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Bully for You

If you did any web surfing over the long Thanksgiving weekend for anything other than supersales, you probably know about the incident between a man who is a producer of reality shows for a major TV network, and Diane, who sat in seat 7A on the man’s flight on the morning of Thanksgiving.

I read the unfolding on Storify after it turned up in my Facebook stream for the 4th or 5th time. Clearly, the producer is good with drama, and I was captivated with each tweet. What would happen next? — I kept asking myself at each of his wifi-enabled real-time tweets (though I wasn’t reading in real time, he was live-tweeting the interactions).

It started benignly enough. Diane was rude to gate employees when a flight delay was announced and later to flight attendants in the air. The producer, who has great compassion for service workers, sent over a bottle of wine to calm her down. Kind enough, right?

His accompanying note on a paper coaster ended with a barb: “Hopefully if you drink [the wine], you won’t be able to use your mouth to talk.”

Cranky Diane responded predictably — repaying his insult with one of her own. Game on, they both seemed to be saying — “This means war,” said the producer in a tweet.

I wondered briefly what had made Diane so cranky, as probably many did. Soon we learn she was wearing a medical mask “on her idiot face.” What started out to be an act in defense of civility quickly devolved to become exactly the opposite. Continuing to read was like watching a proverbial train wreck. You know something’s coming, you know it’s gonna be ugly, and yet you can’t look away. I won’t lie. I found the tale amusing, in the way those People of WalMart sites are amusing.

The producer and Diane bantered back and forth about as bad-naturedly as you can imagine. Eventually, the producer invited Diane to perform fellatio on him, via another note. More than 2500 people have Favorited this tweet and a new hashtag was born. In his next note the producer said Diane should be arrested for cannibalism. Since, yanno, she ate an appendage of his (at his insistence).

There’s more to the saga, including their meeting when the plane landed. By that time, tens of thousands of people were tuning in — the way they tune in to the producer’s reality shows — to see drama, victory, humiliation, and people getting what they deserve.

Everyone seemed to be on board (ha!) with how the producer handled big bad Diane. It wasn’t until my friend Joanne pointed out the producer’s misogyny in a Facebook discussion, which included a link to this post on LosAngelista, “Since When is Telling a Woman to Eat Your D Standing Up for Service Workers?”

The producer had set out to combat what he considered bully behavior. But in doing so he ended up bullying a woman in mom jeans and a medical mask. Granted, a cranky woman in mom jeans and a medical mask. He got lots of people to laugh with him at her expense. And in hindsight he feels completely justified: It’s OUR duty to put the Diane’s of the world in their place.

I, too, took to Facebook to sort out my feelings on this situation, first by labeling it bullying. And what arose were more questions than answers. I asked if bullying were ever OK, and many answered No. Never. One person found shades of gray (not 50) and said that one person’s bully is another person’s hero. True enough. We also mulled over:

  • What, exactly, is a bully? Is there a common definition most have in mind or just “I know it when I see it”?
  • Is it okay to stop bullying behavior with bullying behavior?
  • Was the producer’s behavior considered bullying?
  • Is it bullying only if the victim can be identified? (The producer didn’t use Diane’s name or likeness.) Because I linked to the producer’s site, could you make the case that THIS post be considered bullying against the producer?
  • Do we throw around the concept of bullying too easily? So much so that the meaning is diluted, a catch-all for meanness?

As I finally finish up writing this post, BREAKING NEWS changes everything. The producer has had a laugh on all of us and admits, days later, that the entire thing is a hoax.

So many words are vying to be typed here.

Even though the prompt of this post was fake and I, along with 150,000 people were duped (feel powerful, producer man?) the questions about bullying are valid. So weigh in, please.

Conflict online | When to talk and when to walk

Liz at PoemFish asks, “Does it do any good to fight? Does HOW we fight matter? I’m wondering this because two items online this morning have me pulling on my boxing gloves.”

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I was involved in one of those online kerfuffles. I am host of a Google Plus group called Open Adoption Advocates.  Our About statement reads We believe that openness in adoption can bring benefits to all involved, and we’ll do what we can to evolve the closed-adoption mindset. This is a place to learn about the effects of both openness and closed-ness in adoption. This is not a place to seek an adoption match.

