Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Buddhoblogosphere as Collective Practice

As someone who has made blogging a part of his Buddhist practice life, I was excited to see this post about yoga and blogging as collective practice. Carol, the post's author, brings up a lot of interesting issues to consider, including this:

those of us who want to continue discussing yoga and culture shouldn’t seek to avoid controversy and debate. Instead, we should practice working with it skillfully, both for our own benefit and that of the larger community.

Much of Carol's post is an attempt to consider the ways in which online debate can turn into hate-filled drama. She has a sincere desire to see the ethical principles of yoga practice extend into online activity, and from what I have seen in her blogging and responding, she's doing a good job of being a role model. I have the same aim in my blogging and online activity, and it would be wonderful if all of us could be civil and ethical with each other, even if we are in complete disagreement about whatever is being discussed.

However, although the ideals of Buddhist ethics or yogic ethics should be present, it's probably more fruitful to work with a question like this:

As members of the Buddhist blogging community, how can we respond when discussions/debates spiral into personal attacks and other such nastiness?

I think this is more challenging than it might appear on the surface. Here's why:

1. Offering generalized appeals to behave ethically usually fall flat. When someone says "We should follow the precepts" or "Buddha taught people to be kind to each other" it sounds patronizing or pious at best, and sometimes leads to even more arguing.

2. Uber-rational comebacks filled with direct statements of fact and dharma quotes also tend to fall flat, and can serve as alienation mechanisms to those who are heated.

3. Attempts to guess at someone's intentions for writing something nasty tend to be wrong, and sometimes serve as points of escalation, especially if the intentions suggested sound negative.

So, I think for those of us online speaking about Buddhist practice, and perhaps doing so as something more than just for amusement, it's worth considering how we might aid in supporting healthier dialogue. Here are a few ideas I have. Maybe you all have others to add.

First, it's good to remember that whomever you are arguing with, whomever you are arguing about, or whomever you see arguing, is another person living somewhere in the world. For all our vastness and diversity, we're never very far from each other.

Second, I have found it helpful to look for the spirit behind comments and try to respond from there. Sometimes, the flaming is loud, but an underlying message might be very important, if only it can unearthed.

Third, ask questions. Especially if you're unsure of motives or if you think there might be something of value lurking beneath the madness.

Finally, learn to walk away. It's true in real life, and so also here online. Sometimes, the best way to let a fight die down is to just leave it.


Petteri Sulonen said...

I think sometimes it's best just to bust a few heads and get it over with, though.

Walking away is one thing. Letting go of whatever it is you walked away from is another thing altogether, and much harder. More often than not, walking away just results in a reprise later on, only with hard feelings all around. Given a choice between seething silently and then letting it bubble up as weird covert aggression and having a big ol' bust-up, I'll take the bust-up. Unfortunately, that very often is the choice I'm facing, since I'm unable to walk away and let go.

I don't feel too bad about this, because I know for a fact that very few do all that much better—and I am working on it.

kevin said...

I agree with both your observed wrong ways and proposed better ways.

They bring to mind a list I'd like to share that I learned through Aikido, although it didn't originate there.

"How to harmonize with that which oppresses you.
1. Correct your position
2. Connect with the other person
3. Employ the spirit of yielding"

While it may sound formal and stilted, it's actually very practical.

To correct your position, you (as you stated) try to see where they're coming from. Give them the benefit of the doubt long enough to try on their shoes.

In doing this you'll be able to connect with the other person. Even if they don't return the favor at least you'll be on the same page.

To employ the spirit of yielding, admit to yourself at least that they're right at least from their experience. If they're not, banging on the door louder will only scare them into piling more furniture behind it.

Doing this, the worst you could come away with is a bruised ego and a lesson learned if you're wrong.

I'm more likely to walk away myself. If someone's going to preach to me, they think they've got all the answers and that's why they're telling me.

btw, thanks for sharing more yoga-ish stuff!

Algernon said...

These are pretty good.

It's good to remember that the other person (who IS a real person, and worth respecting) might not be interested in the same kind of dialogue I want to have, and that's okay.

It's the same in "meatspace," the realm of actual face-to-face interaction. Sometimes my wife just wants to relate the events of the day, and no, she does not want my suggestions or opinions or ideas about how to fix it. The best thing I can do in that situation is pour a glass of ginger ale and listen. (Ginger ale optional.)

It is interesting to walk away from a blog and see if you miss it. I've stopped following a few (Buddhist- and non-Buddhist-related) and found I haven't actually missed them much. Good! More time for the blogs that I care about, and a better, more rested attitude from me. Time is so short.

Nathan said...

Hey All,

Thanks for the comments.

Petteri, your point about letting go when or after walking away is important. Long held grudges that come out in snarky, digging comments later on is just dragging misery with yourself, and bringing it to others.


I love the Aikido list. It fits in wonderfully with this discussion. Especially a willingness to yield.


"It's good to remember that the other person (who IS a real person, and worth respecting) might not be interested in the same kind of dialogue I want to have, and that's okay." Yes. Definitely. I've had to remind myself this a fair number of times. It's a good practice for accepting things as they are.

Algernon said...

I thought of something else. I've noticed excess attention and debate to the issue of what activities are "Buddhist" or not, and who gets to define what good Buddhism is or isn't, and pushing back against imagined criticism of one's own "Buddhism."

For instance, recent debates about the "socially engaged" stuff.

Thomas Paine said "My religion is to do good." Seung Sahn summed up the bodhisattva path this way: when someone is hungry, feed them. What that means for me depends on where I am and what appears in front of me. It does not need to be validated as "Buddhist" or "good" or anything else. It can be blogged about or not. Just do it.

Nathan said...

Yeah, I started to feel like the debates about engaged Buddhism weren't really about that, but about something else. Fears and insecurities about the future of Buddhism perhaps? I don't know. I said what I said, and then let it drop. That was one case where walking away was helpful.