What I Didn’t Say

A number of people offered appreciative notice of my observations on the death threats against Kathy Sierra, what they were and weren’t; that’s a relief, since I have no interest in blaming victims, and the whole dreadful situation has made most of the people it has touched into victims of one sort or another (and I don’t want to get into establishing a scale of suffering, either; the fallout affected different people to different degrees in different ways, and few of us, if any, know enough about more than one or two of the people involved to say anything responsible about who suffered more than whom).

Among people who noticed what I wrote, some have scolded me for not issuing a public denunciation of — well, different people want me to denounce different specifics, or generalities, but some folks wanted me on the record against X, Y, or Z.

That irks me for a variety of reasons. First, I am not sure how someone could read what I wrote without recognizing that I explicitly, firmly, denounced death threats, ominous sexual aggression against women, and I directed pretty stern words calling into question the actions (direct and indirect) of some of my friends. Second, it presumes that whatever I have to say relative to my friends and their actions has to be said for the entire cosmos to read — and that contradicts both my sense of pastoral ministry and my common sense of what friendship means.

To give you an idea of how clearly the pertinent people understand my perspective on things like “outrageous” japery, I not only wasn’t invited to participate in the sites in question, I didn’t even know they existed till well after they were established and I happened to follow some links.

Third, and this gets back to a point I made back in the earlier post, some of the criticism implies a much fuller knowledge of “what actually happened” and “what AKMA’s involved in” than I see any warrant for. It’s OK if people don’t trust me not to snicker behind my hand; it would disappoint me, but presumably I haven’t earned their trust, and whimpering won’t enhance my standing with such a person. That’s different, though, from saying that “AKMA should do this thing I stipulate about that.” Feel free to criticize me (for reasons you enumerate), but please don’t tell me what I have to do. It’s at least possible you don’t know everything about what I’m up to, or why.

I venture the next point hesitantly, because I don’t want to take anything away from the points Dave Winer gets right in supporting people with whom he has long-standing feuds. But in his posting today, Dave said, “I’ve asked other people who do, like David Weinberger and AKMA how they can support that — I asked when I was a target of their attacks. All I got was silence.” I need to note, perhaps defensively, that in my case that’s flat out untrue. Dave asked me, at BloggerCon I, how I could remain friends with people who attack other friends of mine. Now Dave may not have been satisfied with what I said, but we conducted the conversation in front of a roomful of people, including Dan Bricklin, David Weinberger, Ross Rader, Joey DeVilla, Boris (don’t remember Boris’s last name), I think Halley (I’m not invited to see her blog any more, but I assume it’s still there) Suitt was there for that session, Enoch Choi, a bunch of other people who might have been there but my memory may be blurring them with others (I’ll happily add or subtract names as others correct me), and the prodigious Heath Row who transcribed it (Thank you, David, for saving the link for me). And besides, what person who knows me can imagine that when someone asks me a complicated question, I’d be silent?

So, on friendship: I construe friendship as involving me in other people’s lives on terms that neither of us gets to determine on our own. Friendship involves yielding some degree of one’s self-determination, in the name of participating in a shared life that exceeds the sum of its individual parts. Sometimes friendships lessen us, sometimes friendships ennoble us; often they alternate between those; sometimes we’re graced with friendships that overwhelmingly bless us with stronger, lovelier, more generous relationships. When my friendships involve me in conflicts among different friends, friends who fall out with one another, I try to deal with those conflicts on the basis of what has been strong and true in each of the divergent relationships; I refuse to be jobbed into picking one side over against another. As a result, some interlocutors have grounds to regard me as morally compromised, and to make such accusations public. I don’t like that, it’s not what I work toward in friendship, but it’s out of my control. I don’t get to determine what others will do any more than they get to determine what I’ll do. But it’s not my way to write people off, nor to require them to engage the world on my terms, nor to stifle my understanding of what’s good, and admirable, and morally binding, just to please my friends. If they don’t like who I am and what I stand for, then they probably don’t want to be friends of mine. And if they can take having a friend with my characteristics, OK.

(By the way — I don’t by any means always live up to the identity I sketch above, but it’s the point of reference toward which I’m aiming.)

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