January 12, 2012


I apologize to the members who were set to be featured the rest of this week. Given recent events, I felt it was important to write this post, and have moved today and tomorrow's originally scheduled posts to the beginning of next week...

I can be extremely passionate about issues - just ask my friends. I am also quite opinionated - just ask my husband. I believe you can be passionate and have strong opinions AND be respectful of others.

The Mom Pledge advocates healthy dialogue on key parenting issues. Asserts that we can and should share and learn from each other. But it often seems people have lost sight of what it truly means to "debate" a topic.

Here's a definition of that word from Dictionary.com:

  1. a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints
  2. a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers.
  3. deliberation; consideration.
  4. Archaic . strife; contention.

Unfortunately, today many people treat a debate as:

  • a fight to be won or lost
  • a chance to prove they are right and someone else is wrong
  • a forum to attack or slander anyone whose beliefs are different from their own
  • an attempt to silence those who do not agree with them

When a person engages in this type of behavior - SHE SHUTS COMMUNICATION DOWN ENTIRELY. Essentially, she takes away her right to be heard. That's her loss. But, she also infringes on the rights of others in the process. And that is not OK.

We all have opinions and the right - often the need - to share them. How we do so makes all the difference. As one mom wrote on our Facebook page, "It's so nice to see people use terms like 'what worked for us was...' or 'maybe you could try this...' as opposed to 'absolutely not!" and 'I would never...'"

Exactly. And those latter two examples are tame compared to what many of us see.

We should strive to be mindful of the words we use, as well as the impact they can have. And, as hard as it may be, it's best to keep emotions out of a debate. Not take things personally. Even when you are being attacked it is rarely - if ever - about you.

A respectful debate also relies on the participants being open to opinions different from their own. I have seen people share their opinions in what I felt was a respectful manner. They clearly thought about the words they used carefully, but still received backlash. The other participants were not willing to accept other points of view.

Some people are simply coming from a defensive or aggressive place. They bring their own issues into the debate. Or join in looking to argue. Some view any opinion different from their own as an affront. There's nothing you can do about these things. YOU CAN ONLY CONTROL YOUR OWN BEHAVIOR. If you feel yourself becoming defensive or emotional in response to these behaviors, take a deep breath.

Think about whether or not it is beneficial to continue the debate. If you are becoming angry and want to lash out, connect privately with a close friend instead. Or talk with your partner. Get off the computer and engage in an activity you enjoy. Don't go back to the debate in progress or check in once it is over to read the comments.

Online debates are often complicated by the fact that most or all of the participants are strangers. If you hurt or offend a friend, especially if it was inadvertent, you would likely call or email her and apologize. Talk it out. With the anonymity of the internet, some people don't feel the need to do so.

There are also those who just don't care who they offend. When you encounter a person who is clearly "in it to win it" or is looking to inflame, just step away. They only have power if you give it to them. There are no winners in a situation like that. Tempers will flare. Feelings will be hurt. And things will go from bad to worse in very short order.

We've all seen it. Our goal is to rise above it. And we can. I'm not going to tell you it is easy. Usually it is not. I know well. I have not always chosen the best path. I get emotional, but I always feel better when I step away rather than attempt to engage.

Of course, sometimes you have no interest in engaging in a debate over a parenting choice you have made for your family. It wasn't your intent, yet you find yourself drawn into one unwillingly. What do you do? Thank people for sharing their own opinions, but refuse to get sucked into a point-counterpoint situation.

Above all, insist that your commenters be respectful of you and one another. Your blog and your Facebook page, where these situations often occur, are YOUR space. You have every right to expect certain behavior from those who visit. And to delete or ban those who refuse to play nice. Caught in a debate on someone else's site that has gotten out of control? Click away and go on with your day.

This week has been very up and down for me. I was so discouraged by the behavior I saw on Facebook earlier, I went to bed with tears in my eyes, convinced all the work I am doing is for naught. 

Then an amazing thing happened. A voice began to rise across the internet. A strong voice. A beautiful voice. A unified voice. "Enough," it said. "No more. We deserve better and we are going to demand it.

The Mom Pledge has gained many new followers in the past few days. A positive situation that resulted from several negative ones. Our goals are important. Our work is worthwhile. Our message is spreading. And it is an awesome thing.

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