On second thought, never mind

Over the weekend I wrote a post responding to the court decision to overturn Prop. 8. It was very cathartic for me. I took everything that I’d ever thought or tried to write about same-sex marriage and distilled it to its essence, which was 1,841 words–long for a blog post, but most of my blog posts are (too) long, and when you consider the tens of thousands of words I had to work with, I’d call it a pretty awesome distillation. Of course, you will just have to take my word for it because once I had finished writing, I knew that I wouldn’t publish it.

For one thing, I could get no further personal satisfaction out of my creation. I had brought order to chaos, but since I was the only person who knew what the chaos looked like to begin with, I couldn’t expect anyone else to be particularly impressed with the order. But more to the point, I knew that publishing something on this particular sensitive topic would only lead to bad things. Threads on same-sex marriage–like threads on a handful of other sensitive topics–tend to bring out the worst in people. And when I say “people,” I am including friends and family; I am including myself.

I can write reasonably and dispassionately–it’s what I strive to do always, when I’m not just striving to be silly–but really, I’m just not nearly as patient as one needs to be when participating in a conversation about an issue on which there can be no reconciliation. One tries to control the course of the discussion by setting parameters and establishing rules of conduct, but the parameters are inevitably ignored, rules are bent and broken, and in the end people just feel hurt and angry and possibly like they might need to take a shower. People lose respect for each other. Some of us–maybe most of us–get over it, in time, but time doesn’t change the fact that the conversation ultimately served no useful purpose. It just made Baby Jesus cry.

No matter how high-minded one’s intentions may be at the outset, there is an unbridgeable gulf between the two sides, and talking about it just makes the gulf deeper and wider–which is fine when your goal is intellectual clarity, but I can find intellectual clarity in a lot of places–including the privacy of my own brain, as it turns out. And as it also turns out, I’m in no particular mood to share. Those with ears to hear have most likely already heard; the rest is just shouting at each other for the sake of it. I find it unpleasant regardless of whether I’m the shouter or the shouted-at. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Bottom line: it’s pure narcissism for me to think that anyone cares about anything I say. I am a narcissist, of course, which is why I blog; the question is, do I want to use my narcissism for good or for evil? Shall I regale you with vaguely amusing scenes from my religious life, or shall I provoke you to wrath and possibly cause you to commit sin? I usually only do the latter when I’m all out of the former, which means I’m about due for a little wrath-provoking–and yet I find my heart just isn’t in it anymore. I find the prospect of launching yet another hate-spewing thread on same-sex marriage utterly repulsive. I’m not saying you kids can’t handle it. I’m not even saying I can’t handle it. I’m saying I don’t want to. I have enough contention and frustration in real life; I don’t need to seek out extra on the interwebs.

For sure this isn’t the first time I’ve sworn off political conversations, and I reckon it won’t be the last. Each time I hope it’s the last, but it never is; eventually the temptation to offer my opinion just becomes too much, and so I end up going where I promised myself I’d never go again–usually because it just irks me to see my side vilified or misrepresented (I’m sure you all know what this is like), and I think, “I can’t just say nothing. It isn’t right to let one side set the terms of debate or to let other perspectives be ignored.” Yes, it’s all very earnest and righteous on my part. (I’m sure you know what that’s like, too.) So I break my promise, and I say something, and quelle surprise, it all turns out to be pointless and I am sorry I did it. I have never not been, not even once. So you’d think I’d have learned by now. Believe me, I keep thinking I have! But I will say this much for my teachability: with each (bad) experience, I get a little smarter and a little more circumspect, and a little more apathetic. This is what people with no taste for battle do: we retreat. Is the world a better place for it? Well, for us personally, it is. And that’s something.

I like to focus my efforts where they’ll make the most difference–in this case, harnessing all my willpower to stay the heck out of stuff. Eventually the debate will be ceded to the loudest and most obnoxious voices–but as near as I can tell, they already own it anyway, so whatever. Until they abolish the secret ballot, I can live very happily keeping my own little thoughts to myself–voting quietly, seething quietly, inwardly clucking tsk-tsk as the world goes to hell in a handbag around me. It’s not emotionally satisfying, but then, it’s not emotionally wrenching, either, so it all evens out in the end. ‘Til Jesus gets here, of course. And then, I think we’re probably all in for a big surprise anyway.

