Friday, November 30, 2012

Polyamory 101: Jealousy


I'd been meaning to write some Poly101 articles for the blog and I believe it's only fitting that I start with Jealousy. Anyone who has attended just a small number of poly forums and discussion groups would tell you Jealousy is the first concern folks have when starting their polyamorous adventures. It has the potential for being a lengthy narrative so I'm going to try to keep it as succinct and practical as I can in my own pleasantly assertive way.

I'd like to begin by making a distinction between two terms: envy and jealousy.

Envy is the emotion felt when you covet what somebody else has and you want it for your own; jealousy reflects the fear of somebody taking away something you already own.

Anyone can experience envy for a relationship, a possession, an experience, or a person. At its core, envy is want, desire, and passion. We want for ourselves and we're envious of others.

Jealousy, on the other hand, is the an emotional response to potentially losing something we own. At its core, jealousy is fear. We're afraid to hurt and to be wounded by others.

The moment that a couple chooses to identify as polyamorous, it's intrinsically possible to think outside of the confines of a relationship being between just two people. You want or she wants, but regardless, opening up permits envy to be acknowledged and acted upon.

Further, the moment that a relationship opens up it's instantly vulnerable; with the promise of exclusivity removed, Polyamory risks jealousy and insecurity.

People who identify as Polyamorous are not superhuman. They experience envy and jealousy in the same way that anyone else might. Instead, how the polyamorous examine and exploit their emotional responses may be what separates them from others.

Now please don't take offense if I'm to assert that a traditional Western view would look at envy and jealousy as potentially negative emotions capable of painfully-aggressive acts; that Western thinking might encourage these emotions be suppressed, ignored, or morally shamed as to avoid discomfort, volatility, and violence; and that the Western practice of marriage might be seen as a control to insure accord in a civil society. Here, I'm obviously passing along my own value judgement on marriage.

Yet if you were to buy-in to my argument that the structure of traditional marriage exists to avoid these complex emotions rather than confront them, then you'd see the difference I'm trying to articulate.

Polyamorous folks engage in a lifestyle where they are forced to contend with these raw, base emotions all the time. In general, those who participate in polyamory engage in a social order that puts them at greater risk of exposure to envy and jealousy than monogamy. How they confront their emotions, rationalize their actions, and deal with their responses, is what separates the Polyamorous.

I'm often chided for calling Polyamory "Relationship Models for Critical Thinkers" because it denotes a tinge of arrogance or elitism that many find distasteful and I won't argue with that, but I think "critical thinking" adequately describes what I find to be true in my community.

Instead of reacting to want and fear, Polyamorous peeps in my circle like to examine their emotional responses spurred on by envy and jealousy. In my circle, it'd be unconscionable for a partner to fly off the handle in a jealous rage - I'd expect a calm invitation to talk, have tea, and explore those responses so that all parties could find a mutual resolution; in my circle, envy and jealousy are something to be puzzled out to best understand your nature, and to improve upon your responses over time.

Envy and jealousy are real emotions. Certainly they're difficult to rationalize, but they cannot be dismissed or suppressed for very long without doing long-term damage to an individual. Shoving these feelings into a box, or back onto a partner as "their issue" and "they're just going to have to get over it", isn't loving, caring, or consensual. Ignorance and suppression don't deal with the core problems of want and fear. Instead, Polyamorous seek resolution to these emotions through puzzling them out and through negotiation, to set expectations for how all parties within a relationship will get their needs met.

In short, I believe the Polyamored tend to regard envy and jealousy constructively: as means to understand who they are, how they respond to circumstances and emotions in relationships, and how to improve their skillset. This trait gives them a coping mechanism to contend with the relative insecurity they must contend with in comparison to traditional concepts of Western monogamy.

S1m0n
(Russell)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Balancing Power in Hierarchical Polyamory

My wife and I observe a flavor of Polyamory called hierarchical poly.

In hierarchical polyamory, there is the recognition of a primary relationship.

It's referred to as primary because it receives conscious privilege over other relationships that I might have, where hard decisions may eventually defer to the needs of the primary relationship.

