Respect revisited: On establishing common ground

“If you check out this “Amy” that is responding to your tweets..her twitter acct is about how she dosn’t send her kids to school because she dosn’t believe in public education?? WTF? Really..and she’s criticizing someone elses thoughts on parenting?? She’s a blogger and writer? Wonder where she got her edu??”

This is a quote from someone on a Facebook page who didn’t like what I was saying about respect for kids the other day. (She had also misinterpreted the comment in question.)  I won’t post other subsequent comments, because they are x-rated, and as a FB friend of mine said, “soul-crushing”.

Sometimes I forget that the people with whom I surround myself – who believe in the rights of children, who encourage their kids’ passions and believe wholeheartedly in their ability to learn without the interference of a coerced curriculum, who respect peoples’ differences and who, when they disagree, do so without resorting to insult and vulgarity – such people just might be a minority in our society.

I really hope I’m wrong about this, because it makes instilling any kind of meaningful change that much harder.

Let’s say for the moment that I’m not wrong; that when given the thin shield of ‘distance’ provided by social media and the internet, people drop their social graces (if you’re from the South it’s known as southern hospitality) and let loose with what they’re really thinking.

How do you deal with that?  Ignoring such people won’t change them or make the situation go away.  Confrontation is out – criticism of any kind, dissent on any level is treated as a hostile act.

The only way I can see to deal with such people is by first attempting to establish common ground.   This is the tactic taken by Martin Luther King Jr. and his people when they first met with Bobby Kennedy, who they initially saw as a major threat to the civil rights movement.  It is the tactic used by U2’s Bono (who got it from MLK Jr.) when dealing with ultra-conservative U.S. Senators and persuading them to fork over millions in aid to Africa.

In theory, as parents, common ground should be fairly simple to establish.  We all love our kids and want whats best for them, and there you have it; our common ground.

I’m confident that in a face to face meeting with any of the people who participated in the mud-slinging on FB and Twitter the other day, I could probably reach a point of understanding regarding my stance on learning and respect for kids, if not acceptance.   Or at the very least I could establish that we are both parents who love our kids.

You’ve got to start somewhere.

The problem is that I won’t be meeting %99.99 percent of these people face to face, so they feel no qualms about mis-reading what I’ve written, or willfully misinterpreting it and writing me off as an ignorant person who is harming her kids.

So far I haven’t quite figured out how to overcome that massive obstacle.  All attempts to engage in any kind of conversation tend to end badly (causing me to toss and turn at night, replaying the nasty comments written to or about me & my friends over and over in my head).

That said, there must be a way.   Failure, when the stakes are so high, is not an option.


3 comments on “Respect revisited: On establishing common ground

  1. Miriam says:

    We live in a very uncivil world, and it apparently getting worse. Take any subject, and the pros and cons will viciously attack each other. Politeness be damned. The Lincoln/Douglass debate could never happen now. EG: any political debate seen in the last 25 years. Too bad.

  2. Cindy says:

    I’m right there with you, Amy. I think your natural way to interact with people is a generous one, but maybe the straightforward, in-your-face method sneaks in from time to time. I found it to be true for me anyway. We’re so passionate about our topic that sometimes we want to just “tell it like it is.” But, that often comes across as adversarial, especially in print.

    You’re right that the common ground is that we love our children. So, when we see others doing things that prick our hearts, we need to ask, “How did these good people get to this perspective?” That’s what I do anyway. That’s what prompted me to write that post about our culture’s bend toward family separation and peer approval. It permeates all that we do and we don’t even notice. School is one of the things at the heart of it. Even my middle school brain shift post was helping parents of 11 to 13 year olds understand why their children do what they do, why many react in traditional ways based on our cultural influences, and what we can do instead that builds relationships, respect, and trust with our middle schoolers. (I’ve actually enjoyed the fodder you’ve supplied me in inspiring me to write some of my thoughts and perspectives down!)

    Thoughts for you as you figure this out, if it can help…

  3. As someone who has endured her fair share of vulgarity and insults and ignorant comments on this topic for forty years, my advice is to take a deep breath, and try to conjure up some compassion for people who behave that way. By our very existence, let alone our words, we who respect and trust children create emotional reactions and defensiveness in some people.

    I do agree that the anonymity of online discussion allows people (maybe even makes it fun, or hip) to express themselves in nasty ways. But it also allows us to reach many more people than I used to be able to reach through speaking engagements, books, and articles in small, niche magazines. And, this way, we’re not always “preaching to the choir,” as they say…which can result in more change. So perhaps you can look at it as a “numbers game” – and hope that you will, by participating so bravely in such sometimes hostile online discussions, reach a few people each time who are receptive to respecting and trusting children. Change begins to happen one person at a time.

Leave a Comment