Wait, why DON'T we all get along?

I've been fascinated, and of course saddened, by an increase in unfair personal attacks in the ED world. Many people are telling me they feel attacked, shouted down, bullied, unsafe.

Wait, this isn't new. And, oh dear, it's not just in the ED world.

It seems to happen when certain elements collide:

Ideas and people.

I am skeptical that this is really about what any one person did or said or thinks or wants. The interactions are too similar and the outcome is formulaic: shunning of the person and anyone who doesn't shun her and her ideas. Yes, there are a scattering of really maddening people, but they are the exception. I believe these scuffles are not personal but ideological. I believe these battles end in defensive wounds more often than not. And: I believe the conflict is inevitable and necessary and healthy. For that last sentiment I will be roundly spanked, I know. This is a world that fears and loathes conflict!

#realtalk: there is no safe space when you are expressing your opinions in public. There's not supposed to be.

That's the price of being in public. And with Facebook and Twitter and blogs and even email we are now in public a LOT. If your opinion is more than a fluffy bunny affirmation surrounded by rainbows you will hear grumbles. Before, people just smirked and you never knew. Now even fluffy bunny affirmations may be criticized. (Note: I'm not a fluffy affirmation fan.) Bring it!

"But, but, she wasn't nice!" No, she probably wasn't. People aren't always nice. Sometimes they are angry, and sometimes they are just crabby people, and sometimes you've made them jealous or didn't show them enough respect or you look like their mother-in-law. Sometimes something is important enough and delayed long enough to make people really, really, really, really angry. If you require nice 100% of the time you will need to stay home and read bunny books alone. The Internet, your book club, your town council are all closed to you. Also: don't attend any family events.

"But, but, I feel threatened." Many of us feel under threat when criticized or put on the defensive. We care SO MUCH about what we're doing and we work SO HARD to claw a place for what we believe in and we've been brave and kind and patient and WTF! Why is someone damaging my reputation? How could anyone think that I'm anything but right and righteous and good? But are we really being threatened? Isn't it really more that we're not being appreciated and we are being thwarted in our good works? Isn't it that our intentions are being questioned and that is deeply painful?

"I'm a nice person!" Yes, well, my mother thinks I'm a nice person, too. Doesn't make me or my beliefs or my causes nice, too. Nice people can be wrong, even harmful. Rotten people can be right.

Honestly? I think we all need a bit more courage and strength of our convictions. It is okay to disagree. It is okay to be disagreed with. If we are all truly to see one another as equals with the expectation of mutual respect we need to own our place and know that it is JUST our individual place. Being right alone in a room isn't advocacy. We need to be vulnerable, too, and allow ourselves humility.

Laura's New Groundrules
  • Let's pretty please stop saying "people are saying" or anything like this.** This is a sly way of getting individuals to shut up, implying that they are out of line but in such a horrible way that the other person won't say it themselves and that some amorphous group of people is whispering out of earshot. It's creepy. If it's not in public and no one is putting their name on it let it go. Just say "This thing you said bothers me because..." and get on with the actual conflict.
  • Let's stop doing things back-channel. We can fool ourselves that it is being respectful but it is usually politicking and Mean Girling. Say the same things in person as to others. Don't talk about others behind their backs and don't repeat rumors. I know. It's hard. But let's try.
  • Let's stop calling it "attacking" when it is really just disagreement. Sure, it stings when people question or criticize us but let's practice mutual respect by assuming both parties are equals and can both handle the conversation. Let people think wrong of you. Let people BE wrong.
  • If it is an attack, whatever THAT is, let's deal with it. Won't kill us. If we hear the criticism and don't agree then keep going. If not, talk about it and consider change. 
  • Be nice, for goodness sake. Treat others with respect and expect it in return even when they don't -- and they won't -- but take the high road with sincerity for your own karma's sake. Also, it drives people nuts when you behave: they can't dismiss you as rude, which they really, really want to do.
  • Let's accept the fact of disagreement. It's there. We're living on the leading edge of a fast-moving wave: lots is going on, it's complicated, and we're all scrambling to figure it out. We do NOT all agree and we don't agree on some very basic points. Until we do better on that we will not work together, row in the same direction, find common ground, or whatever our palliative phrase of the month is. We do disagree, some of us are going to have to change or split, and while we're arguing things are going to change and we'll ALL need to keep learning. 
  • IDEAS NOT PEOPLE. Discuss ideas, not the people who hold them. It works!
  • Ask questions. Listen to the answers. People are not always saying what you think they are.
  • We're not friends, we're family. It's not about being liked it's about being linked by a cause. 
  • OMG: there are other ideas out there! People hold the most fantastical and bizarre belief sets! I didn't even know those where there! Exactly. Know the history, know the ideas, get to know the people. Be curious. Allow yourself to be surprised.
  • Hot kitchens. It does get heated. But no one can keep anyone out of the kitchen any more. It's a free and open potlatch of ideas and voices. Everyone is responsible for only one voice: their own. We can't make others not be "wrong on the internet" nor can we group people off and segregate them. We will hear things we don't like. We will say things that others don't like. It doesn't break anything. If you're offended or exhausted by it go do something else but don't expect a zen garden in the middle of the highway.
  • No more black and white thinking about individuals. There's too much "our sort" and "OTHER" going on. Reality: we are all in the same boat and but we're each picking which hole to patch and which part of the hull to hammer through but we're all sinking or swimming together. By designating a person on the boat as somehow UNACCEPTABLE what happens is the boat just gets harder to walk around in. I have to see and speak to and share mutual friends with a handful of people who make me terribly uncomfortable. They've hurt me personally and they've damaged my reputation. But I'm not getting out of the boat, nor should I need to throw them overboard. We're in this together. We don't all need to be friends. We don't all need to get along: we need to be alongside.
  • Babies, bathwater, boats... I hate the way people dismiss ideas by associating them with a particular person or group. It's lazy, it's intellectually shallow, and it hurts us all. If you think that I am a horrible person, fine, but don't dismiss the ideas I believe in because you don't like me. I've met too many people who treat ideas like sports teams: this is my set of beliefs because this is my team. Have your own ideas. And don't take the easy way out of rejecting anything I stand up for because I'm associated with it.
Dyspeptic rant over.

** Yes, I know I started this VERY rant saying something like that. Go figure. Believe me when I say I am speaking as much to myself as others as I rant, here.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for writing this -- this is great advice not just in relation to a cause but in general (politics,business, family).


Post a Comment

Popular Posts