For me, primary privilege exists because:

1. My wife and I are married - there's a legal, familial, and societal commitment there that can't easily be ignored;

2. My primary partner and I commingle our finances;

3. We are parents with shared family obligations;

4. My primary and I live together in a house that we both own.

Primary privilege exists due to the acknowledgement of risk.  There's an exceptional degree of risk in extending ourselves to other partners. Should the primary relationship deteriorate, dissolution introduces life upheaval at a scale much greater than my other relationships.  Therefore to manage risk, preference is extended to the primary relationship.

Now there are some folks who practice a more egalitarian view of Polyamory that puts all relationships on the same plane as the principal, marital relationship, as they're concerned that their secondaries would feel  3D (diminished, disenfranchised, and disempowered) by primary privilege. Egalitarian Poly suggests all partners should have an equal say in decisions; all partners receive the same privilege; all partners have the same jeopardy.

Above all, those who practice Egalitarian Poly want to assure all of their relationships that there isn't the threat of the Nuclear Option - the veto - where one partner absolutely denies or forbids the incorporation of a new relationship.

In order to function in Polyamory, for me, that risk management piece has to exist. I've just got more skin in the game with my primary. I need assurances that we can work together to solve problems so that it doesn't put my assets, kids, family, and property at risk. I'd find it difficult to ignore that risk and sacrifice all controls to protect it or acknowledge it in favor of making people feel good; to me, this is just a reality of my life.

Regardless of my belief in primary privilege, this doesn't mean my secondary partner is "less-than". It means that I, as a fulcrum (the person inbetween my wife and my partner), have to work harder to facilitate conversation, help build a relationship between them, and establish trust in us - all three of us.

Recently I felt it was very important that my wife and I reach out to my secondary partner and assure her that the Nuclear Option wasn't ever on the table. This was a conscious effort on both of our parts: we wanted to lay a joint foundation for trust and for building the relationship with my secondary. I wanted to share it with you.

We staged it a little like an intervention. My wife and I met her for dinner. We both each sat on either side of her and we both held her hand. My wife and I both admitted that the relationship that I had with her was very important, and that we could all work together to get what we wanted. My wife acknowledged her, her importance in our lives, and admitted her own fears. I thought it was extremely important that my secondary hear that from my wife without me as a filter.

After a few tears and lots of hugs, at the end of the dinner, active communication from both my wife and I built a bridge of trust: trust in the primary relationship, trust in the actions and motivations of my wife, and trust in us going forward. We built a process for trust and growth, even within the framework of Hierarchical Poly.

In my opinion, you don't need a model like Egalitarian Poly to eliminate 3D effects through structure. What you need is a process for communicating that clarifies intentions, extends control to the secondary, and includes the secondary in joint decision-making. It creates a foundation for trusting primary privilege and for meeting everyone's needs.

Russell
(s1m0n)

Monday, November 19, 2012

What Generates Growth?

A position of strength is very rarely a position of growth. This is one of those annoying realities of life that polyamory can bring to the forefront. The things we aren't as well-skilled in are the pieces that bump up to the top of the list repeatedly as being challenges, right up to the point where we do the heavy lifting to grow past those limitations, and get strong in areas that were previously weak or damaged.

Sigh. Sometimes, it would be nice just to feel like I'm not prepping for an emotional triathlon! ;) The good part is that I can look back, and see enough incremental progress over time in most areas that I know the potential to improve is there. That, in addition to personal desire for growth, wanting to be able to give my partners what they need, and most of what they desire, is what keeps me trucking in the face of the emotional equivalent of quivering quads.

I'm pretty sure I've talked about this before, but it's still a main area of weakness for me- the overnight. Going on them myself with anyone besides Russell still feels difficult, as does having my partners spend the night elsewhere, particularly Russell. When I say difficult, I mean uncomfortable to the point of wanting medication, high distraction, and being unreliable emotionally following such events.

Some of this is past trauma/sexual assault related, some of it is directly poly related stuff, where relationships changed in ways that were personally detrimental following trips/overnights, and now I fear them, even with different partners and metamours involved.

This issue is limiting, for myself, for my partners, and for my metamours. It generates stress and restrictions. It is weakness. This weakness is something I aim to grow past. There's been some progress made already, and a plan is in place to gradually increase the frequency of overnights, on each side, to a level that is more healthy and sustainable for all the relationships involved.

