Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Negative Attention

Last night I happened to be cruising through Planet Baha'i's archives -- it's not a forum I visit often, and it's probably been a couple of years since I even posted there. It's a conservatively-managed forum where I have to mind my p's and q's, although I did see an improved level of discussion from what they once had.

One thing I have noticed is that every time there is a big clash over freedom of expression or what a Baha'i may or may not say, the initial reaction is restriction of discussion, but once the dust has settled, the lines are drawn more broadly than they were before the conflict, as if people have gotten used to the issues and they aren't so shocking. That happened most dramatically on Beliefnet, but I've seen it elsewhere, too; there's even some history of it in the Real World.

One of the problems of being a public figure -- and not to brag because it's easy to do in a relatively small circle like Baha'i cyberspace -- is that people want your attention, even if it's negative attention. I saw this with Juan when I first came on Talisman; all these people showed up to duel with the Big Guy. Anyway, a person was complaining that I didn't answer some challenges she posed me in private email, citing it as an example of my being closed-minded etc. First of all, I don't debate people in private email; I never have. I might give one response (and in this lady's case, I did that), but if it becomes clear that all they want to do is tell me how wrong I am, or ask me "Have you stopped beating your wife?" kind of questions, then I just don't need that. Public debate can be worth the aggravation if it brings out ideas -- and I've been less and less inclined to do even that, as time has gone on. Lots of people want me to justify myself and my positions, and I once put a lot of time and energy doing that, but it became drearily repetitive. It is emotionally draining to have to justify one's existence all the time. (I could even say that it has become "burdensome" and "spiritually corrosive" -- the warnings that the UHJ has given about arguements with us bad, awful dissidents. Arguing with hostile fundies doesn't do anyone's psyche much good, either.) It is very odd how each individual poster thinks I owe them their very own explanation, or believes that they are the only one in the whole world who ever asked me about this issue or that.

It reminds me of when I show up in a new classroom as a substitute teacher: All the kids, particularly little ones, peek in the door , or while I'm letting them in will ask me a zillion questions about who I am, why their regular teacher isn't there and so on. I always tell them that I'll explain everything once everyone is in their seats and ready to start class, otherwise I end up with 20 repetitions of the same information to each child individually. Same thing online -- these people all want an individual shot at me when chances are that I have already covered the same territory before, in public. Some of my best answers are on Beliefnet’s Unenrolled Baha’is board, since Beliefnet is where I met some of my most hostile challenges, if anybody wants to know.

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