Information, Not Advice in This Cancel Culture

Today’s topic is something I’ve been mulling over for a long time, and I think I finally have come up with a way to present my thoughts coherently. I think it explains why I have close to zero tolerance for bullying in volunteer organizations and presents an alternative way to make valid points and open people’s minds to new and different ideas.

When I was a new mother, my lawyer and one of my mentors, Roberta Bishop Johnson, encouraged me to attend meetings of the mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group, La Leche League (and if talking about breastfeeding gets you all giggly, you can try to remember you’re a mammal and make an effort to be mature). I didn’t know any other new mothers, since I was older than most of my friends and the first to reproduce.

That’s right. We’re mammals.

So, I bravely went into the home of a stranger and sat down on the couch next to a woman who seemed nice. And I listened. At these meetings, only one of the people was speaking for the organization, an accredited La Leche League Leader. But, when people asked questions, all the other mothers were very welcome to chime in and share their experiences with their own babies. One thing that got repeated often in these meetings was to please share information, not give advice. Not even the Leader told women what they should do. The mothers were considered smart enough to make their own decisions based on their experiences and to use the experiences of others to help them. That led to the second thing I heard a lot, which was to take what works for you and leave the rest.

No matter what picture I chose, someone will find something wrong with it. She should lift her shirt from the top! Why is she white? Is her positioning right? Image by @nslebedinskaya via Twenty20

By getting to know all these different mothers with all their different babies it became very obvious that the best answer for one of us would not work at all for another one, and that was OK! We had lots of areas where we differed. There was cloth versus plastic diapers. There was jarred baby food versus “whole foods” only. There was the “family bed” versus having a crib for babies. There were vaccinators and non-vaccinators. Some mothers weaned promptly at one year (or earlier), while others kept a-goin’ until the child didn’t want to anymore.

The thing is, those of us who learned the LLL philosophy (which is a list of ways to be a good parent) mostly got the point that there’s more than one right way to parent AND that for some folks, ways other than ours make more sense to them. If a mother asked for help, we gave it and helped her work out a solution that made HER happy, not us.

I eventually became a Leader and learned a lot from the women I was friends with then. It was a lot of fun and such a great way to give to my community. But, when they started begging Leaders to become administrators (there was quite a hierarchy back then), my Leader, Sharon, took me aside and warned me that things weren’t always so warm and fuzzy at the State, National, and International levels. Oh, how I wish I’d listened to Sharon.

But, no, I like leading things, and because I’d made a little website for our group (before there were images on the world wide web) my mentor, Roberta, begged me to help them get on the fledgling Internet, so I went to a conference in Chicago, met the Executive Director, and suddenly I was the webmaster and co-owner of the first email list for Leaders, where we got to meet fellow mothers from all over.

Time marched on, and I had a lot of fun and met most of the people who read my blog. But, it turned out Sharon had a point. Once I started going to meetings and conferences outside my little bubble, and once I started reading the email lists, I began to see how La Leche League got its reputation as a bunch of breastfeeding…shall we say…”tyrants” (because I prefer not to use pejorative word word other people used). You could tell that there were members who we called “More League Than League” who looked down on you if your choices happened to come on the less radical attachment parenting side of things. Woe unto the parent who used a stroller and not a sling to carry babies (even outside conferences, where strollers were hazardous). You get the drift, I’m sure.

A lot of the time I spent as an administrator, web person, and eventually as a director in the organization was trying to keep portraying La Leche League (LLL) as an organization open to all who were interested in breastfeeding and parenting, not just a few people of a certain demographic (that would be white, Catholic, home birthing, stay-at-home mothers). It was never true that this group was even a majority, but it’s the reputation that came out. And the reputation that we told people to do this and that, and such. This all got to be quite exhausting, especially when we were wanting to help mothers succeed by their own standards and meet them where they were, not make them into other people!

There were, indeed, people in the organization with agendas that were at best peripheral to the core purpose of supporting breastfeeding in the communities where we lived. The diapers, the slings, the boycotts, the sleeping arrangements…subtly pressuring people to make certain choices or they weren’t “cool” led to a lot of sadness. I always thought either they should come out and say they’re an organization for a small group of people with certain beliefs and principles, rather than claiming to be for everyone, but alienating people whose cultures and ways of life preferred to do things differently.

