Assorted Thoughts on Civility

I have a bunch of stuff in my mind right now and I sort of want to just dump it all out here in a semi-organized fashion. After this I’m planning to take a hiatus from writing about civil discussion and tactics because, to be honest, I find it fairly boring compared to what I usually write about. Before I get started, I want to make it clear that I am off of whatever high horse I sometimes get on (sorry!). This is just me trying to sort through this in my mind, and I’m most interested in your input. I’m still formulating and sorting out my thoughts on this topic.

Why Have This Discussion?

Here’s a quote from reader Ibis3:

This topic really drives me crazy. I don’t know why advocates of a more gentle approach can’t just do what they want to do, what works for them, and leave the advocates of a harsher approach to do things their way. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the firebrands trying to convince the diplomats to forego their gentle tactics. Perhaps you could do a post laying out the case for why you feel it necessary? I’d like to understand.

Here’s a quote from a recent post by James Croft in which he addresses this very question:

This sort of talk annoys me because it serves, frankly, to dumb down the discussion of strategy which our movement really should be having. As the number of nonreligious people in America grows, we will need mre and better discussions of how we communicate our ideas to the public, and these discussions will have to be nuanced and sensitive. It is simply not the case that everyone who object to a certain communication strategy because they judge it to be counter-productive is a “concern troll” trying to “rob the movement” of an “effective weapon”. They may be making a serious and thoughtful judgment regarding a particular campaign or persuasive technique.

In other words, there is nothing illegitimate about discussing strategy. Were we generals in a war, would we say “hey, just use whatever strategy you like best and I’ll use whatever strategy I like best”? No. If you became convinced that the strategy another general was using was doing more harm than good, wouldn’t you think it important to bring that up? There is nothing inherently wrong with having a conversation about which tactics, and in fact, I would argue that having conversations about tactics is actually extremely important.

Yes, This Is Complicated!

“Tone arguments are used to silence the underprivileged.” “It’s not my job to educate those with privilege.” “We’ll be accused of ‘just being angry’ no matter what we do.” Well, yes. Absolutely yes. Just recently a reader pointed me to one of the many posts and articles addressing all this, titled “The Privilege of Politeness.”

One thing that is very true is that in any conversation in which the first party has a lot on the line and the second party is detached, the first party will expend more emotional energy in the conversation and have a harder time staying calm. If the more invested party responds by becoming visibly or audibly angry, the detached party often uses that to claim victory. I’ve experienced this myself, and it is maddening.

Beyond this, it’s also very true that being expected to be always educating those with privilege on this issue or that can become exhausting, especially when the privileged person isn’t making a good faith effort to understand or listen. This sort of “it’s your job to prove to me that that’s sexist or I don’t have to believe it” attitude is especially maddening when you consider that it’s usually combined with the sort of emotional investment that makes the conversation difficult in the first place.

But even with all this, there are a few things I just keep coming back to. First, while it’s true that we don’t have to educate those who are privileged, it’s also true that someone ought to be out there educating people. In other words, the fact that it’s not required doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it anyway. (I actually really appreciate it when allies take up some of the burden of educating, because they can have these conversations without the emotional rawness underprivileged groups bring to these discussions.)

Second, while some people will never change their minds, there are people out there who may make sexist comments or hold anti-LGBTQ rights positions but who are actually open to changing their minds. In other words, there are potential allies out there, and if we simply decide to stop having these conversations and opt to instead take our anger out on anyone who makes a sexist or racist or homophobic comment, we risk alienating these potential allies. At the same time, there are plenty of people out there who will never stop holding sexist or racist or homophobic views. The trouble is that it’s not always easy to tell the two apart.

Third and finally, I don’t think calling for civility means demanding that people not be angry. For instance, the post I linked several paragraphs up contains this bit:

I’m not saying it’s okay to say ‘You stupid shit how dare you write this!’ There is a difference between being angry when addressing racism (or sarcastic or “rude”) and insulting people.

You see what I’m saying? Being angry is not the same thing as simply resorting to insults and abusive language.

Fourth and finally, I think we need to be clear about goals. In a given instance, is the goal to shame and alienate those who hold a certain set of beliefs, or is the goal to change their minds? It should be obvious that the answer to that question ought to affect the approach we take. This actually leads into my next point…

The Bystander Effect

When I posted about my concerns about some of the displays atheist groups were putting up beside nativity scenes outside of county courthouses, a lot of commenters pointed out that even extremely civil and intentionally noncontroversial atheist billboards stir up controversy and are sometimes vandalized. These same commenters were often the ones pointing out the affect harsh tactics can have in influencing bystanders: hurling invectives at a young earth creationist speaker might lead young earth creationists listening in to give their beliefs a reexamination, they informed me.

So let’s combine these two points. In order to do this, I’m going to have to introduce a couple of characters. Tom is the leader of the local atheist group, which wants to put up a billboard. Tracey is a moderate Christian who hasn’t spent much time thinking about atheism or what it might be like to be an atheist in a Christian country. Adam is a fundamentalist Christian who thinks atheists worship Satan and are threatening the moral fabric of America. If Tom puts up a billboard reading “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone” and Adam burns it down, what message will that send to Tracey? In contrast, if Tom puts up a billboard reading “All Religions Are Fairy Tales” an Adam burns it down, will the message Tracy receives from the incident be different? I would argue yes.

In other words, the fact that some people will react negatively to what you’re saying no matter how you say it, whether you’re discussing atheism or feminism or LGBTQ rights, is no reason to determine that you might as well abandon civility.

But What Do You Mean by Civility? 

A few weeks ago, a reader left the following comment:

Actually, I think more discussions that are focused on “Where to draw the line?” on the gentle-versues-harsh question, instead of the “Gentle or harsh?” binary, would be really helpful. A lot of people are afraid that putting down shaming and mockery and similar tactics would mean accepting an overwhelming obligation to stay gentle in the face of being hurt, and a lot of people are similarly concerned that accepting harshness means a license for unlimited cruelty. Getting away from the binary could help correct these misperceptions.

I think this is an excellent point. I also think that making the discussion about “where to draw the line” rather than about “gentle or harsh” has the benefit of dispensing with the idea that people who talk about tactics are suggesting that everyone has to do exactly what they’re doing.

