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Of Civility, Critique, and Conversation…and FDL


If it’s Wednesday, it must be time for a meta.  We’ve all been a bit edgy of late.  Maybe it’s exhaustion.  Maybe it’s the short time-frame between now and the elections in November, and an increasing sense of urgency.  Perhaps it’s just because some of us have been dealing with sick children, getting no sleep, and inundated with e-mails, phone messages and other assorted things on our to do lists.  (Or maybe that’s just me…)

Whatever the cause, I thought it would be a good time for a "take a deep breath" moment, and a small discussion of why this community is important to me.  And why, I hope, it is important to you.

For the longest time, I was a political junkie who didn’t walk the talk.  Sure, I bitched and moaned about the state of the world, but it wasn’t until the Kerry campaign that I truly got up off my butt and did something about politics.  All those years of volunteer work for local charity organizations and the prosecution of criminals and work with at risk kids aside, I hadn’t really done much politicking (well, other than march in parades with my former boss and hand out candy…so I guess that counts to some degree) until I volunteered to help in 2004.

Blogging provides an outlet for all that frustration left over from that loss, and from the resulting Bush years, sure, but it also allows FDL to be a sort of megaphone for the voices of every person who reads here.  Jane and I often say that we get our best ideas for articles and citizen action from our commenters — and that is absolutely true.  We honestly have some of the best commenters around the web, and we are so grateful for it.

But as this site has grown in terms of traffic and such, so have the growing pains, on occasion.  And sometimes it can be very difficult to take a step back and look at a bigger picture sort of viewpoint — especially when you are being bombarded from all sides by news bits and such that you want to hit, or thinking about three posts down the line from where you are at the moment.

This past week, I haven’t been around much (due to said child’s illness), but I spent some time last night and this morning getting caught up on a number of threads…and I have a few things I wanted to mention, for everyone to think about a little bit today.  Sometimes, a little time doing something else can give you some good perspective.  (And sometimes, it just takes you losing your temper a bit more than usual — like I unfortunately did yesterday in Pach’s afternoon thread with a commenter — to show you how edgy you, yourself, may have gotten of late.)

— Group think is uncool.  Not only does it shut down the testing of ideas and concepts against competing interests, but it also lends itself to a sort of trampling herd mentality that I find particularly distasteful.  (Perhaps because I was a trample-ee in high school as the nerdy girl in a school full of cheerleader wannabes.)   Trolling — not cool.  Constructive criticism and critical thought — very cool, very useful, and not to be shouted down where it is a result of a constructive conversation.  Personally, I like some give and take — it allows me to stay mentally sharp (such as I am) and to test out the weak points of my arguments against someone else’s thought process.  YMMV on something like that, but that’s my perspective on it. 

— But trolling or trying to shout at everyone else in an effort to get your point across?  Not cool. 

— Our moderators have to walk a fine line sometimes in trying to discern on which side of the line something falls — because a disruptive poster can turn an entire thread nasty.  Sometimes, we may jump a little too quickly, sometimes too slowly — but we are human beings and trying to interpret intent based on words on the page without the benefit of voice inflection or visual cues.  So some patience from everyone would go a long, long way.  And bitching at the moderators because they haven’t freed up a post snagged in the SPAM filter within seconds?  Unacceptable, given the fact that these folks are volunteering for the good of the whole community.  Patience, ever a virtue, is doubly good in this context.  As is some gratitude.  I’m just saying.

— We aren’t always going to agree on everything.  Hell, Jane and I don’t always agree, why should that be any different for the various people who make up our readership?  But just because Jane or myself or Pach or TRex or any of our bevy of fabulous posters says something, that also doesn’t mean it’s some sort of laying out the gospel.  Far from it.  Often, we are hoping to test ideas and language to see how well they work — as a potential talking point or narrative on which to build for the future.  Sometimes, what we really want is feedback — and just because we push back at a question, we are most likely testing for ourselves. 

— This is politics, not something personal.  It’s tough to see the difference sometimes — I know it can be for me — but the truth of it is that this is a tough, tough race that the Democrats are facing this Fall.  Inflated expectations aside, this is going to be a long, hard slog to the finish in the November elections.  And we do not have time to constantly soothe everyone’s ruffled feathers each and every time someone gets some over every little bump in the road.  I’m sorry, I wish it were otherwise, but that’s the truth of it.  Hell, some days I barely have time to do what I need to do for my child and my family — you think any of us do this lightly?  Hell no.  Nor do we think that you all take this any less seriously, either.  But in politics, passions often run very, very high — and occasionally, it’s going to lead to a clash or two. 

The key is for us to remember that we are all on the same side, working toward the same goals (by and large *g*).  But that doesn’t give any of us — myself included — the right to be rude or dismissive or assholish or whatever, or to stampede over top of someone simply because we think we can.  It’s a tough call, each and every time I type something up and hit send I’m guaranteed to get at least one crabby e-mail from someone about something I did wrong…but does that stop me from continuing to write and voice my opinion?  Hell, no.

And it shouldn’t stop any of you, either. 

But, nonetheless, let’s try to be a little kinder to one another.  Think before you send, that’s all I’m saying, and I promise to try and do the same now that I’ve caught up on a little sleep.  This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I don’t want everyone hitting the burn out stage before we even get to the finish line, such as it is, in November (because, frankly, we’ll just have to gear right back up again and head out for 2008…).  And if anyone has some ideas, concerns, what have you, this is the thread to air them out. 

What’s on your mind lately?

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com