I would like to claim that as an original phrase. I have been repeating it for so long, that I am almost convinced that it is. But I doubt it. In my early years of recovery from addiction, a lot of folks said a lot of things I thought were original, which I later found were truisms others had passed on to them. What I do know is that I believe the phrase to be true. At least, in my experience, it has been true for me.
Why do I bring this up? Because there are a lot of Kossacks who are feeling uneasy about the present state of Daily Kos. I am not one of them, but I respect those who feel this way. As a fringe member of the group Courtesy Kos, and one who believes that axiom you can choose to live in the problem, or live in the solution, I would like to offer some of my experience, and a few thoughts which may be useful.
More below the fold:
First, some bona fides:
I became a member of DK in June of '06, after lurking for a number of months. I had been looking for a new "home" since October of '05, when my friend, and the host of the Delphi private group The Front Stoop, Marybeth Scriven Vasquez, finally lost a long war against breast cancer. She was 42 years old, married with three children. I still miss MB every day. Marybeth had invited me to join the Front Stoop as a refugee from About.com's US Politics Forum which, after 9/11 and the departure of John Aravosis as moderator for the forum (he was good), became toxic. Marybeth culled a small list of commenters from both sides of the political spectrum, whom she felt could discuss politics without trying to harm those with whom they disagreed. I was one of them. As with DK4. it was not just about politics. It was about community. Family, work, jobs, personal crises, joys... You name it, we talked about it. As friends who often disagreed with each other.
I saw a spark of that here at Daily Kos when I got here. So I stayed. And, slowly, became more involved. Now, by some standards, I have not been that active. I have averaged, over time, 3 diaries a month, and 2 comments a day. What I can safely state is that none of those diaries or comments has ever resulted in me received an HR rating. Not one. I am proud of that.
How have I pulled that off? Have I never had a bad day? Have I never been angry? Have I never wished ill of another Kossack? Well, the generic answer is that this is the way we are supposed to behave as adults. As someone whose merciless addiction nearly destroyed me, I have learned this lesson the hard way. When I stopped being an habitual liar, I expected congratulations. They were not forthcoming. When I stopped using my constant state of restless irritability as an excuse to belittle and judge others, nobody patted me on the back. I was just behaving the way I am supposed to, as a human being in a social environment.
I tend to stay away from pie fights. Now, that's actually not that hard. Most of them crop up at night and on the weekend, and I am off the internet at those times. So most of them are over by the time I see them anyway. But I have been witness to a few dust-ups here, and would like to use four examples to show what I meant by the title of my diary, how fear can cloud judgement.
1. The Clinton/Obama feud: I knew I was voting for the ultimate Democratic candidate no matter what, and I've been around politics long enough to slough off the vitriol of the immediate primary moment. But I saw some pretty nasty handfighting here, personal invective included. From my fairly objective viewpoint, it seemed driven by fear. Fear that a transformational opportunity might be lost (both sides), that the length and bitterness of the campaign would injure the ultimate candidate (both sides, at one point or another), and that there was something ugly underneath the opposition to the preferred candidate (both sides).
2. The health-care debate: I will be maximally reductive here. The fears expressed by each side can be distilled to Little vs. Nothing. Given the importance of the moment, those fears became expressed in increasingly personal ways.
3. The Nephew (I know; forgive me): Again reductive: fear that a (as it proved to be) theoretically vulnerable young human being was being targeted vs. fear that a community was being harmed by a fraud. The persona the sociopath in question chose to clothe himself in heightened the emotion.
4. Sandy Hook/guns: The fear of lives being lost vs. the fear of individual liberties being taken away.
One commonality exists in all of these examples: each side begins from a position of principled advocacy. Some, but not all, members of each side become so fearful that their fear morphs into anger. Those members, because of their anger, which is rooted in fear, carry their position in a manner which distorts and perverts the debate.
Trust me, I've ended up on that road in life from time to time. My reason bludgeoned into rage by my fear. And I have learned a few lessons which can be helpful.
1. Take nothing personally. If a person attacks me, or even if I just perceive the possibility of an attack, I do whatever I can to get back to the issue at hand. If the person is unwilling or unable to let go of their attack, I leave them to stew in their own juices. Axiom: resentment is the same as taking poison, and expecting the other person to die. Now, sometimes, the attacks are so far beyond the pale that some response is required. That response is to place the matter in the hands of the appropriate authority.
2. Judge nobody harshly; give the benefit of the doubt. If you met me, you would never know the background I came from or the pressures I am under. When someone goes over the line here, there is, very often, a story behind it that I shall never know.
3. Assume the good intention of those you interact with. You would be surprised how often that, if you do that, you can straighten out a twisted dialogue.
4. Understand that, for some people, winning is more important than comity. If you run across someone like that, cede the field gracefully. If you can't, consider that you might be one of those people.
5. Remember why we are here. We are here to press forward on a progressive, Democratic agenda. Our coalition is diverse; we will not all agree on all things.
6. Stick to your knitting. Consider the question: What am I good at? For me, I know that I am good at the small gesture. I am better behind the scenes than in front of the curtain. I don't enjoy conflict. So I don't engage in it.
This diary is not meant to be all-inclusive. But I hope that you can use it as a basis for thought on the question of how you, personally, can elevate the dialogue at Daily Kos. What contribution can you make, either by adding to or subtracting from what you are doing now? I have to admit that I generally can't stand meta. Nevertheless, I have written a meta diary, which I hope can move the ball a yard or two down the field. Now it's your turn.