Thursday, April 14, 2011

Being An Online Buddha



*This may just be the guy behind all of those anonymous comments you are receiving.


I'd like to point out a pair of good posts on social networks and online identity. Petteri attempts to map out how his experience online has been, and how he might go forward online in the future. In addition, there's a reflection in the comments section on the social pressures and potential behavioral controls contained within groups like Facebook, Twitter, and even amongst us bloggers.

Petteri and commenter Nella Lou both talk about culling down online connections, and trying to be more focused. I can relate to this. Although perhaps in my case, it's been more that my reading and responding activities have been shifting, and - thankfully - I'm finding it much easier to opt out of online dramas, and to drop off attention to blogs and connections that just serve as diversions or do nothing but stir up emotional reactions.

Katherine has a totally fascinating post about anonymity and identity online. One thing that really rang true for me is a sense of being accountable for your words and actions online, and that doing things like commenting anonymously often are motivated by a desire to hide something. Not only do people act poorly while anonymous, but some also act overly polished, portraying themselves as almost enlightened figures.

And then there is this:

Online, I am drawn to those who allow themselves to be vulnerable and to those who engage in meaningful, personalized dialogue, by way of comments in various platforms. Recently, I also noted how much more connected I feel when someone uses my first name–especially if emphasized, i.e., more than just in the greeting–in our interactions. And as a Buddhist practitioner, it has become virtually untenable for me to be anything but integrated in my online activities.


I feel the same. In fact, I find that even when someone fiercely disagrees with me online, when it's a someone who has a name and a face - someone who's blog I have read or someone who I know in my everyday life - it makes the exchange more intimate. It might also be more painful to go through as well, but that's the risk of vulnerability.

Anonymous comments often feel more abstract, even if they are filled with wonderful reflections. The same goes for anonymously run blogs, especially if those blogs rarely or never delve into the author's personal life. I have actually read a few blogs by people who leave no particular identity traces in their blog profiles, but who are so expressive and intimate in their writing content that it doesn't matter. However, the more intellectual, philosophical or political blogs run anonymously just aren't as compelling to me, and I sometimes wonder what an author's motivations are to keep their identity hidden.

Saying all of this, I also feel that for people who are in dangerous territories - like in extremely oppressive countries or someone writing about abusive relationships while trying to get out of one - anonymity is quite appropriate.

So, overall, what interested me about both of the posts I linked to is a sense of examining one's motivations for online activity, and trying to apply the wisdom of our spiritual lives to whatever we are doing here.

12 comments:

NellaLou said...

There are other reasons for lowering one's personal profile and becoming pseudonymous. That's what I have done in the past couple of years. I used to keep my full name, location and some other personal information with my blogs but I found that it caused me a lot of personal problems with people who disagreed with my opinion. I'm not talking just standard internet trolling but stalking type behavior. In one instance it became so obsessive and vitriolic that I feared for my safety and the safety of some of my acquaintances. Some people don't like women to have an opinion and if they do they don't like it expressed even on their own blogs which said trolls are not in any way obliged to visit.

Your point about those various connections that "do nothing but stir up emotional reactions" is a good one. There's an almost addictive quality to going for the lulz-that is deliberately seeking out that which offends one's self and reacting outrageously. It gives a petty power trip for the moments it takes to sneer and deride but that fades pretty quickly. I know because I've indulged that upon occasion in the past.

There are good reasons to write from a polemical standpoint sometimes. Those tend to relate to challenges to entrenched social power.

But its a fine balance to remain issue oriented while engaging in polemics and not just wallowing in schadenfreude, attempts at character assassination, tunnel vision by way of stereotyping or just sociopathically going for those lulz moments.

I'm still working on refining this within myself. I find it starts with a certain amount of emotional restraint and examination before touching a keyboard to express a reaction.

The Moment of Peace said...

Nathan, sorry to be spamming to your blog but I don't have an email address for you. I'm trying to start a new world movement for the better called "The Moment of Peace". My goal is to get 1 million people involved in an hour of Mindful Silence.

You can read more about it here.

http://www.themomentofpeace.com/

If you can write about it on your blog and promote that other bloggers do the same, I'm trying to spread the word.

I'd sincerely appreciate your help in this cause.

Metta,
Dean 'Jagaro' Crabb

Nathan said...

