Civility, Responsibility, and Discourse for the Greater Good

You’ll notice that my blog has lain quiet for a time. Here is why.

Week before last I composed two posts, each about a reading celebration. I was about to put up the first, celebrating my professional learning community and highlighting in part the benefits of Twitter for teachers.

Then something happened on social media. Some have called it a dust-up. Some named it a controversy, some a flap, some a witch hunt. Some called it simply unfortunate.

I found it appalling. It wasn’t the thing, an answer in an interview which started it that was itself appalling, but it was how people handled themselves in what could have been a discourse about improving ourselves as people.

I’ve spent the last several days listening, reading, expressing my own concerns, and really trying to understand how something as destructive as this set of interactions could even come about. I’ve gathered as many of the articles I’ve read on all sides of this picture as I could, beginning with the original interview, if you want to read about it. There are many more besides these. Some are long. Some contain strong language. If you do read, please read all of the sides yourself before coming to your own conclusion. I believe that seeing only one side of a huge, complex picture is what started the whole thing.

I provide links to all the pieces because it’s way too complicated to describe in this post, in this place. For awhile I just didn’t even know if I could say anything, but that felt irresponsible.

Because you know that I always come down on the side of decency. And decency can include anger, and frustration. It does not include hateful comments. Threats. I can’t even begin to comprehend how that figures into any decent discourse. But these happen to be a reality on the dark side of social media, especially when women express their opinions. This is what I’m learning. I write historical fiction. Nonfiction. I work to celebrate putting the right books in the hands of young people, books that speak to them, and I celebrate that. I read widely. I do, now more than ever.

These other spheres, these dark ones that I encountered, are not my spheres normally. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Many people, even those with the best of intentions, got loud and angry on Twitter. Some got nasty. Some expected the same level of outrage from every person they engaged with and were dismissive when that wasn’t the case. Some engaged, then deleted engagement, as if it didn’t exist.

In the end, a white male YA author was called sexist and in the midst of a firestorm of exchanges, left social media at the beginning of his book tour for a brand-new release. And a bunch of people are upset for a wide variety of reasons. Worst of all, the conversation, an important one, got shut down. Now I really want to understand how I fit into this picture.

I do know this, at least, after more than a week of soul-searching, of reading, of conversing with others in the kidlit community and trying to come to grips with all of it:

When I enter the conversation, especially on social media, when I share my voice and my opinion, I have a certain responsibility.

I need to try to understand all the sides of the conversation. But I also need to stick to reasoned, respectful exchange (even, I believe, if the exchange has not been respectful up to now).

This can include outrage. It mustn’t shut others down. It mustn’t belittle or mock. Or threaten. It can’t be snarky or flippant when the stakes are high.

This isn’t about Andrew Smith, then, about whether he’s sexist or not, though it is about sexism. As far as I’m concerned, once anyone said anything at all about his family, and I understand they did, all rules of reasoned discourse flew out the window, and if he felt the need to shut everything down, no longer engaging , it was his right. Same goes for women who were threatened with physical harm for expressing their opinions, though their concern is that this is exactly how others shut them up. That’s just plain wrong too. I’m working to understand how that fits into my world view, and I still don’t comprehend it, so that is for a different set of thoughts in a different time.

At the end of the day, here is what it comes down to for me. I want to be a force for positive change (maybe you already know that about me).

Social media can be an amazing tool to advance that aim. I learn and grow every day from listening, from sharing ideas, opinions and questions. I don’t always agree, but I can certainly thoughtfully work toward understanding, and work to help others to understand me and my views.

This is magical and powerful. As teachers, it’s also what we want our students to learn and apply to their own lives out in this world of instantaneous, sometimes anonymous interactions.

So as teacher, reader, writer, mother, daughter, friend, citizen, I’m going to leave you with this.

The Internet is a public place. In our country we have the freedom to use it. Use it, my friends. But use it with respect. Engage in discourse with reason. Learn things. Share outrage if you are outraged. If you care at all about the outcome of the discourse you’re engaged in sharing, though, think before you dash off your 140 characters. Your reason could mean a change for the better. I certainly hope mine can.

Link to the original interview is here:

Other voices:

Vice’s response:

And today, there’s also this:

About vst3in

I am a writer, avid reader, birder, food preserver, and retired school library lady. I love colors and textures looking for them in the world around me. I'm working on a historical novel and reading lots of books for young people. I'm working to stay strong into my senior years, and I sail with my husband. This blog contains thoughts about all these things.
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