Dialogue: A conversation between two or more people; to take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve or understand a problem.” – dictionary.com.
A dialogue is not an argument, it’s a conversation. I see that many Americans, shaped by anonymous conflicts on digital media are forgetting the distinction.
I am learning every day to respect and promote the idea of dialogue rather than argument.
I’ve had a number of intense discussions in recent years with people who read my blog and my books. The discussions, in my mind, are about the new boundaries of social media, and their impact on free thought, identity, creativity, privacy and dignity.
It is not about pique or anger for me, it is serious and important stuff I am committed to exploring. I keep asking people who refuse to accept the idea of a dialogue, to go somewhere, there are plenty of places for argument, but nobody ever seems to just leave, or leave happy.
These dialogues are healthy in my mind, that’s how crazy I am. Many quiet voices contact me to thank me for them.
They are helping me to stand in my truth and speak up for myself, but I recognize that many people don’t see conversations in that way. People get angry with me. I’ve been called a lot of names – “vicious,” a “bully,” “cruel,” “nasty,” “insensitive,” often from people who seem vicious, bullying, cruel, insensitive and nasty to me.
That’s America in 2018.
And while I prize humility, I am comfortable saying I am not a bully, I am not generally vicious to people, and I am sensitive to the point of mental illness at times. You can’t write and take photos and be too insensitive.
In many cases, these clashes have brought into focus the limitations and inadequacies of trying to resolve conflicts online, rather than face to face.
This problem has turned the online culture into a vast and networked cesspool of hate and misunderstanding and distrust.
And I write about it to figure it out. It needs to be discussed. I am proud of these dialogues.
I believe intrusions and hostility and invasions of privacy and unwanted advice and testimony are often smothering free speech and pushing creativity of thought to the margins.
More than any other single subject, I get the most messages from people saying they no longer comment openly or freely on the Web or Facebook or Twitter, they can’t handle the new and socially accepted ideas of commentary and manners.
They touch my heart, they are the voiceless victims of the digital world.
Many people online are outraged by the idea that I can or should respond to messages that seem inappropriate or smothering to me.
Quite often, I think I am writing for these silenced people – I call them the “Disappeared,” as well as for me. I certainly empathize with them, although I will not ever be silenced by other people, or let them tell me what to write or do.
I refuse to disappear or be “disappeared.”
It is disturbing to many, these dialogues, yet each time it happens – this week it was about Red and his injuries and his ramp – I learn something new about myself, and about other people, and I grow a bit.
What I am learning this week is that I am bending under the weight of other people’s emotional traumas and baggage – their lost dogs and cats, their experiments and discoveries, their need to help me out, their to share their experiences, their yearning for more detail about people I write about, their need to know more than I can tell them, about myself and other people.
It’s a mixed bag of wonderful messages and love and connection, and yearning and anger and neediness.
This time, I wrote about the ethical dilemmas of “missing” other people’s dogs and cats and humans. I wrote that I could not handle keeping up with all of the dogs and people and animals that I’ve written about, but am not writing about now.
I’ve written 25,472 posts since I started the blog in 2007, these posts encompass thousands of people and animals I no longer write about, or write about infrequently, from my friend Anthony to my friend Becky to Gardenworks, George Forss, Ali and the soccer team, Carol Gulley and her family, Kelly at the Bog, Connie at the Mansion, the Bog itself, Elvis, Winston, Carol the donkey, Rose, Izzy, Lenore, Frieda, and many hundreds more, over a span of more than eleven years.
The column about missing things prompted a new outpouring of messages politely but unhappily pointing out that many of the people I write about are missed, and can I please write about them again or more frequently.
It wasn’t quite the response I was hoping for, but then, it never is. That’s what makes it a dialogue, rather than a diatribe.
These characters in my life’s dramas touched a number of people, they don’t wish to let them go. These characters are not permanent cast members in a Broadway show, they are more of a parade, marking the different chapters in my life and my attempted evolution into a fully realized human being.
I am all about letting go. I am a genius at letting go, I’ve been doing it all of my life. And good riddance to most of my past.
There are a million reasons for me not to keep up with everyone I’ve ever written about – some get sick, die, change their lives, move away, seek privacy, change circumstances. Or maybe this: I’m just too busy.
My own philosophy of life comes into play here, as odd as it is.
I do not go backwards in my life, there is not much there for me, I move forwards. I seek the new, not the old. I worship change, not stasis. I am not interested in conventional ideas about or downsizing.
I am finding out who I am, and am less likely than ever to apologize for it. But the new thing I am realizing is that I am not capable or able to handle the emotional baggage of other people.
Because I write about someone, or photograph an animal does not mean I can write about them for all time, or should.
Joan summed up the dilemma for her very well in a post on my blog:
“The Bog is no more.” I thought, “wait, what happened to the Bog?” What happen to Scott and his quest for a place to run his business? Battenkill Books? Ali? I give money to the Army of Good with no strings attached, but sometimes an end to the story that is not a one liner would be nice.”
It would be nice, but it would also be impossible and unhealthy for me to do that. I can’t do retrospective docu-posts.
I have explained all of these things Joan wants to know about more than once on my blog, I am transparent to an extreme.
The Bog’s owner died and it closed (as I wrote) it; Scott moved his Round House Cafe to a new location and is doing well (as I wrote many times), Battenkill Book is mentioned almost weekly on my blog, Ali has found a new sponsor for the soccer team, we ended two wonderful years of working together.”
Once they are known, it is up to them to offer their messages, and up to the people who miss them to find them, they are quite available. But I should warn you, that is not a simple path.
Not everyone wishes to be written about photographed all the time, and I do not wish to be carrying so heavy a burden – 24,000 posts! Time moves on, life moves on, I move on.
I don’t know Joan, I appreciate her messages, but I will be honest and say that if this is what she needs from me, I can’t provide it. No strings is not some strings, it’s no strings. Missing people is a string.
That’s too much weight for me, I can’t bear to carry it.
If I tried, I would burn out quickly. I don’t get paid by the hour, and I need to pay my bills just as she does.
There are scores of people we have helped in the past few years from the African carver to scores of refugee children, they have vanished into their own lives, they are not my business unless they ask me to be.
I can’t update the lives of them all, not to mention the thousands of people apart from them, and I wouldn’t want to if I could. Not everyone wants to live in the spotlight to satisfy the curiosity of strangers.
When I write about this, a number of people usually throw their hands up in the air and shriek in protest – I am mean, or picking on helpless people.
But the thing is, I don’t see this either as an argument or as a battle. That’s where I part from so many people. This is a conversation, a dialogue, there is no right or wrong here, only what we feel. I believe some day these dialogues will all be a book, a part of our social history.
There is something new and revolutionary about these issues. And what I am learning about myself is that I need to understand how to manage this emotional weight in a positive and useful way.
Cruelty and bullying doesn’t come into it. Bless it, this is a genuine dialogue, and it reflects how a real dialogue – first invented by the Ancient Greeks, after which the term is coined. They also invented the idea of democracy – is supposed to work.