For the simplest explanation of what I mean by “civil discussion,” I would point to my comments policy. I actually only have two rules:

1. Attack arguments rather than people. In this vein, refrain from personal insults and avoid needless vulgarity.

2. Engage other commenters in good faith and with the goal of understanding. In other words, no trolling and no proselytizing.

That’s it. I’m really and honestly not trying to make this complicated. That really really really is all I’m talking about.

I have to say, as a blogger, one of the things that makes me happiest is seeing conversations in my comments threads in which a person will engage with other commenters to argue against a given point and end up stepping back and saying “oh, I’d never thought about it like that.” Or, “thanks, I’ve learned something.” In contrast, one of the hardest things for me to see is when a reader engages with other commenters, and ends up bowing out and disengaging with mind unchanged or opinion hardened because the conversation devolved into insults. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s difficult to watch when it does (Here’s an example).

One common argument I hear is that unscrupulous commenters will find ways to twist and abuse the rules no matter what, thus gaining an upper hand. I’m really not entirely sure where this idea comes from. I would offer, as a counter to this point, the case of a commenter named JW. JW was a frequent commenter on my blog for the entirety of 2012. Whatever comment he made, he always seemed to find away to make it offensive, and he always claimed innocence and ignorance when called out on it, which was often. He usually played by the rules, but I finally had to lay down the law last month because he violated my comment policy by personally attacking readers rather than addressing their arguments (in his case, he had made a habit of responding to criticism by calling his detractors were being angry and mean when, for one thing, they weren’t, and for another thing, violated my comment policy as stated). And in fact, JW had a second violation as well: he admitted to posting comments designed specifically to rile people up, which is in violation of my comment policy’s requirement that people argue in good faith. I called JW out and told him he would have to change his ways and follow my comment policy if he wanted to stay, and he responded by leaving. In other words, I don’t think it’s true that comment policies like mine protect the abusers or give an advantage to the privileged.

Can You Graph That?

This morning as I was thinking about this issue I realized that it might be possible to make a graph of what I’m trying to say. Actually, Sean came up with the graph idea, which is actually typical. But anyway, I thought it was interesting and wanted to present it here. I’m totally open for suggestions for improvement.

The graph is intended to represent the way one approaches disagreement. It has two axes. The x axis represents the way a person approaches people with whom he or she disagrees while the y axis represents the way a person approaches ideas with whom he or she disagrees.

 

One thing to remember is that the place where you will fall on this graph will vary depending on the argument with which you are disagreeing and the person making the argument. If you are discussing whether cats or dogs are better, you might end by saying “I disagree, I think dogs are better, but then I realize it’s all relative.” That would put you toward the bottom of the graph. On the other hand, you might say “I am mortified by your suggestion that cats are better than dogs, when it’s manifestly clear that cats are lazy and selfish while dogs are caring and loyal.” That would put you toward the top of the graph. Similarly, if you had a disagreement with President Obama, you would probably fall toward the right side of this graph while if you had a disagreement with Fred Phelps, you might fall toward the left side of this graph.

I think one thing this graph does is to point out that there is no one position that is always best, that the way we handle disagreement depends on the manner of the issue at hand and the manner of the person with whom we are agreeing, and that it would be silly to expect everyone to approach disagreement in the same way. I mean, look at the graph and imagine where you would fall if you were disagreeing with the following statements:

“Jews are unfit to live.” -Adolf Hitler

“Evolution is not science.” -Ken Ham

“The answer to violence is more guns” -Christopher Hitchins

“Hot dogs are better than bacon” -your best friend

Another interesting thing about the graph is that you could also argue that for any disagreement, there is a circle that contains all of the acceptable responses. For example, I think we can agree that it would not be acceptable to fall toward the “relativistic” side of the y axis when disagreeing with Hitler’s statement above. It would also likely not be acceptable to fall toward the “verbally abusive” side of the x axis when responding to your friend’s preference for hot dogs over bacon. Of course, since there’s no objective standard here, I don’t think everyone would necessarily agree on what circle of response is acceptable in a given situation.

This is also where ako’s statement about making the conversation about where to draw the line rather than about a “gentle or harsh” dichotomy comes in. When it comes to disagreeing with a sexist comment, or a homophobic comment, say, I would absolutely say that responding with “I disagree, but that’s okay, your position is just as valid” is wrong. But I would also argue that responding by heaping the person with insults and verbal abuse is wrong. In other words, it’s not about any one response being correct but rather about a range of responses being acceptable (based on whether they are productive, or ethical, or whatever standard you happen to use) while responses outside of that range are not.

Conclusion 

So there you have it: my random and jumbled thoughts. This is the last I plan to write about this issue for the foreseeable future, though I’m quite open to hearing your thoughts in the comments. In the meantime, I’m just going to go on doing what I do and moderating my blog as I’ve always done. Thanks for listening!

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://shiracoffee.tumblr.com Shira

    A rule of thumb for me is this:

    “‘[A] statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five? It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.” (AN 5.198)

    It is hard to have affection and good-will for people we disagree with, particularly when they are saying things that do actual harm to people or to the environment we all depend on.

    But the people who will listen to angry criticism of themselves and the ideas that undergird their sense of identity are rare. If I take the time to imagine that my opponent is happy, healthy, comfortable and secure, I can usually figure out how to write a disagreement that isn’t an attack.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    How to effectively communicate and make change, good question, and one I’ve thought about a good deal.

  • XanderTatsu

    *raises hand* I have lurked on this blog since it came to Patheos, and I have a question for you all.
    I am a bit unclear on whether something is verbal abuse or if I am too sensitive/defensive.

    My mother and I disagree on my “lifestyle”(in quotation because the latter has not been acted upon) and says God says gender-queerness and homosexuality are an abomination and she agrees with God. It sounds like a personal attack to me but I have been wrong before?
    Help? Advice?

    • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

      It would depend on your relationship with her. Given how offensive her statement is, of course it is an attack. But I’m not sure that it’s personal. I suspect that she would believe that homosexual was an abomination even if you weren’t gay. So in that sense it’s not personal. But there could be a personal element depending on how the discussion came up (ad how often it arises). If she’s badgering you about your “llifestyle” and trying to get you to become straight, then yes, that is verbal abuse. But if it’s a topic she doesn’t wnat to discuss and you’re confronting her on it, then it’s hard to call it verbal abuse since she’s only responding to your questions (although this assumes that she isn’t peppering her beliefs with insults and profanity. That would be verbal abuse even if you’re the one raising the issue.)

