Continuing on from my previous blog post regarding boundaries, let’s explore a bit further about different kinds of boundaries. I think that this is a very useful practice in modern society, especially if we want to continue to have healthy and open dialogue, to be able to practice freedom of speech and to be able to see from a broader perspective than our own perhaps limited point of view. When we stop listening, we stop understanding.
This was really brought to light recently for me when I heard of the de-platforming of two speakers/presenters/vendors at the upcoming Pantheacon. I was flabbergasted by the reaction of the organisation, decided to research the background of the situation that would lead to such a decision. There wasn’t much to go on, sadly: it was simply a matter of opinion, and an uninformed one for the most part. I really hope that the organisation’s statement doesn’t damage the work of these presenters, because that is just unacceptable. They have, at least, removed the wording that these presenters are “dangerous” from their webpage, which was still up last week. I guess they saw some looming libel laws and changed tack.
At any rate, the real issue is boundaries, and how we can feel safe and free to express ourselves, without damaging others in the process. Indeed, I thought long and hard about even mentioning the above as an example, not wanting to deal with a whole bunch of backlash from the flame war that has erupted on the internet regarding this issue. But then I realised that this kind of thinking isn’t helping anyone, and no one should be afraid to debate an issue with all due respect. We seem to be living in a culture where it is getting more and more difficult to criticise, respectfully and honestly. In a recent Guardian article, this was highlighted by people sabotaging real debate when they mis-label hate speech/hateful conduct. I felt that the real crux of the article was summed up in one sentence: “There would seem to be little one could say on most difficult issues that could not also be construed as hatred.” I think of Jeremy Corbyn and the antisemetism rhetoric and terrorist supporting rhetoric that was hurled at him from the opposing party and taken over by the Tory-owned and operated media. I am now seeing it more recently reflected by the de-platforming of speakers this year at one of the largest Pagan conferences in the world. It seems that it is becoming a weapon to be used against people who are not really the enemy, but who want genuine debate and conversation in order to better understand the situation in general, or who are simply doing their own thing and some people disagree with it.
Are we no longer able to criticise and debate the real, deep issues that affect us as human beings? Why do we feel threatened by this debate? We all understand the power of words, but it is only through words that we can resolve conflict. Perhaps this is due to a backlash from social media, where people have expressed their opinions in less than honourable ways, and people’s defences are up. Hate speech is very real online. Yet I still think that we should be able to criticise ideas and debate issues, no matter how difficult they are, without being labelled as dangerous or worse.
This leads me to emotional boundaries. I’ve spoken about how we all need to understand emotional responsibility, and the importance of compassion in our relationships. Some subjects we are extremely passionate about, because they affect us directly. We can be hugely passionate about an issue, and yet still engage in debate without criminalising the opposing view. In the original blog post that inspired this series regarding boundaries, it was noted what healthy boundaries were, and what they were not.
“According to the book Boundaries and Relationships by Charles Whitfield, M.D:
Healthy boundaries are NOT:
Set for us by others
Hurtful or harmful
Controlling or manipulative
Invasive or dominating
Rigid and immovable
Healthy boundaries ARE:
determined by US”
With emotional boundaries, the responsibility for working with others is entirely up to us. Yes, some people transgress the law in doing so, with real hate speech and violent verbal abuse, both online and in person. That is why these things are illegal and need to be dealt with accordingly. However, having others determine what our personal boundaries should be is where the issue really lies. After having done my research on the Pantheacon issue, I knew that I did not want Pantheacon’s opinion any longer, especially as I feel that their mission statement of “setting aside differences of opinion” is in direct conflict with the decision that they took. I don’t think that Witchdoctor Utu’s reason for de-platforming is a valid one (Pantheacon have not provided a reason on their website as of the date of this blog post’s publishing, but if you go to his Facebook page you can get his side of the story: namely, they believed that due to the fact he honoured black ancestors in his tradition, he was guilty of cultural appropriation.) I also don’t think that Max should have been de-platformed and labelled as a trans-exclusionary advocate, and indeed a great opportunity for discussion was missed regarding issues relevant to and debates around trans-gendered people, boundaries and more. (You can see her side of the story on her Facebook page.) It seems that silencing people who you think are wrong is becoming more and more socially acceptable. This is a great tragedy with regards to understanding and compassion.
When we engage in discussion, let’s do so with our passion as inspiration for our words, but also with our heads firmly engaged in honourable debate. There is no need to de-humanise the other, to even make them The Other, the opposition, the enemy. Maybe it’s all my Buddhist practice speaking, but I truly feel that this is an issue that really needs to be looked at in today’s society. We don’t need to destroy someone whose opinion is different from ours. We should be able to express our opinion and, in doing so, may have to listen to the opinion of others whom we disagree with, maybe even loathe. By maintaining good emotional boundaries, we should be able to do so and really be able to engage without de-humanising the other side. It’s up to each and every one of us to engage with others honourably, and with respect. We are all human, we are all thinking and feeling creatures.
Let’s fully engage with emotional responsibility.
Your post has also found me thinking about these same issues. My conclusion, unremarked by me until recently, has been a slow withdrawal from the on-line pagan community. There is little sense of community left in fact, more a feeling of Inquisition, orthodoxy, and attack. Frankly, my opinions evolve based on my knowledge and I feel ill-equipped at the best of times to defend myself… let alone to the death. And that is what people are demanding: a defence to the death on the finest points. Alone, I can be as creative and eclectic as I choose in my spiritual path. It feels difficult to explore spirituality now because there are so many people claiming the gospel of how to feel and behave.
It can certainly feel that way, and I can totally empathise. I too have felt that way. Hopefully it is just a pendulum swing, and that it has reached it’s furthest point on the one end, and will now be turning back towards the centre (only then to swing to the opposite direction, but hey h o) and people will come to some sort of agreement on how to interact. I think the internet is still a very new thing for us humans, and online communication is not yet something we’re all that good at yet (I know I’m constantly working at it). I remember Pagan forums many, many years ago, where there was a real sense of community and support. Now it is often people trying to prove that they are right, but more importantly, you are wrong. (There are still a few good forums out there!). Perhaps there’s a real social decline happening, where people just don’t feel good or confident anymore, about themselves or the world in general.
HI There: I just wanted to thank you very much for your excellent posts on boundaries. I am an interspiritual minister and practitioner of Wicca and Lukumi. I believe your criticism of what you see as “silencing” behavior by many in these communities over cultural appropriation issues is very valid and I applaud you for speaking out about this. We need to dialogue about this important issues without blocking and shaming people we may disagree with. Like it or not, we are evolving out of a tribal exclusive world and into a global interspiritual world we need to be able to share out thoughts, idea, traditions while maintaining our own sense of personal values, space, and respecting traditions without shutting others out completely. Thank you!
Thank you so much, Wendy! I was debating for nearly two weeks whether or not to say something using specific examples in the Pagan community, as I feared backlash and just did not want to deal with it right now. But I felt that I too was being silenced by the threat of backlash, and so decided to say something, and stick my head above the parapet, so to speak. I really do feel that when we disagree with someone, we shouldn’t dismiss them, or try to destroy them, etc. That sort of mentality just astounds me, but I see it happening more and more through all aspects of life. I think that there is great fear is people’s lives, and perhaps if we addressed this fear, we could have better dialogue.