At some point in the future, I would like overnights to be a position of strength for me and mine, but for now, it is a focus of growth, with all the attendant stumbles, bumps, bruises, and occasional open wounds that come of doing something especially challenging. I have a loving team of partners and metamours backing me up, providing support. Partners who are willing to lovingly give me a kick in the pants as needed. When needed, I can borrow their strength, and push on. Soon, I will need less support, and be able to go farther and faster. Growth is happening.

Note:  Abs not to scale.

What strengths do you want to develop within your relationships? Look to your weaknesses to find the areas of greatest potential growth!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The NRE Bubble

New Relatiotionship Energy-  it's strong, powerful, consuming, exciting, exhilarating, anxious, giddy, and, by its nature, exclusive.  Within poly, NRE is a force for change in many ways.  It can inspire amazing growth, or fracture relationships that seemed completely solid only a short time ago.

What I think many poly people would benefit from is looking at the "exclusive" piece of NRE.  When your focus is so heavily slanted in the direction of a new shiny, it is easy to exclude your existing partners; to exclude them from your process, from your new relationship, separate yourself from the relationship you've shared, the traditions you've developed, and dive head first into the heady rush of newness, untainted by outside influence.

This is where things can go horribly awry.  When you begin to exist inside the bubble of your new relationship it often skews the rest of your life in ways that are seldom healthy.

How does one escape the gravity well of the Bubble?  Don't abandon it!  There is amazing bonding to be found in this space, things that benefit your new connection immensely.  Instead, I would like to suggest actively inviting others to join you *inside* the Bubble.  Bring your existing partners into the bond you're building, help them see and understand it in a way that doesn't leave them staring in a window from the outside.  Do things together, find common ground and interests, welcome conversation and sharing across direct relationship bounds.  Be INCLUSIVE.

When existing partners feel included, not excluded, it makes for a stronger bond with your new partner as well.  There is reality, not just the candy-sweet flow of NRE, to add tensile strength to that connection.  There is more compersion, less of a sense of loss around the changes taking place, less us versus them,  more active allies to contribute positively to the growth of the whole structure. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Litmus Test: Is It Cheating?

I was attending a polyamory discussion group the other night and this little nugget came up.

We were discussing what to ask potential partners who may be new to polyamory.

A great first question to ask to whether or not they consider their date as cheating.

Another great question would be whether or not their other partner would consider what they're doing as cheating.

I thought this was a great observation.


  • Polyamory is about open, loving relationships that are conducted in plain sight of other partners; cheating is an attempt to conceal relationships, feelings, and affections from other partners.
  • Polyamory admits not one person can fill all needs whereas cheating is about displacing another partner to meet one's needs.
  • Polyamory espouses trust and cheating is all about dishonesty.
  • Polyamory is about transparency; cheating is about secrets.
  • Polyamory encourages open and frank communication between all partners so that they can get what they want; cheating isn't about communication between partners. 


It's probably a great first question to ask a potential partner but also a fantastic question to begin with yourself. If you can honestly look at this criteria as a litmus test for yourself, that's a good thing. Your intentions are probably in the right place. However, if your potential partner can't look you in the eye when you're asking some of these questions, it's probably a good time to clarify theirs.

Consequently, I think a great follow-up question to this one might be: "So. When do I get to meet your partner?" That will kind of seal the deal.

s1m0n
(Russell)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When Poly Became About Family


It all started with a dare.

"I'd kiss you if I didn't think it'd fuck your head up."

I like dares. Then I remember being lead up the stairwell by the hand.

My good friend of thirteen years (my best man's wife!) wearing nothing at all except for this little slip of a nighty took me by the hand and lead me into her spare bedroom for - as I learned later - her husband and his girlfriend were having sex in the master bedroom.

After a couple hours, everyone emerged (all smiles) into the common area and I still remember feeling like unicorns, fairies, and floaty cloud things were dancing about in a land of sugarplums.

Holy crap, Batman: this was pure fantasy!

Not even in Penthouse had I read about this stuff: this weird thing called ... Polyamory.