    • machintelligence

      FWIW I think it a version of passive aggressive behavior. “I’m not upset with you, God is, and I’m just toeing the party line.”

      It might be worth pointing out that many people do not believe that is what God says. You could also ask if there are any things that God says with which she disagrees. Stoning people for gathering sticks on the Sabbath leaps to mind.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ WMDKitty

        That kind of passive-aggressiveness is abusive.

    • luckyducky

      It is personal because it is about you, regardless of whether you or she understand this as a choice or innate. But what to do depends largely on what you want from this relationship.

      I was able to made some peace with a similar situation (it was an actual choice and not innate in my case) by focusing on how painful it must be to have convinced yourself your child is condemned to eternal punishment and how desperately I would want to work to change that. I wasn’t letting the person off the hook for some really atrocious behavior but seeking to understand it better so that I could (a) handle it better and (b) possibly counter it more effectively.

      I finally had to be very clear that this was not a matter that was up for discussion (implicit threat of limiting contact if that wasn’t respected because no one should have to put up with that). The later part was done calmly and there were efforts to strengthen our relationship by doing other things.

      The stakes were high for a while — so you have to be ready for temporary to long-term strain limited contact if that is the path you choose. It wasn’t, for me, so much that the “lifestyle” was so much more important than being in a relationship but that I needed to be accepted and respected as an adult capable of making my own choices and being my own person.

    • http://fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

      It’s always hard to give advice on a relationship you’re not really privy to, so take this with a huge grain of salt. That said… On its face this is an attack on homosexuality, not on you personally. In the days when I believed homosexuality was sinful (I was and am a Methodist Christian), I might have agreed to a statement like that, but I would have felt pity for gay people – even at that point in my life, which is very much the past, I didn’t feel animosity toward gay people. And I would have been careful to follow it up with something along the lines of: “I believe the homosexual ‘lifestyle’ is sinful, but I know God loves you anyway and is committed to helping you live a rich, good life. I agree, on both counts.” My premise would have been wrong but I hope you can see how a statement like that can be combined with an attempt not to hurt LGBT people, while at the same time not denying what I believed to be the truth just to make them feel better.

      Only you know whether that’s your mum or not. Take it as a given that she believes homosexuality is a sin. (Don’t assume she’s right; just try to put yourself in her headspace.) What does she do with that? Does she try to work within that belief to maintain a loving relationship with her son, or does she use this as an excuse to push you away. Is she saying “I can’t believe your sexuality is a good thing, but I love you anyway” or is it more “I can’t believe your sexuality is a good thing, and because of this I’m pushing you as far away as I can”?

      I don’t actually think this rises to the level of verbal abuse, though that doesn’t mean it’s not a really awful thing for a mum to say to her son. It doesn’t sound like she’s berating you with this claim. Verbal abuse to me is analogous to a physical beating, only it’s done with words and aimed at our identity and beliefs rather than our physical body. If it seems like that’s what your mum is doing – not just stating a fact, not just pushing you away but trying to cause as much harm to you as possible, then that might qualify.

      But at the risk of pouring salt in the wound, do remember that she’s probably always believed homosexuality was a sin. In certain Christian circles this has become almost an identity, and it takes time and courage to change that belief. It’s possible (my own past beliefs about homosexuality have definitely evolved, both morally and theologically) but it’s not something that will happen quickly. I don’t mean expose yourself to her abuse, if it is abuse. Protect yourself. I guess what I’m saying is, your mum may come around yet and regret this attitude. I hope so.

    • http://fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

      It’s always hard to give advice on a relationship you’re not really privy to, so take this with a huge grain of salt. That said… On its face this is an attack on homosexuality, not on you personally. In the days when I believed homosexuality was sinful (I was and am a Methodist Christian), I might have agreed to a statement like that, but I would have felt pity for gay people – even at that point in my life, which is very much the past, I didn’t feel animosity toward gay people. And I would have been careful to follow it up with something along the lines of: “I believe the homosexual ‘lifestyle’ is sinful, but I know God loves you anyway and is committed to helping you live a rich, good life. I agree, on both counts.” My premise would have been wrong but I hope you can see how a statement like that can be combined with an attempt not to hurt LGBT people, while at the same time not denying what I believed to be the truth just to make them feel better.

      Only you know whether that’s your mum or not. Take it as a given that she believes homosexuality is a sin. (Don’t assume she’s right; just try to put yourself in her headspace.) What does she do with that? Does she try to work within that belief to maintain a loving relationship with her son, or does she use this as an excuse to push you away. Is she saying “I can’t believe your sexuality is a good thing, but I love you anyway” or is it more “I can’t believe your sexuality is a good thing, and because of this I’m pushing you as far away as I can”?

      I don’t actually think this rises to the level of verbal abuse, though that doesn’t mean it’s not a really awful thing for a mum to say to her son. It doesn’t sound like she’s berating you with this claim. Verbal abuse to me is analogous to a physical beating, only it’s done with words and aimed at our identity and beliefs rather than our physical body. If it seems like that’s what your mum is doing – not just stating a fact, not just pushing you away but trying to cause as much harm to you as possible, then that might qualify.

      But at the risk of pouring salt in the wound, do remember that she’s probably always believed homosexuality was a sin. In certain Christian circles this has become almost an identity, and it takes time and courage to change that belief. It’s possible to change this (my own past beliefs about homosexuality have definitely evolved, both morally and theologically) but it’s not something that will happen quickly. I don’t mean expose yourself to her abuse, if it is abuse. Protect yourself. I guess what I’m saying is, your mum may come around yet and regret this attitude. I hope so.

  • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

    My suggestion is: don’t reinvent the wheel. Plenty of books have been written about how to effectively persuade people to your point of view. Many people avoid them because the authors’ motive offends them in some way (i.e. they’re from an evangelical point of view or a corporate marketing viewpoint), but there are a lot of good insights to be found in them. A brief way to sum them up would be that people are much more apt to listen to you and change their mind if they get the sense that you respect them. And just as importantly, in most cases brief discussions are rarely productive unless the topic is addressed again at a later time.

