For the most part, I try to avoid the flames of blogger drama. I accept that I sometimes bring it on myself, or I wander into a snake pit not having heard the warning rattles. But I’ve been thinking about some of the recent dust ups (and if you weren’t aware there were any, stay blessed and don’t ask), and I may have one piece of the puzzle that might lead us to a better way to write about spirituality and religion.
Most people treat the written word as declarative: Because you are reading this, you assume this is a fact. Academia further culls the habit of starting sentences with modifiers like “I feel”, “My opinion is”, “I think”, “In my experience”, etc. The impression is that if someone is reading your paper, they take for granted that the things you state are things you think, feel, or opine about.
I don’t think the same thing holds true for books. I guess there is a meta sense that a (non fiction) book is a summation of an author’s point of view; but we usually assume that the author has done some amount of due diligence. If an author says “All Pagans are Caucasian”, the reader assumes that the author has looked at some studies, surveys, or other official data to support this assertion. However, if the author makes this statement because they’ve been to a lot of Pagan events and networked with (what feels like) the majority of Pagans, and nary a person of color was seen or heard from, that statement becomes misleading at best and just plain untrue at worst.
When you sit down and have a conversation with someone, you have the option of clarification -“Where did you read that? Or is that based on your own experience?” People have other context clues from which they can learn if a statement is based on experience, opinion, or fact. I might say that Sannion is a weiner who sends dick picks for funsies, and my tone and body language will clue you in as to whether I’m pulling the piss or if I’m delivering a sober warning. No one on today’s Internet needs to be reminded that it is nigh impossible to convey sarcasm, exaggeration, and flat humor in text alone.
Blogs fall somewhere in between all of this. I don’t expect a blog writer to be an expert who has researched the topics they write about – unless they make an assertion that they are, or if they list their qualifications before they launch in. However, there are times when bloggers make declarative statements (like “Polytheists believe that there are many Gods that eminate from a singular source”) that imply that the author has either had extensive experience defining polytheism, or is a polytheist themselves and has spent a fair amount of time with different polytheists, or that they have done some research to arrive at that conclusion.
I know few bloggers who don’t fall into this trap from time to time. We get this idea that we have something to share, and it is true for us (or feels true), so we state things as though they are true. We may have several reasons for using declarative statements – because we’re pretty sure something is true, because something is subjective and therefore we are taking a stand, or because our education/training has taught us this truth. And people seeking information and advice are more likely to take someone seriously if the author uses declarative statements.
I want to introduce a concept I picked up from teaching sex education. It’s a very simple thing that could put out a lot of these fires before they blaze and someone gets accused of torturing homeless people or whatnot. It is not a fire brigade, but more like a smoke detector.
Here it is:
Think you can remember that?
Here’s the context in which I learned it. If someone asks you a question about sex (or pajamas, or garden hoses, or the Muppets), there are many reasons why you might choose not to share your personal experience on the topic. (This is especially driven home for sex ed people who are working with children and teenagers.) So instead of personalizing the answer, you can choose one of the above words to make the same point.
So, for example, if someone asked me if people really dress up in pony tack and dance around a ring for sexytime fun, my answer might sound like:
“Some people do enjoy pony play. Many do it because being an animal lets them escape from complicated human thought and emotions, and some do it because they enjoy dressing up in fancy things and showing off.”
You have no idea what my personal experience with pony play is, but not only do you have a general idea on how popular it is; you also have a sense that it is usually about the animal experience, rather than the dressing up. But my answer was stated in a way that if you secretly fantasize about being a pony (or a trainer), you don’t feel ostracized by an answer like:
“I only know one pony player personally, and she’s my ex girlfriend.”
“I have seen it done, but it isn’t my cup of tea.”
“The only people who do pony play are doing it for the attention.”
In the end, my feelings about pony play don’t answer the querant’s question. If they really want my opinion, they’re going to have to ask for it explicitly, and even then I have every right to refuse to answer or to refer to someone else.
To break down the concept even further:
“Some” is mostly used when you don’t know how many exactly, nor do you know if something is considered mainstream within that population or not. It allows you to share things that you have less knowledge about, and it’s a great time to make a referral to someone else who might have better information.
Some Lokeans are trans* identified, and others are cis* identified.
Some people use drums for shamanic purposes; I’d ask Wintersong Tashlin about other forms of trance induction since I know he doesn’t use drums.
“Many” is used when something is considered commonplace, stereotypical, or generally accepted. It leaves room for dissent or iconclasts, and it affirms that people in the minority are not alone. I tend to use ‘many’ with a description of the sample group I am acquainted with.
Many Polytheist bloggers feel excluded from greater Pagan conversations and spaces. Some get pretty aggressive about it.
Many Lokeans find that He brings a time of massive upheaval in their lives. I’ve been a part of the Lokean community for 10 years and it’s fairly common.
“Most” is used when you’re pretty sure something is universal, or at least so dominant that those who fall outside of it know they’re in a small minority. It helps you avoid words like “Every”, “All”, “Always”, etc, because most times using those sorts of declarative words is basically engraving an invitation for your detractors and people who disagree with you. “Most” gives a sense of a cultural norm without being exclusive.
Most people who read my blog either know me in real life, or found it because of the Month for Loki project.
Most people enjoy orgasms, and think of orgasm as the pinnacle of sexual congress.
I may be crazy (well, I am crazy) but I really do think that if most Pagan bloggers starting thinking and writing in terms of Some, Many, Most; that we’d be able to communicate and teach and share our experiences without excluding or agitating those who disagree with us. There are times when it’s a good and necessary thing to point out when someone’s wrong, especially when they forget to use inclusive modifiers instead of declarative statements; if that happens to you, the classy thing is to admit your error and make a correction. It’s okay to be wrong, and it’s okay to find out that your experience is limited in many ways (by your geography, gender, age, ability, level of engagement/study, etc).
I’m a little afraid that the end result of all this broiling is that fewer and fewer experienced Pagans will feel comfortable sharing their points of view, things they’ve learned/studied, or experiences. I know that’s my impetus for my blogs, and I think many of the blogs that find themselves needing kevlar panties are written by people with similar goals. I hope we can find ways to build a complex and interesting collection of knowledge, and not just leave behind incendiary rants, name calling, and expletives.
Speaking of essays that share knowledge and experience, I wanted to remind my readers that there is a mere 9 days left before registration for my Spirit Work 101 subscription service! For a mere $45 (less than $5 a month!) you receive exclusive, extensive essays and recordings about the basics of Spirit Work. You need not be a spirit worker to enjoy invite-only video chats, “Ask Me Anything” features, and discounts on divination services. Gift certificates are also available, if you know someone who might need to connect with other spirit workers and discuss topics like trance induction, energy work, speaking with and hearing Divinity, and much more. 9 more days, people!