NellaLou,

Yeah, I think there are various degrees of anonymity. I have a fair amount of basic info. about myself online, but I don't use my full name here - nor have a linking e-mail address. But people can probably find that info fairly easily all the same, given how interlinked my blog and things like Facebook are.

When commenting on a few political/social issue blogs, I have chosen to use my first name, but not link to this blog or anything else. But those cases have been exceptions, and in one case in particular, it was done after another commenter went off on my "bringing that Buddhist compassion bullshit" onto a blog where anything religious or spiritual was treated with great hostility.

I soon stopped commenting and reading there all together because it made no sense to me to keep going back to a place where my approach to things was held with such disdain.


Dean,

I'll check it out soon.

Nathan

Petteri Sulonen said...

I've been doing some hard thinking about this whole here emotional reaction thing lately. Might be a whole blog post in it even, we'll see. I have a volatile temperament and pick up and reflect emotional affects very easily, and produce my own too, and it's complex territory. It'd be awesome if you could just turn on the metta, karuna, upekkha, and mudita at the drop of a hat, but it don't work that way, which means that if you try, you most often just end up repressing the affect. That doesn't work, at least not for me; it all comes out in the wash.

The thing is, there's also a particular kind of truth about those emotional affects, reactions, and responses. They don't come from nowhere. They mean something. I think a big part of our social problems comes from turning away from that truth, because it's often unpalatable: I'm reacting like someone I don't want to be, or someone else is reacting like someone I don't want them to be, so both of us try to pretend to be whoever it is we want to be. And that just gets all of us deeper into the woods.

I guess I'm looking for some way of going at right angles to all of this: trying to find a way of accepting and expressing the truth of those emotions, even if it's unpleasant, unwanted, and unpalatable, while trying to avoid the destructive action that often comes from them. But how do you express anger, frustration, or pique without being destructive about it and causing more of the same in other people? Is it even possible? If not, are we doomed to cutting off that channel of communication and trying to work it all out in our own little bubbles?

Anyway, I'm trying. And I fall down a lot. And I think these degrees of anonymity, trust, and intimacy has something to do with the solution.

Nathan said...

Petteri,

I think I have been weaving in and out of that territory for a good 3 or 4 years now, ever since an ex-girlfriend and a few others told me they were "concerned" about the ways I dealt with anger and volatile emotions. They were quite right to point out what I was mostly doing - repressing awhile, avoiding, and then blowing was screwed up.

I tend to be very wary of claims from some Buddhists that any anger is destructive and should be avoided. That sounds like a trap to me, and even if it's ultimately correct, it seems to be leading lots of people into trouble. In fact, there have been some issues in my own sangha in recent months that are starting to force some of us to face our collective avoidance of conflict. It's been an interesting experience - and I can feel my old habits trying to take over again.

"The thing is, there's also a particular kind of truth about those emotional affects, reactions, and responses." This is another important point because I think what tends to happen for a lot of us practicing is a quick judgment that feeling angry or volatile is "bad" and needs to be "dealt with" somehow. The dropping off of judgment, or letting it drop off, while doing zazen suddenly turns into efforts to create instant peace. I have done that myself many times, and mostly, it feels like a bypassing - instead of a genuine expression of peace.

Petteri Sulonen said...

I think you've hit on something very significant here. Let me run with it for a bit.

Anger is destructive. Therefore, it should be avoided.

Logical. Makes sense. And... true.

But incomplete.

Anger can be avoided, a lot of the time. Thing is, when it is, the question never comes up. Whenever the question comes up, anger has not been avoided: you've already stumbled. The anger is there.

At that point, trying to avoid it is too late, and will very likely just slide into repression and avoidance, which is unskilful behavior, just as much if not more so as throwing a temper tantrum.

So then, the question becomes, what to do with that anger? It's one of those red-hot iron balls stuck in your throat. Swallow it, and it'll burn you up inside; try to cough it out, and it'll burn up your throat and somebody else. You have a palette of more or less unattractive choices. Some are clearly more destructive than others, and I'm not at all certain that the preferred "Buddhist way" of walking away and dedicating your next zazen to whoever pissed you off is the least destructive solution.

Perhaps it's better to crack heads and get it over with, and then make up, maybe. That way there's resolution, and a chance for the karma to mature, rather than burying it and breeding more that way.

Thanks for bringing this up.

Elle ॐ said...