    Along the same lines I did a little thought experiment as I read your post. Your concerns sound very much like the kind of discussions evangelical Christians have about how to convert people. So in my mind I switched your nouns and replaced “privileged” with ‘atheist” and “atheist” with “Christian.”

    A couple of interesting things jumped out at me when i did this. One, it affirmed that evangelical Christians tend to be much more unified in purpose than atheists (and feminists) are. A Christian complaining that they were tired of sharing the Gospel or explaining why they believe God condemns homosexuality would get scolded into focusing on the larger goal: conversion. And odds are to some degree the complaining Christian would take their licks. Debates over strategy in Christian circles tend to focus on “what is most effective?” rather than “what am I comfortable doing?”

    A second observation I had was that evangelicals are much more willing to tolerate internal disagreements for their larger cause. I don’t mean that they’re theologically flexible, but they are able to build alliances with people who share common social goals (like Catholics and conservative Jews) even if they think their allies are going to hell . That’s why evangelicals can stand by nuts who say women who are raped can’t get pregnant even if they find the comment offensive, and it’s why evangelicals defended Billy Graham when he took down his website article about how Mormons were going to hell. Evangelicals suppressed their theological concerns because they wanted Romney to get elected.

    I’m not saying that the evangelical mindset is a superior one. Selling out your values just to get power is disgusting. But in terms of end goals it is worth looking at why the Right can rally the troops so effectively and the Left tends to squabble and argue about whether civility is necessary.

  • Teri Anne

    Both my Conservative and Progressive friends have been guilty of posting offensive material on my Facebook page. I identify myself as Progressive but avoid political arguments and comments on my Facebook page because I see no point in offending people. One Conservative friend kept posting up offensive anti-Obama stuff comparing him to Hitler, and I think she was genuinely surprised I was offended because these thoughts were common in conservative circles. She has not changed her views, but she does understand my point and is much better about not posting offensive materials. Two Progressive friends also posted cartoons comparing gay marriage and gun control which I knew would be highly offensive to my Conservative friends. I have maintained friendships with people of differing viewpoints by giving all of my friends the respect they deserve even when I disagree. My Conservative friends are totally aware of my Progressive viewpoint.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      In cases like those, I point out why I believe those posts are factually wrong or why that argument isn’t logical. I have many friends of all different political and philosophical leanings and even though I refuse to tiptoe through the tulips, I don’t have a problem as long as I attack logically instead of personally.

  • Amazing Sandwich

    I think you are still missing the overarching point of The Privilege of Politeness, which is that what is productive varies with context. Every person enters every engagement with their own purpose. You talk about oppressed minorities’ emotional rawness but then go on to suggest the only two possible goals of engagement are to “shame and alienate” or to “change minds.” I don’t think you realize how insulting it is when you insinuate that those are the only possibilities, that an oppressed person is either doing as they ought or else hurting the cause. Do people have a right to self-defense when they experience oppression, or not? This does not enter into your thoughts at all. You admit it is “maddening” but offer no solutions, only moralizing oughts.

    Quoth my religion teacher: “The Church doesn’t tell you what you must do, it tells you what you ought to do.” Coming from your background, and dealing with religious issues as you do, you must surely be aware of the coercive power of ought. “I’m not saying you have to, after all you have free will, but if you don’t…[sinner, damnation hellfire implied].” Ought is the equivalent of mandatory volunteering. Do you genuinely not realize how “someone ought to be out there educating” comes off to a bunch of formerly religious people, many of whom are oppressed in multiple ways? It’s preachy.

    It’s exactly the sort of “You ought always, always to be constructive,” privileged preaching that The Privilege of Politeness decries, which is what makes me think you didn’t really understand that article. The message is not that oppressed people have a right to be angry. The message is to stop framing what is “productive” in the terms of the oppressor. The message is that anger and incivility can be productive for the person expressing them.

    If your sole concern is for “the movement,” then that’s not something you’re going to give a goat’s butt about, since individual experiences of oppression must bow to the greater good of whatever the movement’s goals are. If, however, you care about the people who make up your liberation movement, you’re going to have to acknowledge their subjectivity–their humanity–and the fact that none of them are obligated to follow your standards for “productiveness” all the time. On your blog? Absolutely, cultivate the tone you want. I do the same in spaces I moderate.

    In the larger social justice sphere? In over a decade, the people I’ve encountered who were consistently abusive I can count on one hand. My opinion is that abusive comments are amplified out of proportion with their frequency. Something like the Beau Geste Effect can make a few horrible people seem like many more. The vast majority of people are constructive (by your definition) the vast majority of the time, and uncivil every once in a while. I’m not prepared to scold anyone for those “once in a whiles,” even if they seem to be disproportionate to (my perception of) the severity of the offense, because I don’t know what else that person might have experienced that day. And if I’m witness to an altercation it is more productive (by your definition) for me to play good cop than to attack my own side. I have done this for people who were lashing out, and I have had it done for me. It works. Just as important, it allows oppressed people a full range of human emotion and expression instead of shaming, repressing, and causing them to further internalize their oppression. I would rather help people than stigmatize them.

    Part of the bedrock of the atheist movement is that people can and should trust their own emotions and reason instead of relying on shame, fear, coercion, and dogma to guide their lives. Yes, it is true that the more emotionally healthy a person is, the less inclined they are to be incivil. It’s also true that people who are emotionally traumatized and oppressed can have important things to say. They should have the opportunity to say them without fear of being ostracized by their own movement for failing to be “productive” 100% of the time.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I think you misread me. I never stated that the only two options are “shame and alienate” or “change minds,” and I never said that “shame and alienate” was not a viable tactic in certain situations. I posted earlier about concerns about using shame as a tactic, and some of the commenters argued fairly convincingly that there are times when the goal should be to shame and alienate, specifically when dealing with people who are harming others or are entrenched racists, or misogynists, or what have you, with no willingness to listen or change their minds. And again, I simply suggested those as two possible goals. I didn’t say they were the only ones.

