This is asking a lot. I know that. Thank you very much in advance for just reading this. Feedback beyond that will be much appreciated, particularly for folks with experience with this somewhat nuanced definition of “dialogue.”
I’m working on transfering my abuse website from the old, static html version to a new whiz-bang blog version, and to create in that space a blog on the topic of abuse. Most of the technical part of that is done, and now comes the more subtle part — developing the mission/purpose/philosophy of the blog. The new blog will be placed at the location of the existing web-site, so it’ll get traffic almost instantly anyhow (about 50-70 hits per day). The idea I’ve been functioning under has been just to invite friends from the abuse community to network within that and invite people to come and participate, but I think there’s a need to have something a little more to go on that will distinguish this from other blogs and websites on the subject to give people a reason to come to it.
My abuse website is one of the oldest on the web (maybe the oldest). October marks fifteen years that it’s been out there, and I’d like to have the new version ready to go then — and to do some press releases to get the word out that it’s there in the interim. So there’s a bit of a time crunch going on, and I’d like to have something substantial to show for the new roll-out.
Most of the reviews of my site have emphasized the lists of questions to help people determine if they’re involved in abusive relationships, and the personal stories shared there. There hasn’t been a new story submitted in quite a few years, but they’re all still there, and are probably easier to get to on the new version than they were in the old.
One of the things that’s less than usual about my site is my philosophy. I do not accept that the only form of abuse is male->female abuse. I do not accept “once and abuser, always an abuser.” I’m more interested in helping people learn how to live abuse-free than in making political points or handing people “I’m a victim” cards to justify their bad behavior.
Another thing that I’d like to bring to a blog is the idea of dialogue, rather than the discussion, debate and diatribe that are more commonly found on internet forums.
So, here’s some stuff I’ve come up with that I fervently request input on. The top two sets I’ve come up with just now, and the bottom set is taken from the Abuse-free mail list rules. At this point, it’s largely about principles, rather than the rules that will be based on them. I recognize that the principles of a mail-list aren’t going to work in a blog setting, but some input on how to translate them will be better than “that won’t work.”
Principles of Dialogue
I. Exploration — The purpose of a dialogue is not to solve a problem. It is to build a rich and more complete understanding of the situation in which the problem has developed or exists. Everyone is allowed to place their preliminary understandings of the topic in abeyance while they consider new information. Everyone is allowed to change their minds zero or more times. Discussion, debate, and diatribe are different conversational modalities which have value, but which are not dialogue.
II. Equality and Diversity — Everyone has a unique voice, a unique perspective, and a unique set of experiences, each of which has positive value in a dialogue. Everyone speaks only for themselves. While everyone retains a right to speak or to remain silent, dialogue is harmed when individual voices are withheld and when individual voices dominate.
III. Trust and Integrity — For every voice to be included in a dialogue, participants must have the courage to share their voice, perspective and experience relevant to the topic, and the courage to hear and listen to the voices, perspectives and experiences of others, even when doing so is difficult or painful. The responsibility for building and maintaining the safety necessary for the dialogue belongs to all participants.
IV. Respectful Disagreement — False consensus or agreement violates the concept of dialogue. Disagreement is a valuable opportunity to more deeply explore the topic which must not be squandered. Clashing perspectives can produce strong feelings which belong to the person feeling them. Processing those feelings in a safe and respectful manner is the responsibility of the person feeling them.
V. Patience and Tolerance — No one is perfect, and no one is capable of perfectly understanding a situation or perfectly expressing an idea. Communication is an imperfect process no matter what. Perfection can be pursued, but can not be expected of others or selves. Everyone is allowed multiple attempts to say, hear and think about an idea.
Basic Abuse Paradigm
I. Abuse is any actions, words or attitudes which hurt, threaten or humiliate others. Abusive patterns of behavior are designed to gain or maintain power and control over another.