It was raw sexuality. It was shared and communal, like, dude: it obviously took a village. It even dispensed with traditional obnoxious pleasantries, running from "You look tired - can I give you a massage?" to "Here's the bed, there's the condoms, I'm a woman, and we've got two hours. Go."

And as I progressed in poly, I learned about house parties, clubs, swinging, kink events, gang bangs, and I just thought this adventure into overt sexuality was all part of the poly experience. Within the first six months (and perhaps because I was such a sexual vanilla neophyte) my interpretation of Poly meant overt and unbridled sexuality. Where there was Poly, there was this stuff.

As Keanu said: "Woah."

It took me a year or so to encounter other models of Polyamory and contend with the subject matter from the perspective of armchairs instead of on my knees. I was able to see it from the perspective of real relationships, real people, real problems. My relationships evolved and became less about the sex and more about the connection and shared experience. Even interconnections with metamours and children.

There's the usual family gossips and drama, traditions, personalities, coping through failed relationships, reveling in the elation of NRE, and the tiny moments of elation, celebration, happiness; connected friends working through career struggles, school and homework, financial problems. It got real. For me, Poly changed. It became less about the dares and sex, and more about the extended interconnection. It eventually became about family.

s1m0n
(Russell)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Secret No Longer


Having only recently "come out" as poly to everyone everywhere, I'm rather enjoying talking about my life more directly and more honestly. Specifically, I no longer have to self-censor. Yay!

Okay, I'll give you an example. Without the nagging thought-police rattling about my brain, when I'm casually asked by others (students to clients to bank-tellers) about weekend activities, I frequently find myself referring to "my partner and I", "the three women in my life", "my wife and her boyfriend and I", "my wife and her girlfriend", or, "my wife and my partner".

You see, it used to be that I'd intentionally edit the response to conceal my polyamorous lifestyle. I'd refer only to "my wife and I", or, say a "bunch of friends and I", or, "my family and I". These were intentional omissions designed to keep a secret, and not that I'd call them brazen lies, but they were so frequent as to become passively disturbing for - consciously - I was politely sanitizing core aspects of my life to fit an outward projection of monogamy. I was intentionally editing-out people who're important to maintain a slight deception.

I suppose that I was overly-concerned about The Truth: the wife and I have an open marriage and see other people. Dum-dum-dum! Golly, what will these strangers think? Well it turns out they don't think too much.

So far in my experience with more direct and open communication, there's a slight facial twitch accompanying the digestion of that information (that I've multiple partners) and then ... nothing. The conversation politely carries on in the same progression it would have otherwise. Crazy. Nobody yet has gripped my arm and stopped me in mid-sentence to confirm my infidelity or inquire about my hedonist sluttiness."Now hold on, I say, hold on there son: did you say ... partners?" Yeah. Sure. In my head, they all talk like Foghorn Leghorn, but regardless, it never happened.

What also never happened is somebody I know walking up to me in public while I'm out with one of my partners, removing a white glove, and slapping me across the face with it, exclaiming, "You cad. What will your wife think? How could you possibly hurt her like this? You're a dick." Even while I was closeted polyamorist, nobody ever confronted me, yet when I first started dating other people, I was convinced that I was the subject of constant scrutiny. "He's holding both of their hands," they'd say, or, "He kissed them both - who is he with?", or, "My God, he ... loves ... them both?!"

Oh yes, the horror.

Now, after some thinking on this and after a rigorous survey of navel-gazing, I've concluded that most people really aren't paying attention. And if they are paying attention, they're apt to avoid confrontation and just accept the conditions to which they're exposed. They just accept and move on, both for the sake of politeness as well as expediency. They really aren't going to push the envelope as not to attract as much attention to themselves as they might to you.

I'm proud of my partners and metas; I naturally want to tell everyone who they are. These are people who bring happy into my life. Concealing them has never felt right and - now after five, six years - I can honestly, consciously include them in my life's narrative. They aren't my secrets any longer. They're active participants that help shape joy. And now, letting all of that silly baggage go, it feels the best it ever has.

s1m0n
(Russell)


Monday, November 5, 2012

One Foot on the Brake, and One on the Gas!