      Furthermore, I never said a given person has to or even ought to educate others in every single situation. I think you’re misreading my use of the word “we” there. My point was not that there is some obligation, but rather that I don’t think simply rejecting educating others because it’s not something we’re obligated to do makes sense. I think a lot of this is also very situational, which I thought I was pretty clear about. And I also very much said, especially in the last section, that people will disagree on what is or is not productive (or even on whether productivity should be the goal), etc. I’m not sure what made you think I was trying to lay down some sort of law and require everyone to follow it (I certainly wasn’t!), especially given that I started by stating that I have jumbled thoughts and just wanted to spill some of them out.

    • Amazing Sandwich

      I’m trying to broaden your frame of reference is all. I agree with Christian Vagabond above that you’re coming at this more from a standpoint of The Cause and less The People, and I think that’s limiting your ability to analyze your position.

      For example, when you say, “I don’t think simply rejecting educating others because it’s not something we’re obligated to do makes sense,” I’m guessing you’ve not spent much time in LGBT activism or forums, or you would realize that there already is a strong, perceived obligation to educate. This issue is contentious; people feel as though as they must, are told they don’t have to, other people shame those who don’t see it as an obligation, and round and round we go.

      The combination of oppression teaching people to be accomodating and our (humanity’s) general social impulses means that very few people (in my opinion) actually need to be encouraged to educate. Quite the opposite; I’ve seen far more people burnt out on activism than people who openly refuse to contribute anything.

      I understand you’re still working this out for yourself. I’m only asking that you consider things from the perspective of people who would be better helped by being explicitly told they don’t have an obligation–that it is in fact PERFECTLY OKAY and HEALTHY to refuse to educate–as opposed to the, “Well of course you don’t have to, but it really is the better choice,” approach. No one is “simply rejecting” educating; the decision to put one’s own needs first even some of the time comes only with struggle. Leaders of a movement can help with that by choosing their words to remove even an implied sense of obligation.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Thank you – that helps. :-)

  • Lydisa

    My only suggestion is that you switch the positions of Condemnatory and Relativistic. I see Condemnatory as negative and Relativistic as positive, and whenever I see axis like those, I think of the Cartesian plane. It baffled me to see Condemnatory on the positive side of the y-axis. Yes, I’m a mathematician. How did you guess? :-)

    Other than that, I like it. I’m also glad that you read the comments and rethink your positions sometimes, and that you’re willing to put ideas out there for others to read and discuss while you are still “formulating and sorting out” your thoughts. I like reading the comment section, even though I’m mostly just a lurker.

  • Chris Hallquist

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “good faith.” I get the point about not trying to piss people off for the hell of it, but no proselytizing? Granted, that will often be off-topic in any given comment thread, but what’s bad faith about it?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      The way I see it, proselytizing does not mesh well with the second part: Engage other commenters in good faith and with the goal of understanding. I guess I see proselytizing as trying to change someone’s mind without being willing to listen to them in turn. At least, that was my thought process when I composed my comment policy!

  • AnyBeth

    Ok, I’m trying to get this: so you’re against name-calling and personal attacks, but not snark/sarcasm. Is that right? Where does mocking arguments fall on this, I wonder. Anyway, lots of people think these things are very uncivil, very rude.
    I’m young and use an assistive device. Often enough, I get the sickeningly sweet rudeness of particularly insistent condescension. After I’ve politely but increasingly firmly refused their assistance or indicated I prefer not to answer their personal questions, I tend to start addressing them just as they did me, saccharine tone and all. Yes, it’s very rude; that’s the point. I do this to both shut them down and to get them thinking. These are people who are so full of themselves, they haven’t a clue how rude they’re being until it’s reflected back at them. Or so I think.
    Btw, there is the same debate on “civility” or some such in the disability community, too. Whether we PWD need to be nice and polite (even to “rude” actions of others, including –on occasion– the assault of being dragged somewhere without your consent) or whether we ought to be firm and willing to say “FUCK THAT!” whenever we find ourselves unjustly beset. The former group says the latter response will encourage PWD being maligned; the latter group says the response of the former means there will be no productive change. People with disabilities are fighting for different goals against a different history, but there’s still the same argument in the community.
    Yes, I’m more on the side of “it’s ok to be rude,” but of course, it’s situation-dependent and I normally use graduated responses. I wouldn’t name-call in any confrontation in any but the near-worst circumstances, but I’m up for the supposedly rude response of making someone see just how rude they’re being (or how ridiculous their argument is) by mirroring it, though that could be seen as mocking. And I truly hope the next time a stranger “helps” me by taking hold of me or my device despite several refusals, I’ll find my tongue prepared to let loose obscenities. Oh, but I shouldn’t do that, some tell me; that would be rude.
    I’m sorry if I inappropriately took this down another path. As far as I can tell, it’s the same arguments from a different source. But if you aren’t including being “rude” as uncivil, then you’ve got a very different definition than I’ve ever known.

    • ako

      I’m young and use an assistive device. Often enough, I get the sickeningly sweet rudeness of particularly insistent condescension.

      I can totally relate. (I’m disabled in a highly visible way.) And people trying to be helpful while ignoring everything I say to them about not wanting that particular type of help. It’s like they’ve got this movie running through their head of being the Noble Helper and ordinary “No thanks, I don’t want that” responses aren’t loud enough to break through. I’ve tried explaining politely, and that works quite well with someone who’s already listening and has bought into the basic premise that I should be the judge of what kind of help I want. But people who think like that are already going “Would you like a hand?” instead of grabbing my arms to ‘helpfully’ steady me or trying to yank objects out of my hand in order to ‘helpfully’ carry them for me. I’ve tried, and the only thing that works is snapping out an answer sharply enough that they break out of their little fantasy, and actually see me. (They don’t tend to like me after this, but given a choice between “This creepy intrusive stranger thinks well of me” and “This creepy intrusive stranger is no longer touching me”, I’m going with the latter. And yes, well-intentioned ‘helpful’ strangers, YOU ARE BEING CREEPY! You are grabbing me in ways I didn’t ask for and don’t want, and ignoring my explicit refusals. “Creepy” is the nicest word I care to use for that kind of thing.)

      Bit of a rant there. But basically, while I think there should be a line, I also believe in a degree of “If they go this far, you can escalate this much”, and I tend to be wary of calls for civility or presenting any kind of gentle activism as inherently superior. Because what I know is the minimum necessary level of assertiveness to protect myself is a level that many people consider excessively rude and uncivil.

