I remember as a teenager reading the line “your opinion of me is none of my business” and really liking it. Naturally I’ve never lived up to it. I’ve always cared what others think about me, but at least it is something to strive towards.
I like that line partly because it doesn’t demand that the other person’s opinion be good. It doesn’t say “don’t judge me.” The other person is free to judge, but that judgement is their business and not mine.
I was at The Feminist Breeder‘s facebook page a few days ago. I shouldn’t go there. She was posting about how sick she and her daughter are, and how much medication she is on and yet at the same time she’s doula-ing. Then when people ask the logical question about why, given her thinking that her daughter had pertussis and she is on medication, she would go ahead and be at someone else’s birth, she gets all upset at people for questioning her decision.
I haven’t the slightest clue or care how healthy she was though I’d probably want to have erred on the side of caution if I were her. But what bothers me is how offended she sounds by people who disagree with her. What we post publicly, we must be ready to have questioned. To post something and say “don’t judge me for this” is trying to muzzle someone else. She has to limit other people’s posts on her facebook and webpage (and she does that) but then she’d darn well better expect the thoughts to pop up elsewhere (like the comments on posts she guest wrote elsewhere). Even her fans end up getting concerned at times because she is so defensive.
We all have our different boundaries, our different abilities to accept criticism and correction. There are things that I am unwilling to put out in public (or even in close relationships) because I am unwilling to have those ideas criticized. Yet the very act of holding back the information means I am aware of a different opinion, a different side of the story. It is one thing to say that I don’t want to hear disagreement because this is what I have to do or be anyway, and another different thing to say others are wrong for questioning me.
To think, to judge, that is the privilege of being human. If people want to say “hey, this is my private life, don’t judge me” they need to keep it private. If they want to say “hey, you don’t know all the information so you shouldn’t judge” when they are the ones supplying the information through their blog, they need to think about how they are communicating things.
Of course there is another side to this too. Reading through the comment section on the Feminist Breeder website I find someone saying “I am responsible for what I say, you are responsible for what you hear.” I pause to contemplate where that saying fits into all this. In some ways it reminds me too much of people saying that bullies can’t really hurt a person unless the person is willing to be hurt by it. It also sounds like talking isn’t really an effort to communicate, just a vanity act. If you’re saying something just for the chance to say it, not to try to get someone else to hear and understand it, what is the point of saying it? Your opinion of me is not my business, except I’m attempting to communicate with you, and then it is my responsibility to try to shape your opinion. When your opinion of me or what I say is my business, then I need to be responsible not just for what I say but what you hear.
Of course there will always be some people who insist on hearing something their way regardless of what effort another person makes. In those case probably the only solution is to make sure that what the person hears is not your business. Gina, the Feminist Breeder, is trying to do that but she’s doing it wrong. She’s saying that it doesn’t matter what others think because they’re mean, and pestering her, and because its her private life. The private life aspect is obviously not applicable because she’s putting it online and the other two aspects are a matter of opinion.
She’s trying to make it not her business what anyone who doesn’t approve of her hears, and that’s fine, except she does it awkwardly, defensively, and she forgets the internet is a public canvas painted upon by many. She’s made her mark and staked out her territory and because its big and public those who disagree will not want it left as a public testament to only one side of a stories. So while their opinion of her isn’t her business, their opinion of her is their business and they have a right to make it their business.
I ask these rather circular questions at least partly because I remember being bullied, and I remember being told the nonsensical “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt.” They can hurt. I’ve been told that what a person says doesn’t matter it is how you interpret it and what meaning you put on it. That’s true, but only to some a certain extent. I think those speaking do have something of a responsibility for the harm their words might cause.
At the same time I haven’t bought into the idea that we can never judge other people either. We have to be able to think thoughts, even thoughts that would hurt other people, and at times we have to speak those thoughts clearly. If someone’s decision is a train wreck waiting to happen it isn’t merciful to keep quiet about it. Silence can become consent. It can appear to be agreement.
And yes this connects a bit with the post I put up the other day about fundamentalist Christianity and their condemnation of homosexuality. I’m torn between believing that people have a right to think, even that someone else is wrong, and but also that we do have a responsibility to care for others and be aware of how our condemnation of others affects them. So I think that the fundamentalist condemnation of homosexuality is wrong on several levels. Its wrong because its an inaccurate interpretation of God’s will, and its wrong because the harm it inflicts is more than the benefit. But the point I’m trying to make is that I think there can be times when one does have to take a position someone else feels as hurtful. So how do you tell when?
With that all in mind, I’m trying to think about what I’m doing with my blog. How much information am I willing to share? What do I want to hold back? How do I get the blend of homeschooling, politics and books that I would so dearly like to write? What do I write about when I lack basically any professional qualifications and I want to try to permit my children at least some privacy?