Indeed, as the years went by, it came to pass that things got weirder and weirder at the higher levels, and we came under a lot of pressure, no I’ll say bullying, to only organize in certain ways, and only meet in certain ways, and…after a couple of years of trying to keep my team going through all this, I ended up being asked to leave. If your job, whether paid or volunteer, isn’t fulfilling and rewarding, it’s time to find a new job. And when my closest friends started in on me…it was time to go.

I did keep what I learned, though. I’ve always found it much easier to change someone’s mind or teach them something new by offering a wide range of information and suggestions and trusting them to figure out what works best for them. I’m so grateful for that lesson. There was and still is so much good in LLL. Honestly, this is a loving critique.

Now, today, a whole lot of years have passed, but it makes me chuckle a bit to learn that there are still factions battling it out to be the “right” kind of organization. The causes have shifted from Nestle boycotts and “Ferberizing” to trying to cancel members who aren’t deemed sufficiently on board with chestfeeding and racial/cultural issues.

All of that just isn’t the helpful kind of support parents, members, administrators, and former members need. And confronting, bullying, canceling, and lobbying against people you have a problem with has never, as far as I can see, solved the underlying issue, which is education. You know, perhaps we WANT to listen, but just being called names and treated like we aren’t even worth engaging in dialog with won’t help us learn a darn thing.

I can only suggest that people with strong feelings to convey consider this information I’m sharing, just as one option. By listening to the viewpoints of others, seeing where they are coming from, finding areas of commonality, and sharing our experiences as if they are all worthy of respect, I’m pretty sure some of the newer versions of the people I left behind in 2006 might be more successful at attaining their goals. I think they want more people to be welcome and included in LLL. I think that is a worthy goal that may not require tearing down others to achieve.

Breastfeeding is a great thing, and I applaud everyone who wants to do it, in whatever way works for their culture, religious practice, or social group. Sometimes having lived as long as I and some of my long-time LLL friends have, you learn that a little bit of listening and respect go a long way. We don’t all have to do things the exact same way, and we all will learn from our mistakes and new experiences.

Please, let’s be gentle with each other. I’m simply not going to let myself be put down for being who I am, and I don’t think any of you, my friends, should, either. And I do NOT want to put down others who have perfectly legitimate complaints, issues, or ideas! We should all have a chance to grow and learn, even us old white fogies.

Thinking about Dealing with Bullies

Today’s a good day to think about bullies. We’ve been dealing with bullies as a country for a while now, and I’ve had to deal with some of it myself in the past week or two. That’s lead to a lot of introspection on my part about how the way I’ve dealt with bullying in my personal life.

The Important Part

I’m gonna cut to the chase here.

The only way to deal with a bully is to deny them attention.

What bullies, mansplainers (of all gender preferences), egotistical folks, people with hero complexes, and others like them want is for the focus to always be on themselves. That’s why they feel compelled to spend your valuable time telling you how they want you to behave, explaining how things you are already familiar with work, and engaging in passive-aggressive (and plain ole aggressive behavior). All this makes people focus on them.

These chicken bullies apparently want to come in the house.

When I find myself having to repeatedly justify myself, feel pressured to do things I’m not comfortable doing, or endure subtle put-downs, I’ve learned to say, “Ah ha, I’m dealing with a bully!”

In my distant past, I would feel sorry for them and try to appease or educate them. I’d apologize when a bully told me my interpretation of what they said was in no way meant the way it comes across, because they’d NEVER do that. I’d think, hmm, maybe my direct experiences were biases and not true. I don’t do that now.

This blurry loggerhead shrike made me feel better, so I’m sharing it.

When goaded and prodded into finally losing my temper and making an unfortunate choice of words, I’d feel awful, seeing them whine about how much I hurt their precious feelings in such an unwarranted and unprovoked fashion. They can dish it out, but they just don’t seem to be able to take it.

Well, that’s a load of bull poop.