      • Christine

        The line I see, however, is that if I, as someone who currently has the privilege of a healthy body, were to speak on your behalf (because some creep wasn’t listening to you, not because you are incapable of doing so), it would be much less appropriate for me to get upset.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Good point about snark. No, I’m not against snark categorically, and the more I think about it, the more it seems like all of this is very situational. Snark can be wonderful in one situation, or fulfill a given purpose, and push someone away in another. I guess in the end all we can do is our best. But yes, snark can be awesome, especially when used well.

    • Sophie

      I am a wheelchair user, and it drives me crazy when people try to help me without my permission. And worse the people who don’t listen when I say no. But often the response to my saying no is, “it’s no trouble,” or something similar. And that’s made me realise that most of the time people are trying to be kind. It does still piss me off, and sometimes I am rude but a lot of the time I bite my tongue. But being visibly disabled is still quite new to me, I’ve only been using a wheelchair for just over a year. Before that no one would have been able to tell. So I get that if you’ve been dealing with it for longer then it will be more infuriating.

      However when people talk to me in that condescending sugary sweet tone I am rude to them. Especially when they lean forward to talk to me, like people do to children. Because they would never talk to a non-disabled adult that way, not that I think it’s acceptable for people to talk to children that way either.

  • Judy L.

    “The answer to violence is more guns” -Christopher Hitchins

    What? When and were did Hitchens say this?

    On the subject of civility: Over the past couple of years we saw a good deal of pleading from the Republicans, the religious right, and right-wing media, for civility in political discourse, in which they wanted everyone to stop calling them out for their own lack of civility in discussions about the recognition of Gay marriage rights, the teaching of evolution, abortion rights, access to contraception, the POTUS, etc. Saying that you oppose gay marriage and that you think you should be able to vote on other people’s civil rights and giving money to organizations that spread lies about homosexuality is not merely ‘expressing an opinion’, it’s an attack on real people. It’s not ‘intolerance’ when you call out other people for their bigoted statements, or even to call someone a bigot if that’s precisely what they’re playing at.

    But to the ultimate point, Libby Anne: It’s your blog, you control the comments section, and it’s your right to delete comments or ban people. As PZ Myers said so perfectly just a day or so ago on his blog, the First Amendment entitles anyone with the means to create their own blog and post whatever they like on it, but it doesn’t entitle anyone to post whatever they like in the comments section of someone else’s blog without being subject to censure. If it’s civility you want, then you can have precisely that (with a little blog comments housekeeping work on your part).

    • Judy L.

      *When and where…”

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        I don’t know but I’m not surprised. As much as Hitchens was awesome in the atheist arena, his right wing political views and others were awful imho (and the opinion of many progressives). It’s important to take the good and leave the bad and not put anyone on a pedestal like they could do no wrong nor have wrong opinions.

        http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2012/12/15/christopher-hitchens-on-gun-control/

  • ako

    First, while it’s true that we don’t have to educate those who are privileged, it’s also true that someone ought to be out there educating people. In other words, the fact that it’s not required doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it anyway.

    Two realizations have helped me on the “educating people” front.

    1) There’s a difference between “We ought to be educating people” and “You ought to be educating people any time an opportunity comes up with no regard for your personal well-being”. It seems obvious, but a lot of people get caught in binary thinking, and feel as if the only alternatives are “Hi there, stranger who just told me I deserve to be killed with rocks! Here is a long, detailed explanation of why I am not a sex pervert!” or “Screw this, I’m not educating anyone ever.”)

    (There’s also the issue of “We ought to be educating people” versus “You ought to be educating people”, which is something I’d be interested to know Libby Anne’s views on. Because it sounds like she’s expression an expectation that any particular person should be doing the educating, but I’m not sure if I’m understanding her correctly. I think that, while in general there should be an effort to educate people, it’s perfectly reasonable for a particular person to decide their time and energy are better spent somewhere else. Educating the privileged isn’t the only worthwhile task, and for some people it’s about as appealing and successful as banging their heads against a brick wall.)

    2) Sometimes, setting boundaries is educating people. “Not every disabled person is going to recite their medical history on the spot” is a good lesson. So is “You have no right to interrogate me about my sexuality to find out if it lines up with your religious beliefs if I don’t want to participate”. So is “Not every woman owes you her time just because you want it”. (I’m sure people could come up with dozens more.) Sometimes these are more useful than what the person is asking to learn about. So if I don’t want to share the details of my medical history to some random stranger, I’m not Failing To Educate Them, I’m teaching them a different lesson.

  • Karen

    Being civil doesn’t necessarily mean being nice, either. “That’s one of the most breathtakingly absurd ideas I’ve heard” does not equate to “You are a complete idiot”. The former, while not kind, attacks an idea. The latter attacks a person. Mind you, option 1 is usually below the level of diplomacy I tend to employ unless really, really riled up. Option 2 is just rude and doesn’t accomplish anything.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      Exactly! Diplomacy makes one really think about one’s words, but that doesn’t meant that you have to be nice with them.

      “Diplomacy is the art of telling someone to go to hell and making them anticipate the trip.”

  • Beth

    @ 10: Amazing Sandwich Do people have a right to self-defense when they experience oppression, or not?

    Yes they have a right to self-defense, but the right to self-defense is limited by the circumstances and social standards of where the interaction takes place. You don’t get to shoot someone for making a thoughtless comment that attacked a group you belong to. Personally, I think it’s inappropriate to verbally abuse others even when you feel they have attacked or oppressed you with their words. On the internet, my response to such people is to cease all interaction with them. If they can’t treat me with respect, I don’t need to interact with them at all.

    If you express your anger in a way that attacks others, then you have to deal the consequences of what you said even if the other person can be fairly said to have provoked your response. Of course, the consequences of saying things others don’t like on the internet are rarely more onerous than being blocked or banned.

    The message is that anger and incivility can be productive for the person expressing them.

    What are you talking about here? I’m certain that the anger and incivility Rush Limbaugh expresses on his show is productive for him, but’s it’s not something I choose to emulate. As Karen @26 says, polite doesn’t necessarily mean nice. I always found Miss Manners terrific for ideas on how to phrase things such that your attitude toward what they said/did is accurately communicated whilst remaining perfectly polite. I also find it often helps to rant privately first and then decide if I want to type out a polite message or cease contact entirely.