Speed.  It's something that comes up pretty consistently within poly relationships.  It's pretty inevitable really:  One person will process faster than another.  One partner will be motivated to move more quickly than the other. The boundaries that one person has will be in a more, or less conservative place than the other.  We're individuals, and, even when the stated intention is to have accord, and move in unison, there will be differences in approach and execution that are likely to hit some buttons.

Several months back S started a new relationship with a lovely woman, C.  She was someone in the local community, although not close in orbit.  They really hit it off.  Hard.  Fast.  Scary.  Here was someone I didn't know super well suddenly being elevated to the inner sanctum, close.  It was at a particularly bad time for me, and I'd asked prior to this for several months of no major unavoidable changes.  Apparently, this was unavoidable, and I was just going to need to figure out how to deal with the change, despite my reluctance to make the shift.

Cut to current time: Things are improving pretty steadily at this point, and one of the useful pieces that I'm taking away from the experience of adding a metamour when I was not well-resourced personally is an analogy about relative speed differences, and how to be mindful of each other in that situation.

Let's say that the relationship between the three of us is a car.   When this relationship started, I put my foot firmly on the brake, and S on the gas, and most of the times where one of us was willing to let up, the other would push harder, giving us all whiplash. Uncomfortable, not constructive, and moving away from trust.   Our mutual goal at this point is for each of us to let up on our respective peddle, and move the car forward at a mild pace without anyone panicking, or becoming overly eager.   Then, as momentum starts to build up, we can increase speed slowly, without damage to the passengers, including C.


Sometimes, it doesn't take a big shift to get things moving in a better direction.  For me, getting to know people who are becoming very close with my partners is an absolute necessity.  Being included (not in a relationship sense) in my partner's NRE gets me into compersion.  Feeling like this big thing is happening, and I'm on the outside pushes me away.  So, I requested a hike with C, that she was, thankfully, willing to go on.  We spent several hours talking, getting to know each other a bit, sussing out styles of communication, ideas about relationships, past history stuff, and how we each see our mutual partner, S.   It was like sticking something in the microwave that had been languishing in the crock pot.   Building a mutual comfort zone directly in an afternoon was much easier than a year worth of combined community events where intimate conversation is hard to come by/constantly interrupted.

Now the three of us have started doing some combined time activities, where everyone is talking, holding hands with their partner(s), and generally desensitizing fears about the unknown, feeling prickly about all sharing space together, or being abandoned for the new shiny.   Each small step makes it easier to reach out with direct communication, less hesitant to trust, and more willing to give.

Major kudos go to C for being willing to build things!  I understand that, in the past, she's had some experiences with her partner's spouses/partners damaging the relationships she's been in, or being a trigger for instability within the other relationship.  After having gone through that delightful ordeal, it tends to make one a bit wary about metamours that are interested in connecting with you personally, so my hat is off to her for taking a chance on me/us.

Together, we move forward, coasting a bit, but gradually increasing pace, depth, trust and intensity.  Foot off the brake, foot off the gas, letting momentum of what has already passed advance things.  Sometimes, driving 55 isn't such a bad thing.  Eventually, we might even get up to freeway speeds! ;)


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Opportunity for Everyone


What's hard? 

Leaving somebody you love for somebody you love, and doing it all over again the next day. 

My partner, C, and I had planned our first overnight for Friday. 

In our practice of polyamory, we believe in open, transparent, and trusting relationships. In a general sense, the night had been pre-negotiated. In fact, both Polyfulcrum and C had been corresponding with each other directly during the day over text messages - where my wife wished my partner to have a great night with me, and C thanked my wife for being in her life. Myself, I found that lovely and heartwarming.

Before leaving for the overnight, I spent fifteen minutes with my wife (Polyfulcrum). I spent that time talking with her, I reassured her that I love her, and that I'd be back when I promised to be back. And then I left.

Then on the following Saturday morning, I spent another fifteen minutes with C - talking with her, reassuring her that I loved her, and that I'd see her again soon. And then I left.

At first glance, polyamory may sound glamorous and exotic. 

Yet if I were to account for my own feelings, it's really hard to step away from somebody who loves me as much as my wife, and to think about her remaining at home, lonely, missing me, and quietly attempting to contain her emotions surrounding my sexy/fun time with another partner. 