This is the first time (I think) I comment here so... hello. :)

In my particular I don't really feel the urge to present myself as "real" to others; and I don't expect the same from others. I respect others intimacies and the rights they have (as well as me) to gradually/naturally open themselves, and to choose to whom they'd do it. I'm not really fond to forced situations and to open myself completely to strangers feels just like that.

This of course had caused some of apparently 'distrust/prejudice' (which I careless) about me sometimes, which I call just a sheer curiosity and not a particular interest in knowing 'me'. But that works as a good filter for me, the people who really are "attune" with me, eventually make a more personal interaction and vise versa.

In short, I guess that's depends on what each of us expect from all of these interactions. AND the nature of our ego it's to express it-self trough different personas, and at the same time others are projections of our-selves. And... exactly what is wrong with it?; attachment perhaps?, and attachment to what?.

Anyways... this http://goo.gl/hYEie is sort of related (to this subject) buzz of mine I posted a while ago.

Nathan said...

Hi Elle,

I'd say it's been a gradual process for me around working with the stuff I'm talking about in terms anonymity/openness. To me, on of the most important things is to pay attention to motivations and intentions. Even though I share a lot on my blog, there are plenty of things I choose to not write about - or wait to write about until I feel more able to express something with a bit of clarity.

I have a few friends that use Facebook and other social media to share what seems to be every up and down during the day - something I'll never do, and in fact, kind of wonder about in terms of it's skillfulness.

And yes, it's interesting about expectations. I know the one bottom line expectation I have that sometimes gets me in trouble is around basic respect. Given how much attention I offer to leaving comments and having dialogue where I'm not sliding into nasty personal attacks and obnoxious sarcasm - I sometimes find it challenging to accept when I receive those kind of responses. Even though I can offer a critical view of such behavior, it's also the case that I have to pay attention to the "wanting basic respect as a person" narrative as well. That's my piece to be responsible for.

Nathan said...

Petteri

"So then, the question becomes, what to do with that anger? It's one of those red-hot iron balls stuck in your throat. Swallow it, and it'll burn you up inside; try to cough it out, and it'll burn up your throat and somebody else. You have a palette of more or less unattractive choices. Some are clearly more destructive than others, and I'm not at all certain that the preferred "Buddhist way" of walking away and dedicating your next zazen to whoever pissed you off is the least destructive solution.

Perhaps it's better to crack heads and get it over with, and then make up, maybe. That way there's resolution, and a chance for the karma to mature, rather than burying it and breeding more that way."

I have had a few experiences where just getting things out on the table was essential. It seems the major reason why those situations eventually proved beneficial was that each party involved didn't go down the personalized attack route. One work meeting at my previous job, for example, was pretty loud and full of shared frustration, but people stuck with it long enough to burn through some old issues.

I'd say the dedicated zazen path can be very skillful if you have the intention to go back later and face what needs to be faced with the other person/people.

What I'm thinking right now is a piece of all of this is learning how to read situations, so that you can determine whether a direct approach or an indirect approach (like doing zazen or talking a walk in the woods) is most called for.

Petteri Sulonen said...

"What I'm thinking right now is a piece of all of this is learning how to read situations, so that you can determine whether a direct approach or an indirect approach (like doing zazen or talking a walk in the woods) is most called for."

Yes, I agree. It's all situational. A pattern of going for the jugular every time is certainly wrong. But then so is a pattern of always walking away from confrontation.

Elle ॐ said...

We shouldn't take emotions so seriously. ;)

http://youtu.be/srnFf6gTkHw

Robin said...

One lesson I learned very early in my online life, which began about 15 years ago, is how many people are constrained in their unkind actions by public censure. Once the fear of immediate (or any) retaliation is removed, some of us become a mass of violence, acting with no regard whatsoever for others, and junking any pretence of civility or common courtesy.

As I gained experience, participating in chats and newsgroups and writing a paid online column, I learned that this "spring break" cyber-culture is particularly freeing to those of us who have bona fide, diagnosable mental disorders; I've run into a few of those as well. But uncivil behaviour from the otherwise "normal" remains the enduring insight into the human condition. (My own as well; on a bad day, I've also been known to post speech that wasn't "right", in the Buddhist sense.)

Bottom line: cyberspace is space nonetheless. Violence isn't OK here, either.

Thoughtful, useful post, Nathan!

Robin
Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit (blog)