    • Amazing Sandwich

      I’m talking about the worth of oppressed people and their words not being contingent on meeting an arbitrary standard of conduct determined by the privileged. Elevating proper politeness (i.e. ettiquette) as the standard by which to judge a person has a long history as a tool of oppression.

      Politeness is overrated. If you’re going to be mean, just be mean, else you’re back to splitting hairs over how mean is too mean and how mean you can get away with being while managing to stay polite. Some cultures have taken the hypocrisy of polite meanness to an art form. Is abuse any less abuse coming from a honeyed tongue?

      I reserve the right not to be polite all the time. That doesn’t mean I go around deliberately blowing my stack, but I recognize and accept that anger is a tool, and use it where I think appropriate–places where, I have no doubt, you would think it inappropriate. That’s okay. I don’t agree with some people’s tactics either, but their personalities, experiences, strengths and weaknesses are not mine. What matters to me is what they accomplish, and if their approach works for them, they generally accomplish a lot.

      • BethC

        The message is that anger and incivility can be productive for the person expressing them.

        I’m talking about the worth of oppressed people and their words not being contingent on meeting an arbitrary standard of conduct determined by the privileged.

        I’m not following you. Could you link up the idea of anger and incivility being productive with the worth of oppressed people and their words?

        Elevating proper politeness (i.e. ettiquette) as the standard by which to judge a person has a long history as a tool of oppression.

        I’m not sure of this. What do you mean by ‘a tool of oppression’ and why does that makes civility a poor standard for judging whether or not you want to interact with someone? Belts have been a ‘tool of oppression’ for generations of children, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful for holding up your pants.

        Politeness is overrated. If you’re going to be mean, just be mean, else you’re back to splitting hairs over how mean is too mean and how mean you can get away with being while managing to stay polite. Some cultures have taken the hypocrisy of polite meanness to an art form. Is abuse any less abuse coming from a honeyed tongue?

        One can be abusive without using words others consider offensive. You can also use words that others consider offensive without being abusive. But you can’t be abusive and polite. They are, IMO, mutually exclusive.

        I reserve the right not to be polite all the time.

        I’m not sure what you mean by this. There is no requirement for you to be polite ever. So what are you asking for with this statement – the right to be rude or verbally abusive to others without suffering any consequences for such behavior?

    • Kodie

      I find that civility proponents like yourself do not seem to understand the difference between what is said and how it is said. People say the meanest, most disgusting, uncivil things using the device of a civil tone and then refuse to engage someone who responds how one would to such an offense.

      I was brought up “real”. My mom did not speak to any of us what she calls “pussyfooting around”. I guess I get the same thing. People in my family are both real and really sensitive, so it may not have been for the best, but it does make me wonder why we have to pretend we’re not saying what we’re saying. People can hide seething rage for someone behind sugary language if they want, but I read through it and I know what they said, and I respond to it. A civil tone doesn’t fool anyone so why the pretense, for “manners”. If what you have to say is warped in such a way that you feel that it’s coming across different, it’s not. People can hear you loud and clear. Then it’s a question of power. You, or someone following your methods, sets a “tone” and they will not deign to engage if the tone is broken and someone merely has the bad manners to say it plain. Besides that, I know you take me for a fool and that you think I don’t know what you or someone using your methods really said.

      That isn’t civil.

      • Beth

        I’m not sure what you are referring to here. Can you give an example of something that you would term a mean, disgusting uncivil thing to say that manages to qualify as civil in tone?

      • Kodie

        On another blog, I commented to someone, I called him a liar. Because what he said was a lie. He further lied by not knowing what I must be referring to at all, and suggested he would not engage me if I had called him a liar. When he did engage me in the first place, to tell a lie, it was not in response to anything I had said to him, but just to antagonize me, and had chosen to do that instead of respond to any of several other comments I had made in response to him, which is the essence of the lie he told.

        Well a liar is someone who lies, but I notice it’s considerably more civil to ask them, “please stop being dishonest.” I would suggest when someone is hostile to me or when relaying their opinion, using the device of civility, I do not see to go back there and smooth it over with him, which is why I called him a liar instead of asking him not to be dishonest or deferring to the accusation with apology and watching my manners. I didn’t call him an inaccurate or foul, irrelevant name, but I didn’t pause and reword my comment to adjust for his sensitivity either. He did seem to think that he held the cards and that I was eager to get his point of view which he was withholding, which is also hostile. It had that civil veneer, but it’s hostile. I do not have to honor that hostility with a pretense of manners, and I don’t. When people are using a device to manipulate the conversation, they have shown a lack of manners too. However, I am not someone who really cares about changing other people’s minds either. I know in order to do that, which is what the original civility “study” pertains to, people change their mind when you butter them up. In plain English, that just means they know how to sell. It’s not to spare anyone’s feelings at all, it’s to convince them; in order to convince them, the audience prefers warmth, heart, attention and special care, and has a distaste for the meaning of words if they “feel” bad.

        I made another example in a different post in the thread here.

  • http://fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

    Awesome points here, Libby. I agree with most of them, although the word “condemnatory” on your graph seems a little, well, condemning to me. It suggests that if you insist that not all views are equal you’re displaying a bad character trait, whereas sometimes that’s precisely what’s needed. I wonder if discerning or some other word might be better? I didn’t have a problem with the positive/negative issue Lydsia mentioned above, but if that’s a concern, maybe it would be better to switch the x and y axes? It seems that verbally abusive is more obviously a negative than relativistic (or condemnatory) is.

  • http://fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

    I did have a larger concern about this discussion of civility. This is something that always bothers me whenever this topic is discussed, but I think it touches on your points as well. When people talk about civility they also talk about it in the context of politeness: if people just minded their manners and eased up on the hyperbole, it wouldn’t be a problem. But when a white white supremacist calls a Jew a kike or a homophobe calls a gay person a fag, the problem isn’t that he actually says these terms; it’s that he thought them. Obviously I’m not suggesting we pass a law against bad thoughts, but I think we’re definitely missing something significant when we look at someone who has hateful, disrespectful, divisive thoughts and think the problem is they said it out loud. If a friend used this language, the word would have been what alerted me to the problem, but it’s a pointer, not the problem per se.