II. Abuse is a choice made by human beings. Human beings have demographic characteristics such as gender/sex, age, skin color, ethnicity, class, education, and opinions having to do with politics, religion, philosophy, and tastes having to do with arts, food, and other things. These demographic characteristics, opinions and tastes my impact their choices to abuse or not, and may impact how they process abusive behavior or other hurts, but they do not cause them to abuse or be abused, nor do they stop them from abusing or protect them from being abused.
III. Abuse comes in many varieties, both in terms of the tactics chosen, and in terms of the demographic variables at play. No one is an expert in all of these varieties. Talking about one variety at length, or focusing exclusively on it is acceptable. Pretending that it is the only kind of abuse, or the only kind that matters, or the most important kind is deprecated.
Principles of Abuse Recovery
I. We are all responsible for the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. None of us are responsible for the choices made by others. Being responsible for a bad choice includes admitting what was done openly, admitting that it was a choice, making amends as possible, and taking steps to see to it that this bad choice will not happen again. This is called accountability.
II. Abuse tactics come in many styles and intensities. Abuse is always a choice, and it is always wrong. Anybody can abuse, and far too many do.
III. Recovery is something each of us has to do for ourselves. Each of us comes from a different place, each of us faces a different challenge, and each of us has a different set of strengths and weaknesses. And we all have different understandings of things. None of us is capable of healing for another, or doing for others what they won’t do for themselves. Experts and therapists and programs and groups and friends and family members can be helpful in recovery, but our successes and our failures will be determined solely by our choices.
We are each responsible for our own healing, thoughts, feelings, behaviors and triggers. Nobody can make us feel, think or do anything. Our triggers and our reactions to them can give us some very important insights into ourselves and where we have opportunities to learn, heal and grow. It isn’t fair that we have the responsibility for our own healing from abuse we may have experienced at the hands of others, but we are the only ones who can heal ourselves, and life’s not always fair.
IV. Anonymity is crucial for some people participating in an abuse recovery environment. For others, it is less important. Confidentiality in the routine participation in an abuse recovery environment is essential. Maintaining confidentiality and anonymity is a function of respect, safety and trust, rather than secrecy, shame or fear.
V. Denial isn’t de long river in Egypt. It’s a coping skill that enables people to survive in intolerable circumstances. Denial tactics include minimizing abuse, rationalizing to make the abuse something other than abuse, and justifying the abuse (usually by blaming the victim). Everybody is in denial about something or the other, to some degree. Honesty and reality are the antidotes to denial. Denial which is not addressed will result in more abuse of increasing intensity.
VI. Abuse has very little to do with anger, and everything to do with power and control. People who are abusive do not have problems controlling their anger — they have a need to have power and control over others. Learning to live abuse-free includes learning how to give up that need to control others and learning how to control one’s own behavior.
VII. Abuse is supported by beliefs, values, and attitudes. The social messages we receive from friends, family, church, media, and other places can support those beliefs even when the sources of those messages do not intend to support abusive behavior. Learning to live abuse-free includes exploring those beliefs, values and attitudes and, sometimes, adjusting the meaning of those beliefs and how we see the world around us.
VIII. Abuse which is hidden is abuse which will happen again. Silence in response to abuse perpetuates the abuse. As the old recovery saying goes, we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. Another defines insanity as doing the same thing and expecting to get a different result. If nothing changes, nothing changes.
Principles of Netiquette
IX. Be kind to your bandwidth. Bandwidth is a precious commodity on the net. No matter how we try, two packets of data can not share the space required by one. Minimizing the amount of unnecessary data being sent across the net will help improve performance for everybody.
X. Be kind to your fellow list members. We all have limited time, and some may have limited ability to receive and store e-mail. We all also have feelings, and good days and bad days, and strong points and weak points, and things we care about deeply and things we like and don’t like. Treating all people with respect is an important part of living abuse-free.
XI. Be kind to your friendly list-owner. He has some rather large projects that need his attention besides this list.