station is so draconian. I will not let my blog disintegrate into the crapfest that KOS and John Scalzi's Whatever became.

    Act like an ass on Stonekettle Station, get hit upside the head with the Shovel of Doom. Period and no exceptions. Good blogging requires attention to comment moderation.

    1. At work I used to do everything I could think of to avoid firing people. And we had an astronomical turnover with ugly morale problems.

      Then we started getting rid of folks who needed to go. Our voluntary turnover rate is almost non-existent now and we have a small group of people who are 100% mission committed and LOVE working together.

      I used to think the "shovel of doom" was nasty. Now I see its what cleans up the crap.

  4. I tell people that I never lose an argument, because I want to understand what I'm arguing about. If someone can demonstrate the my understanding isn't up to par, all of a sudden I understand it, and I come out a winner. I can get my feelings hurt but mostly that happens when I feel I am not being listened to. Knock down my argument, and you think I am worth engaging. Ignore me, and the little kid in me feels ignored. I gotta get over this but at least I am aware of it.

    A very good post. I appreciate, SP, the tone you set. I feel very comfortable engaging here and have had some very similar problems to what you have described.

    Health is a little better, but the semester's work is done and I can now sleep it off. I'll mend soon.

    1. When I look back on my childhood, I see that I've always LOVED the experience of two minds going head to head. There's something about that process that works those muscles - just like any other exercise.

      Unfortunately, some people find that threatening - at least that's what I'm learning in my old age.

      Glad to hear you're feeling better. I've always found that sleep is the best medicine.

      Are you a teacher/professor?

  5. Thanks for this, Smartypants. Words to write by.

  6. There is a whole 'nother level here online seems to me. Most of what we all argue about would never get so heated if we were all together in a room. It's just so damn easy to write shit and then just click off. So if we can learn how to be the person we want to be online, we will be a thousand percent better in real life.

    Good luck to us all.

  7. SP,this was very in tune with where I have been all my life. When I first heard Barack Obama speak, I said to myself, "there is a man who knows who he is.") I used to comment at FDL and Kos and follow The Nation & Net roots, can't tolerate them anymore. Stopped about the time Pres Obama declared his candidacy, they just weren't credable anymore. Nasty is what they are. I became very political in 2007, because of Barack Obama and never regretted it. I come here and other sites that were pointed out to me and now are regular reading. Of course, you are a heads up, just from being from my state. Sigh!!.
    Thank you for this post, it just put so much into perspective. I don't comment often, but check you out everyday several times.

  8. Thank you. This harmonizes very much with what I get from President Obama and it becomes more important to me as I get older.

  9. Having been there with you through some of it, all I can say is I'm thankful for whatever caused you to become a Smartypants. I check your blog religiously and absolutely love what you are doing here. Thanks girlfriend. You are appreciated.

  10. this is why I come here everyday!

  11. very similar to my path through the blogs

    I'm actually a late comer to the the blogs, where the first time I actually saw and interacted was on the President's campaign blog in 2007-2008. At the very end of the campaign I saw a link to DK and went there for awhile.

    I'm more of a counter-puncher, so I've never really was big on writing long posts or diaries but was always active in the comments. Once DK went downhill mid-2009 I finally found what I came to know as the Pragmatic Progressive group of blogs, including this one, TPV, BWD, etc. I think I found a better home in multiple blogs than just the one and couldn't be happier.

    Thanks for your thoughts SP.