And still it's really hard to step away from somebody who loves me as much as C, so abruptly after our first all-night time together, to think about her missing me - probably lonely - and attempting to reconcile her own feelings with my absence. 

Glamorous and exotic? No. 

Poly is hard.

The polyamorous lifestyle creates an inherent contention:

  • leaving somebody you love for somebody you love is hard - it's a gut-wrenching journey of self-doubt and compromise and it'll force you to reconsider your values and sense of loyalty to all of your partners;
  • letting your husband go on an overnight to nurture a growing, important relationship with another woman is hard; 
  • bravely seeing your partner off so that he can return to his wife and family - and patiently waiting for him on the sideline - is hard.  

Poly is hard. Not everyone can do this. How fortunate I am to have loving, transparent, and compassionate connections in my life who work just as hard at transforming that inherent contention into opportunity for everyone. 

s1m0n
(Russell)

You're doing it wrong!!!


I was invited to a Poly-flavored gathering this past week and looked at comments attached to the invitation. I was not familiar with the group that was hosting it and didn't know many of the people involved. Weird, given that I am fairly well connected in the area's existing Poly groups, so I assumed that this was a newer group.

It is. I found a couple of long comments posted by the organizer, and was disheartened by what I found. The longer of the two comments can be summarized as, “People who call themselves Poly, who also sometimes have sex outside of long-term relationships are ruining Polyamory's reputation. They are a problem, so I started this group so that we could ostracize them and make sure that they know they are wrong.”

Huh.

Anyone who has spent much time on Poly-related forums (or probably ANY topical forum) has run into “purists” who decry any variance from their vision of canonical interpretations of the faith. Such purists are openly mocked by many others, with pseudo-hate-filled commentary about how “Ur doin' it rong!”.

It's a reactionary cycle that distills to:

“You're wrong.”

“No, you're wrong.”

“No, I'm not. I'm right because of (x). You're wrong!”

“No, you don't know what you're talking about. I'm living proof that it works. You are so preachy!”

“You are hurting people with your acceptance of (something they think is bad)!”

“You are hurting people with your ignorant judgmental attitude, jerk!”

… and we go downhill from there. Conversation ended. Flame war initiated. This sort of thing is why I no longer post on one of the larger sources of Poly forums. I've found that more often than not, people are preemptively attacked because of previous conversations and debates that have degenerated into such a scenario. If anyone comments on a thread belonging to a certain person, someone else will chime in with a “warning” about that person, and how they are either a judgmental purist, or a dangerous threat to the community who needs to be ostracized. Sometimes both.

So, what do we do about the times where people really are doing it wrong? Is anyone doing it wrong? What would that look like? Who decides what's wrong? That's a big ballpark. I am planning on attacking that, but I'm expecting it to take a book, not a blog post. In the meantime, let's bite off something a bit smaller.

How do we short circuit this cycle?

I don't think we can prevent snarkiness and flame wars online, because people want that. It's a sad truth, but the reason that there is so much drama in certain social circles is because some people, though they adamantly deny it, not only select for needless conflict and hostility, they actually initiate it because they feed off of it. What can we do about that?

Psychology teaches us that engagement, positive or negative, can still be reinforcing. If your child is acting out, and you give in, giving them the ice cream cone (or whatever), then you are giving them positive reinforcement. They act badly and they learn (whether they are conscious of it or not) that if they act badly they get their way. This is part of Parenting 101. I would actually say it's also a part of Relationships 101. One piece of advice that I give to people frequently is to not start patterns in a new relationship that you don't want to continue for the duration of the relationship. Don't accept a situation thinking that you need to, in order to “make things work”, assuming that you “will change them later”. It's possible, but not likely.

On the other side of the coin, you might punish the child for acting badly. There are many forms of response that you see as potentially disincentivizing the behavior, however, this is often illusory. Negative reinforcement is still reinforcing the behavior. How's that? Well, if a child has an underlying desire for attention (hint: they do), and they act badly, even if you are scolding or otherwise punishing them for acting badly, you are STILL giving them your attention. They are not getting the immediate object, but they are getting what they actually are after, which is your focused attention. This is negative reinforcement. That's why the ideal solution (not that anything about parenting ever goes according to plan) is to address the behavior, set a standard for what is preferred, set a consequence, then move on as quickly as possible. If only it were that simple with children.

