are we losing the ability to disagree?
Part 1 – my personal story
to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge
Readers of this blog (my first entry in over five years) may be asking why I opened this essay with a definition. The explanation for this begins with my previous foray into the world of online writing. I started my blog as a cathartic exercise to help me at a difficult juncture in my life. A breakdown in my marriage, the loss of my job (for the second time in about five years) were difficult to cope with but I found some relief in putting some thoughts out there in the digital universe (even if my audience was mostly limited to friends and family). Many (but not all) of the topics of my posts were related to my own experiences and my feelings surrounding the family court system in Canada (and in other western countries).
The opinions were mine but they were supported by both empirical and anecdotal evidence. I did not want to play the victim card but rather point out that narratives surrounding gender inequality are often (always?) focused on the plight of women. Mention men when it comes to systemic imbalance and you might expect to be met with a virtual eye roll from many online. The idea that men can be treated unfairly just does not register with a large portion of our population – even if the evidence is as plain as day. My experiences touched enough people so much so that friends and sometimes friends of friends reached out to me for advice on how to navigate the family court system. In a very small way I was making a difference.
Many people see the acknowledgement that men may have to overcome discrimination as absurd and, even further, as an attack on women. It is, of course neither. One can affirm the need to support men on some issues which may impact them almost exclusively or at the very least at a greater proportion then women (think suicide and parental rights) and still do the same for women on issues which impact them exclusively or more routinely than men. The problem is that just by pointing this out one can be attacked and ridiculed online, labeled a sexist, a misogynist or worse be threatened with retribution for holding an opinion which goes counter to popularly accepted narratives.
My blog elicited each of these type of responses. I was attacked online and labeled, people I knew for years unfriended me on social media. I did not care because as the saying goes, you really find out who your friends are when times are the toughest. These people were never my friends in reality and I was better off not having them as any part of my life. However, the final straw for me was when someone warned me that I was about to be doxed (there is the much anticipated tie-in with the opening of this post) for doing nothing more than expressing my well-thought out and statistically supported opinion. Here is a brief chronological background:
- April 4, 2016: I launched my own blog during a time where I needed an outlet to express myself
- December 2016: I am downsized at my work (the second time this has happened in five years)
- August 2017: I start a new job
- September 2017: I stop publishing my blog after receiving an anonymous email
The last point on the list is the one I would like to home in on and provide more context. I received the email from an individual who was not known to me and did not reveal their identity. The thrust of the communication was this, someone with whom I worked had read my blog (the author of the email did not/could not reveal the alleged co-worker’s identity); the alleged co-worker did not agree with the opinions I expressed; the alleged co-worker was active online in chat groups; some members of one chat group encouraged the individual to go to my boss and “out” me as a sexist. (author’s note, I use the word “alleged” when describing the person who wanted to seek retribution against me for holding an opinion because without evidence I do not know for certain that this co-worker actually existed).
This email made me pause and think. What had I written that was so offensive to have someone label me a sexist? Why was the expression of an opinion so toxic that it seemed to justify doxing me publicly? Would the person really contact my employer and if so would my boss’ response result in my termination? I read over all my posts dozens of times each and I still saw nothing which one would deem offensive. Even if someone took offence I have come to realize that being offended is a choice each person makes.
When met with a conflicting point of view on anything an individual has two rational options, in my opinion. Stand up for your beliefs in a respectful manner and engage in dialogue in attempt to present an opposing viewpoint or… ignore them entirely. Engage or ignore has become my mantra. Cancelling someone or seeking to punish that person for doing nothing more than holding an opinion should not be an option in a democratic and free society – full stop. This does not seem to be what is happening today in the world. People are ending relationships, families are being torn apart, careers are being destroyed – just because of opinions.
Back to my story. Since I had bills to pay and two young children to support I had to error on the side of caution. I confided in my brother whom I trusted to keep the information I shared between the two of us. He had read my blog and saw absolutely nothing overly provocative about the content of any of my posts. However, his advice was one which focused on risk assessment. Meaning that I had to make a decision based on the worst case scenario. Did I value my job more or did I want to continue writing?
The decision was simple given that one paid the bills and the other was something that, although it was a passion and provided me with a level of therapeutic relief, was not bringing in any income. I made the choice to pull the plug on my blog and avoid the potential backlash the anonymous emailer had warned me about. I have pondered whether I made the correct decision. I am all about standing on principles but in this case I backed off that position to avoid personal loss – both financially and to my reputation.
The continued revisiting of my decision over the past five years is what has brought me to this moment. I have decided that telling the truth – not a narrative which is safe and easy – is what I am about as a person. No more giving in to the mob online who have a hard time hearing opposing points of view from those which they hold. No more being silenced due to a fear of being (wrongly) labeled. I now know that individuals who label people are often unable/unwilling to engage in dialogue when confronted with ideals and opinions which challenge their own (further, I know what I am as a person and it is not what some have labeled me). There are some people who wish to silence debate while I choose to engage those with whom I disagree – engage or ignore!! Even after debating an issue we can still break bread together. The idea of concepts such as middle ground and compromise when it comes to political, social, moral and philosophical opinions is not dead and it certainly will not die on my watch!
One Dad With a Blog
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