    I’m a moderate, sometimes even a progressive, Christian who spends a lot of time dialoguing with atheists online. One of the things I love about this blog so much is that I get the sense Libby Anne thinks religious people like myself can still be rational and ethical members of society – that while we may be wrong in our religious belief, this is not in itself a moral flaw. So when an atheist says religion is foolishness, I’m not offended by the fact that he said it; it’s the thought behind the thought that I find so offensive. And it’s worth thinking about that when deciding what tone to take in your discussions. It’s not just messaging and tone, but whether that tone reveals something to the person you’re talking to that’s genuinely offensive.

    Tone matters, of course. I’m a Christian who happens to be committed to gender and LGBT equaity and to the idea that we ought to believe what science teaches us. I also think my religion offers tools to bring people around on this front, and that the sexist/anti-LGBT readings of the Bible are misreadings that can be challenged on their own terms. (Whether or not you believe the Bible is in any sense true or good, wouldn’t it be nice for people like XanderTatsu’s sake if more Christians believed it didn’t view his kind of homosexuality as a sin?) I make good progress most days, but when my fellow Christians feel attacked from outside they’re less likely to believe what I have to say. So tone does matter, I think. I’m not ignoring the practical consequence. But it’s not just tone that matters, and if you really do believe that religions are superstitions that need to be gotten rid of, I don’t think phrasing that right will necessarily take away the insult.

    This all reminds me of the ethics class I teach. When we talk about cultural relativism, we talk about whether ethical objectivism (the idea that there are objective moral facts just like there are objective scientific facts) necessarily means you can’t respect those you disagree with. Most semesters, one of my students points out that there’s a different between respecting someone and being right. You can respect your parents by taking their emotions into consideration, even if you disagree with what they say. Similarly, even if I disagree with someone’s moral position, I can still respect their dignity as a person. One way I do this is by disagreeing in the right way: rather than denigrating them, act like they can be reached and engage them through rational argument. I think this realization is key to conversations about civility. Messaging matters, but it’s far from the whole issue.

    • Beth

      Marta, I think you are right – i.e. But it’s not just tone that matters, and if you really do believe that religions are superstitions that need to be gotten rid of, I don’t think phrasing that right will necessarily take away the insult. but getting to the point where these ideas can be discussed productively requires that tone not erect a brick wall that prevents communication.

      The onus is always on those who wish to change other people’s minds. If they don’t figure out how to express their offensive ideas in ways that won’t drive those they wish to persuade out of the conversation then they will be unsuccessful. That’s true whether they hold the opinion that “religions are superstitions that need to be gotten rid of” or “atheists don’t have any morals” or “feminists are ugly angry women”.

      It’s more problematic when it’s a family member (or someone else who can’t be avoided) who holds the inherently offensive opinion. I have a brother who used to say things about women I find very offensive. I’ve let him know my thoughts regarding his opinion on women and marriage. Although our discussions were civil, I’ve not changed his mind. At this point, I think that him keeping his opinion to himself the best I can hope for.

      • http://fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

        I didn’t mean to say that tone shouldn’t be a part of the discussion. Tone is important because an offensive tone can get in the way of an important discussion. It shuts down discussions that we need. I don’t think this is an either/or question, but more a plea that we not reduce this problem to one of poor word choice or poor framing.

        When I think about stereotypes (and yes, they do need busting) I keep coming back to this meme. It’s worth remembering, because I think it encourages respect and understanding all around.

        http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382172813/

      • Kodie

        Right, so it’s of a group’s or individual’s best interest to steer clear of a sentiment like “I hate gay people” if they are trying to persuade someone else to hate gay people also. They should say other things like “the bible says that homosexuality is an abomination, and I’m inclined to agree.” ABOMINATION? They should avoid saying things like “gay people should be rounded up and put in a camp amongst themselves with a big fence around it” and instead say something like, “how am I supposed to explain homosexuality to my children when I see gay people holding hands or kissing right out in public?” THE CHIIIIIIILDREN! “I’m not a bigot! I just believe it’s unnatural and they shouldn’t have special rights.” Neope, yer a bigot, not fooling anyone with your pretense.

    • Anat

      So what if I hold views you find insulting? I’m sure you hold views I will find insulting. It’s not the end of the world. I believe religions make false claims about the universe. Basing one’s way of life on falsity is usually not a good idea. Basing one’s morals on falsity can be harmful. As some of people’s morals affect behaviors that impact others this can be a big deal. I’m not going to change my views because you find them insulting. Being potentially offensive is not a good reason to change a view that is otherwise supported by evidence.

    • Anat

      As for your following post, offensive tone and insults were important to my learning and growth. When my position is insulted I feel challenged to offer a good rebuttal. If I can’t come up with a good one I know I might be wrong, and my previous opinion becomes one with much potential for change.

      I have been a confrontational person since early childhood. One of my caretakers nicknamed me Ms But. I form and reform my opinions by confronting people and having my views confronted by others. Steel blades sharpen one another. I was also brought up in a culture that doesn’t have much use for civility as such so I’m used to being both on the giving and the receiving end of unpleasant communication.

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    I agree with your paragraphs on the bystander effect. In the Tom/Tracey/Adam story, I identify with fictitious Tracey. In trying to think of an actual time something like this happened to me, I recalled mornings before school watching Rush Limbagh with my father. (Dad liked it and not much else was on before 7am) If Rush’s style hasn’t changed, ridicule is a big factor in his attack method. He finds an obnoxious example of something, then takes it down or applauds as others take it down. Tim’s billboard calling Religion a Fairy Tale is obnoxious. I can almost hear Rush calling Adam a hero for burning it. And I can feel past fictitious Tracey saying, “Serves him right!” That is significantly harder to do with a billboard stating “You are not alone”. I may have scratched my head and wondered why everyone was getting all worked up. I know it would help me see an atheist as a person. And it would leave me with questions. Questions that would need answers someday. Questions I would seek an atheist to answer for me. It is this type of question that led me to changing my views on LGBTQ, and sex outside of marriage. So, yes, even if you are not asking or seeking directly, observing public interactions on a topic can sway those on the sidelines.

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