With adults, especially adults on internet chat forums, we have far less responsibility or connection, which allows us to look at the fundamental psychological truth mentioned above and take from it the idealized solution. When confronted by someone who is aggressive, hostile, and who we know actually wants attention, the solution is to disengage.

A common refrain in online forums is, “Don't feed the trolls.” Don't argue or fight with people who are making argumentative and aggressive commentary. They want to start a fight. They want your attention. Don't give it to them. So, if we do this, if we adopt this tactic of detaching, what is the practical consequence? What actually happens?

We detach. We don't engage. We don't speak. We are quiet.

Wait a second, that doesn't seem right. We just let them steal our voice. Why are we letting someone else prevent us from participating in a conversation that we were (presumably) gaining benefit from?

That is the path that I've taken, with one particular website, but it's only because of two mitigating factors. One, there are other places that are not so deeply dysfunctional where I can still contribute and get my needs met. Two, there are other smart, capable people who are still on that website, who are answering questions, having interesting conversations, and discussing things in a thoughtful, considered way.

I struggle with this. It feels like I'm copping out, and leaving the work to others. From what I've just written, yeah, I kinda am. I don't like that, but to keep my sanity, that's the course I've pursued heretofore. However, thinking about this, and partly in response to the excellent concepts illustrated here, I've wanted to also share some ideas about how to remain engaged, to show up, to act, and to short circuit the devolving cycle that I shared above.

It's simple, but not necessarily easy. Step 1, recognize the situation as it develops, see the bait. When you feel yourself having the urge to escalate, to make a “you” statement, stop. Use something like “The 5 Minute Rule”. Anytime you feel like posting something that has an emotional charge behind it, stop and give your self a time out for 5 minutes before hitting the Enter key.

Step 2, reflect on what your goal really is. Do you want to share an opinion to help others? Do you want to better understand someone else's position to see if you can learn from them? Do you want to show off how smart you are? Do you want to win an argument and prove how the other person is wrong? Depending on how you answer this question, you might find that you are actually a part of the problem. Maybe you have your own internal Drama Llama crying to get out. Well, you can do what you want to do, but be aware of it, and be honest with yourself about what you're doing and why.

Step 3, I would argue that NVC is a good starting point if you decide to remain engaged. If you are going to craft a response, try following these guidelines:

  • Don't address the other person. Address the concept.

  • Don't say what is right or wrong without a willingness to cite an external, objective source. Math works well. Another discipline, such as Psychology, Physics, or English might also work, but at this point you will need to provide a citation or claim a certain level of knowledge, and then back it up with some explanation. Don't start here unless you're willing to follow through.

  • Often it's better to simply say, “For me, I've found...”, or “In my experience...” and make your statement far more gentle. Yes, you're allowing room for the other person to not acknowledge that you are right. Is that a problem? What was your answer in Step 2 above? Isn't it okay for the other person to be wrong? If you know that they are “doing it wrong”, why do you need to try to “force” them to be right? Do you think that it is likely that typing on a keyboard, in your home, sharing words over the internet, will change this person's mind? Really?

  • Finally, state your position, and then stop. Don't continue to engage. If the other person, or people, continue to tell you, “No, you're wrong”, but they don't further the conversation with new or different ideas or data, then that IS the time to disengage. Speak clearly, speak completely, then SHUT UP. Sorry, caps lock.

  • After you've had your say, don't stay hooked. Stand up, go for a walk, go play with the dogs, vent to a trusted friend, whatever it takes for you to process the emotional charge that you're feeling. You acted. You spoke. You shared your knowledge and experience, and there are people reading this thread who will weigh what each speaker is bringing to the conversation. They will read someone else's personal attacks and they will compare it with you're (hopefully) balanced and thoughtful input.

This is a way to stay engaged, speak from your personal wisdom, contribute to a community, but not encourage or feed a hostile environment that makes people consider whether all of these (label)-people are completely hostile and crazy.

I hope you consider this the next time you're tempted to tell someone that they are “doing it wrong”, or when someone else tells you the same.

Thanks for reading!