Sunday, September 20, 2009

Commenting on Blog Posts as a Dharma Practice

I have been making a lot of comments on blog posts today. I also have really gotten into reading the comments made on posts as well, finding so much to learn in the dialogues that occur. Some people are generous with kind words and support. Others are very generous with sharing what they have learned through their practice. Still others are full of scholarly information that help set straight what has been presented. And then there is the conflict, which is all over the board.

There have been some amazing debates filled with intelligent point/counterpoint positions that, when viewed by the rest of us, are aids to enhancing our understanding and experience of the dharma. There are also other posts that I've seen quickly fill up with nastiness, brutal personal attacks and rage-filled tirades. As Jack over at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt said to me recently, "I don't agree with the removal of the worst (and sometimes) most honest comments. We learn from them and we learn to argue better or at least to be more accepting of others."

So, I have come to believe that commenting on blogs is a dharma practice. Actually, this isn't too much of a leap for me because I try to see everything in this way. Dharma practice isn't just the sitting and chanting I did this morning with my zen community, or the sitting and chanting I do before bed almost every night. It's every moment, even though for most of us, myself included, there's a lot of forgetting and getting swept up in the current samsara.

I have written about the subject of "digital practice" before - (Online Practice?). However, I really have been noticing the ways in which commenting on posts bring out the best and worst in us.

Here are a few issues that fall on the "worst" side, as well as some thoughts and questions about each. I'd like to think that even though I am focusing on online commenting, this could also apply in certain ways to all speech, and how we relate to others in our "in the flesh" lives.

1. Loudly angry, bordering on rage-filled comments - you know the ones. They're filled with cussing, capital letters, broad accusations, and sometimes personal attacks. Now, I don't really think there is a clear line that can be drawn between comments that have some justifiable anger in them, and those which are simply inflammatory. I like to cuss now and then in my posts, for example, and feel it's not really so much about cussing as it is about intent, and how the other might read the comment. I think it's important to get a sense of the writer first, by reading some of their posts, and seeing how they respond to others' comments. Some people enjoy fiery banter, and seem to have no trouble with a bit of anger or intellectual scathing for example. Others don't handle it so well. Which leads me to number two.

2. Defensive responses to comments on your own post - I think all of us have certain issues that might prompt a defensive response. I know I have had a few during the months I've been blogging. And clearly, on a basic level, defensiveness is an easy pointer to the attachment and clinging that we're all working with in our lives. However, beyond that, think of all the energy drain that comes from back and forth arguments that stem from defensive posturing on the part of the blogger who made the post.

Now, I'm not talking about clarifying misinterpretations here. I'm talking about the "how dare you question my view" type of energy. Having been in a few of these pissing matches myself, I have started the practice of asking the following question concerning my own posts: "What is the goal or intent of your comment here?" This really has seemed to help slow me down, and see when I'm just wanting to one up someone who said something snarky or disagreeable to me.

In addition, I have also been using this question when responding on others' blogs, so as not to add any more muck to the pond. (Of course, no matter what one does, there will be muck, but it's worth the effort to try and reduce it.)

3. Rapid Fire Responses - the speed of the internet allows people all over the world to make comments to each other other in a matter of seconds. This is pretty cool, but also can be dangerous. How often have you gotten in trouble in your "in the flesh" life by saying something you didn't think through first? It's really no different online, and unlike in person, where your body language and relationship with the person can inform what's being said, online it's only words, so the languaging is very important. what I find interesting is that an initial reaction to a post can actually be quite fleeting. You might get triggered by a phrase, sentence, or paragraph, and then later look back and see that you actually really like what the post has to say. Or you might simply misread something because you were multitasking at work. There are endless possibilities, but if you respond based on that initial reaction, then you have the extra work of apologizing or re-framing your comments at a later time. And sure, there's value in cleaning up one's messes, but I'd rather make fewer messes in the first place.

4. Humor that falls flat and causes confused or conflictual responses - I really think humor is tricky online. I'll throw a few lines or phrases I think are funny in my posts, but I generally delete as many "funny" lines as I end up posting. Those who are able to be consistently funny are gifts to us all. And if you can't laugh at your practice and at Buddhism in general sometimes, then I think you're in trouble. However, when it comes to commenting on others' blogs, I think it's helpful to ask yourself if the other person might think what you want to say is funny. Sometimes, it's obvious and spontaneous and you don't have to think about it much. Other times, it isn't so clear. I know I have used humor on occasion to either get attention or to shift attention away from things I find uncomfortable. These seem to be the exact places where trouble arises because the humor is self-focused, and not about providing joy and laughter to those around you.