I am the gatekeeper for membership, and I have never not approved anyone who has requested to join. I did, however, add the last sentence to the About blurb a few months ago when a couple’s first few posts seemed like they were soliciting a match — and that took care of that. Besides adoptees, first parents and adoptive parents, in our group we also have waiting couples, a magazine, a homestudy provider and a few agencies, as well as people for whom I’m not sure what their interest is.

I don’t do a lot of vetting. If anyone wants to listen in on our conversations about ethics in adoption, about building and sustaining child-centered adoptions, about listening to varied viewpoints within the adoption constellation, about healing the split caused by adoption, I’m all for that.

I’m not for trolling. But I’m careful to label the behavior and not the entity.

Last week an adoption facilitator (not an agency) asked to join. Upon being accepted, it made its first post that included a link to its website. Members checked it out. Laura found that this facilitator provides gold star travel and housing services to “birth mothers,” relocating them to chi-chi areas around Los Angeles for the duration of their pregnancies. I suggested to the facilitator that perhaps it should take a look at our About statement, and that “expectant mom” was the more accurate term prior to placement. I also pointed out that much of their counseling about open adoption (which was lame and one-sided) sounds more like placating fearful pre-adopting parents than helping clients build a child-centered extended family. Other members followed with their own comments, some with jaws on the floor at the facilitator’s audacity and erroneousness. Anger began seeping into the discussion — a discussion the facilitator was not acknowledging.

I called for a moment for everyone to step back and breathe, tagging the facilitator so it would come back and read.

Whether [Facilitator] came here to sell us or learn from us, we can be more welcoming. [Facilitator] may very well discover that this is not a group that fits it well and may decide to leave and spend its energy elsewhere (because no one here is buying).

On the other hand,it is possible that [Facilitator] has not considered some of the points we are raising and is willing to listen and learn, but only if we ourselves model openness.

[Facilitator], you have a place here if you are open to learning about a different and more functional view of adoption than the one depicted by your website, which has some obvious triggers.

Why did I not just ban this facilitator?

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Choose: win or changeBecause I would be a fraud if I extended openness only when it is easy and convenient to do so.

Because it’s one thing to preach to one’s choir. It’s another to encourage someone whose views are antithetical to your own to take a new look at their old viewpoint. Are we able to use the principles of openness to deal with people who disagree with us? I think of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr and the ways they changed the wrongs of the world — by getting the oppressors to see an old thing in a new way.

Because attacking and defending leads to more attacking and defending and it rarely leads to real, self-directed change. If the problem is ignorance, then the solution is to educate. You can’t educate someone who leaves your group, someone you’ve shamed in the process (which, by the way, didn’t happen in our group). They leave and feel more dug into their position. And instead of having a small chance to turn someone around, you make them even more of what they were in the first place.

Because I was thinking about the situation in terms of shame. Once we begin trying to effect change with shame, we have lost. At the same time this situation was erupting, there was another online fuss highlighted by Jezebel in which one blogger (whom I’m not linking to) used shame as a strategy against another blogger to combat, yes, shaming.

Because just as in a marriage you must sometimes choose between being right and being happy, in conflict you must sometimes choose between winning the argument and being the change.

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Back to the original kerfuffle (such a whimsical term for something so unpleasant).

Without acknowledging any of the fallout from its first post, two days later the facilitator made a new post in our group. This time a statement that extolled how well it supported “birth mothers” and an image with the caption: “One Year Guarantee | Adopting Parents.”

Members were not amused. Nor was I. The facilitator had proven not reachable, not teachable. It wanted only one-way communication in which it tried to sell, but it was clear no one would be buying.

The boundary I’d set earlier had been crossed, and removing the facilitator from the group was now an option. One that I executed without further hesitation.

I am removing you from this group as we are obviously at cross-purposes and you are clearly a talker and not a listener.
I left an open door:
Should you have a change of heart about how you treat expectant mothers (what you call “birth mothers”) and so many other things, please contact me directly.

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Liz closes her post with these questions, which I now ask you: “[Is there a] way that I can hold onto my passion for justice while also being effective, engaging without fighting…How do you advocate online? What works?”