All those reactions of mine were giving bullies the attention they craved. I was giving them license to poke and prod at me, question my competence, to talk about me behind my back, and to tear me down in order to build up their fragile egos.

Notice to Past, Present, and Future Bullies

I’m not playing your game. I’ll give you a chance or two, in case I’ve misinterpreted your behavior, but I know when I see bullying and abuse. When I’m done with you, I’m done. I’m not going to interact with you in the future. I do not owe you an explanation. I’m not interested in pointing out if you’re about to screw up; you can deal with your own consequences.

If you’re someone in power, I’ll stop supporting you. If I work with you, I’ll leave the position or wait it out until you lose yours. If you’re a family member, future contact will be on my terms.

Wearing pearls for Kamala.

And oh yeah, I’ll keep ignoring you until you realize I’m not giving you attention and I no longer stoking your ego’s needs.

I do my best to be kind, to treat others as I would like to be treated, and to listen to other people’s points of view. The exceptions are bullies and abusers. Once I recognize the tell-tale signs it’s starting up, you lose a target. No, I won’t feel guilty for hurting your feelings or upsetting your minions. I value my peace and sanity more.

Anyway, I enjoyed the inauguration today.

No One Can Take a Joke These Days: The Dark Ages Beckon

Starting to wonder here, have we all turned into assholes? It used to be that humor was the tool used in times of stress to break the tension. Nowadays, any time I, or any of my other friends who hasn’t deleted every person who votes for the “other” US party, simply can’t make jokes. There’s no such thing as laughing at ourselves, gently ribbing another group, or having a chuckle over our cognitive dissonance. Nothing’s allowed to be funny now, according to the humor police.

No wonder I needed a drink at lunch (old fashioned!). I did not order one of the giant milkshakes on the menu, though. I’ll have one with Anita when she gets here. Ah, nice rant break, right?

Nope, if I dare post something on Facebook that I find funny, but happens to be vaguely political, a predictable group of people will take me to task. I find that sort of funny in itself, because my strategy has been to let stuff like that slide, or even see the humor in some of the things people post. In many cases, I’ve simply scrolled on by things they say, because I think they have every right to say them, whether I agree or not.

I think this restaurant wasn’t too hazardous. And the food was great. Garlic butter fries. Drool. Back to my rant.

One person, we will call them “M,” always chides me for my rare political posts, and virtuously points out that they NEVER say anything political on their own page. That’s absolutely true. Instead they insult and put others down in comments on their statuses. I take a little consolation in the fact that I’m not the only target. I have always apologized for any perceived insult, but M always needs to have the last word, or more accurately, jab. I always let them get that satisfaction, since it doesn’t matter to me and I’m not keeping score.

I’m not kidding. I really just thought this was funny and poking fun at liberals and Marie Kondo or whatever that lady’s name is. Apparently I was being horrible by posting this. I had no idea!

I share that example, not to get back at people outside of Facebook, but to genuinely wonder why we have to be this way? What does trolling do for the troll? What accolades do online bullies get? Does their fearless leader send them a gold star?

When folks I disagree with post rational responses, I always learn something and go look up more on the information behind their comments. That’s how I’ve gotten to get a better perspective on both sides, and why I have NOT removed friends and family with whom I disagree. But, dang, how much passive aggressive jabbing is too much?

Now this one, I SWEAR, is poking fun at me. I’d be yelling, “I love you, even if you voted for the other guy! Because you’re human!”

I hate to lose touch with people I care about or need to work with. No one’s all bad (even me, M). I feel really badly for my friends who can no longer interact with family and lifelong friends because they’re wired differently (like I was saying yesterday). Please, folks, let up on others.

Funny, not funny? Keep on scrolling? This one is sorta mean. So I did not share it, other than here, where there is a much smaller audience.

Sure, some humor is really mean, cruel, or ugly. But a lot of humor isn’t. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we’re going to be stuck in an even longer, more humorless period than we’re already in. It really does feel like a new Dark Ages, doesn’t it? Plagues, civil wars, being attacked for saying or believing the wrong thing.

Another sign of the Dark Ages, there are magpies everywhere! EEEK.