How does one fully live the Buddha Way as a householder in the 21st century? How does one move from having a practice to being the practice in every moment? These are a few of the questions I'm most interested in these days. And if the practice is to truly include on-line experiences, then I really think it's important to give some thought as to how these two questions might apply. This is not to say we should hesitate and ponder endlessly about every comment we make online. It's more about paying closer attention to what we are doing, no matter where that action is taking place.


Unknown said...

I agree completely with the concept of blogging and commenting on blogs as a Dharma practice. One of the reasons that I started reading, commenting and blogging myself was to connect with Buddhists and learn from them.

I fall into everyone one of those categories you listed at one point or another (hopefully not the first one but I'm sure I have).

I would like to add one more difficulty in blogging and commenting that ties into the "Rapid Fire" response. Its the period of ruminating that exists between comment and response.

I view my blog and my comments on other posts as part of (or extension of) a greater conversation. I like to talk - not write - nor preach. So I avoid over-editing in my correspondance. This leads to a very honest and hopefully real picture of me, my views and my practice but it seems to lead to many misunderstandings.

It reminds me of a quote from "Jerry Maquire" (sorry about this) - "You think that we are arguing but I think we are finally really talking" - or something like that.

Besides, I'm tired of people saying that they aren't nice enough to be buddhists or that being buddhists means that they will have to be constantly patient and never get mad.

Buddhist get mad and can be assholes. We just try to learn from it (or at least we should).


Algernon said...

This is a wonderful post, and yes, any post made in a public place is an opportunity to practice beneficial and mindful speech, in the manner of a bodhisattva.

The local newspaper links to a website called Topix, allowing any reader on the web to post comments about news articles and editorials. Some of the comments there are pretty astonishing. Sometimes the most beneficial speech of all is to give the comment a pass...

Nathan said...

Hi Jack,

I totally agree with the over-editing issue. It's important to be as authentic as possible, and sometimes that needs to include some messiness.

Oh, and I think there's a difference between nice and kind. Nice is often skirting around everything in order to avoid conflict. Kind is remembering that we are all humans in the end, who can be hurt greatly by excessively nasty, off the cuff comments.


spldbch said...

I certainly appreciate your comments on my blog -- they are insightful and always give me something to think about. I like that you pick up on the less obvious things -- you often draw my attention to things I've missed.

Unknown said...

@ Nathan - *bow* Indeed the difference is noted. Thanks.

Barry said...

I have encouraged comments on Ox Herding that address the topic of the post, even when the comments are rough around the edges, or rough around the center.

And I draw the line whenever people comment on me, the poster. These posts are deleted (a total of 4 comments over 300+ posts).

And I'm moving toward eliminating comments altogether. I put a lot of effort into each post, although it's probably hard to tell this. Whenever someone comments, I feel an obligation to respond - they've taken the time, and so must I. However, my participation in the ongoing commentary can sometimes take as much time as the original post - time that I frequently don't have to offer. I haven't made up my mind on this, yet...

dragonfly said...

Wonderful post and discussion. Along the lines of what you've raised here, something I find useful about commenting online is that it helps me work on something I have difficulty with in face-to-face communication: taking the time to breathe and sit with my reactions before formulating a response. Face to face with someone, I often feel the need to react quickly and I forget to take the time to think before speaking (even though I know that time is available to me). This can result in miscommunication or defensiveness/ anger being expressed when I would perhaps have chosen not to do so had I taken more time. Recently, I've been practicing with online comments that "push my buttons". I've been experimenting with not responding right away to anything that provokes a strong emotional reaction. If I still want to, I come back later and respond. I hope that by becoming more aware of my emotions and reactions through this process, I will be more likely to take a breath before expressing myself verbally as well. I don't know yet if it's working, but I think it helps.

Nathan said...

Hi Barry,

I can definitely understand where you are coming from, and very much agree that it's only respectful to respond to comments made on your posts - especially if the writer clearly put some thought into them. I've also been very fortunate to have received almost completely kind and/or respectful comments on my blog. Even most who have disagreed with me have done so in a way that we can have a dialogue - which is enjoyable and often a learning opportunity. And yes, responding well takes time, so I know for myself, I have sometimes decided not to leave a comment on a post I liked because I didn't want to create extra work for the blogger. Or have chosen to just leave a "Great post!" type comment, to show support without needing a reply.