I just saw a mind open, and it was beautiful.
In early summer I was interviewed by psychologist Samantha Smithstein for her blog on Psychology Today, about writing, raising a gender-nonconforming child, and responding to bullying. Last week, an anonymous commenter wrote in to say of me, “This woman should not be a mother. It is her fault that her son is being bullied. Children will always bully others. It is a fact of life.”
I have three personal values regarding communication that I strive to maintain. They are: 1) confronting issues directly, 2) using critical thinking, and 3) exercising civil discourse. It’s the last one on the list that allows people to hear the first two. And so I told my facebook friends when I shared the commenters words: “Please…if you respond, be civil.”
There were some heartening and entertaining comments on my facebook page, my favorite being, “OK I am confused now. Was it a fact of life or your fault? Can’t have it both ways.” My readers wrote in to Samantha’s blog in productive, thoughtful ways. They explained that gender identity is innate, that it isn’t useful to blame victims for being bullied, and that children who are different are in need of parental support, not condemnation. One reader said, “You might want to do some research on gender. It’s not nearly as black and white as u might think….I really hope u look a little deeper into this issue. The best thing would be for u to meet one of these children.”
That’s the sort of dialog that encourages the changing of minds, the opening of hearts. And a few days later, the anonymous commenter returned.
“I apologize,” Anonymous said. “I was wrong and quick to judge. I still maintain a couple of my feelings but I spoke with a couple people after writing that and I realized how incomplete my understanding of this situation was. So, I apologize. What I wrote was ridiculous.”
It’s fine if a commenter doesn’t agree with me–I don’t expect that everyone will hold the same views, on anything, that I do. And it’s lovely that Anonymous apologized for the attack on my parenting. But what was most moving to me was that Anonymous returned to civility.
There is much we can learn from each other. Anonymous teaches us that it’s possible to think things over and change one’s mind. That it’s possible to apologize, even after having had a very strong, public opinion. Using civility, Anonymous changed from a person I didn’t want to listen to, to someone with humility and open-heartedness who suddenly seems worth my time and attention. Civility is what brings us to a place where we can all learn from each other.
And on to equally inspiring matters of a more housekeeping-ish nature….the winner of her very own autographed copy of Cynthia Chin-Lee’s Operation Marriage is Sarah Buttenwieser, commenter number 5, selected by trusty random.org. Sarah writes an awesome blog, Standing in the Shadows, on parenting & politics & pop culture & the planet, which you should all check out.