One thing I will say with respect to the legal wrangling over Prop. 8: I think in part it’s borne of this distaste for and impatience with hashing out our differences amongst ourselves. We can’t work it out, so we let the courts decide, and depending on which side we’re on, there is either joyous exultation or weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Some of us will exult or gnash out loud; some of us will do it quietly. I see us retreating to our respective camps and hardening our hearts out of pride and emotional necessity. Who can handle all this drama? I realize that I’m hoping the Church just stays out of the public square in the future, that it adopts my strategy, which is the same one I’ve taken with my kids: I can’t get them to stay in Time Out, so I just put myself in Time Out instead. It doesn’t do a thing for the kids, but it does wonders for my own sanity. (Also, it keeps me from maiming them, so, bonus.) Is this the right choice? I’m sure I wouldn’t know. But it’s the one I can live with, for now.

On second thought, never mind

Comments

  1. Wise is the man who says all that needs to be said, but not all that could be said.
    — Marvin J. Ashton, GenCon 10/1976

  2. Thank you, Rebecca. Great reflection. I was under no illusion during fall 2008 that a vote would settle this issue. To settle it will require lots of judges, millions of dollars, thousands of printing cartridges, millions in tailored pin-strip suits, many years, and probably several more state-wide votes across the country a la the legacy of Casey v. Planed Parenthood. And I, like you, hope that the Church will allow this next act of theater to play out before it as a passive member of the audience, who can sit back and be observant and accepting of the plot’s outcome.

  3. Thomas Parkin says:

    I was just thinking what a huge distraction it all is from what is important in our religion.

    — In my view, what is important in our religion is that we have the means to know God, through Christ, through personal revelations, through the symbolic content of revealed ordinances. Everything else is secondary, including virtually everything we occupy ourselves wiht in the religion. And arguing about gay marriage does not even come close to something we should be expending so much heat over. The project is individually coming to Christ and collectively coming to Zion – and the whole kerfluffle seems to me just one more drag on the process. ~

  4. Ah, Rebecca, you sound defeatist.

    I’ve learned a lot from people like you when you’ve gone to bat for your positions, and while I my position is rarely changed, it is almost always softened.

    It’s true it’s hard when advocates of opposing positions always assume the worst of each other.

    Post your same-sex marriage post somewhere, put a link on the side-bar, and don’t allow comments. I’d be interested.

  5. Michelle says:

    I, too, am worn out by this issue, and others like it. I think part of it to me is really realizing and accepting that we really aren’t going to change others’ minds, which to me is where most of the nastiness comes from (on both sides).

    It’s a real test of all that’s good within us, I think, to learn to, as Elder Cook said, disagree without being disagreeable. But sometimes maybe it’s just better not to discuss it at all. It’s a sad place to be. The fact that ‘sides’ can’t talk about things is in some ways more concerning about the issues themselves — be it gay marriage, or immigration, or other charged topics. And we all add to the problem. There’s no one to blame on ‘the other side’ because it happens across the spectrum.

  6. Could you keep this on speed dial, please, and repost as necessary? Thank you.

  7. One other thing to remember — a lot of you people have been bloggernacle denizens for a long time, but bozos like me come and go. The same tired old arguments to you can be refreshing to newbies. I just think everybody needs to tone down the contention.

  8. I don’t talk about it to change others’ minds. I talk about it in the process of figuring out my own. I just post it to invite others to have a say.

  9. Michelle says:

    SilverRain,

    That kind of talking is much different than what I was talking about. I think sometimes it does help to talk about it with someone as we sort through things. But that’s much different than a lot of the ‘talking’ that goes on.

    Martin,
    I think the point she is making is that “just tone down the contention” never really works. Until it does, talking about it often does little good.

  10. philomytha says:

    Bummer. I would love to hear a Prop 8 perspective from you. I have no idea what your views on it are, but if anyone could make me think hard about a different way of looking at it, it would be you.

  11. Rebecca, wonderful as always. I have this discussion with myself at least once a week as I decide not to post something I’ve written on my computer or in my brain. Everyone is blessed by my decision not to post. You all have no idea of your blessings. Think of it as posts created or saved.

  12. I think your most important point is also the most obvious one: “there is an unbridgeable gap between the two sides.” I can understand both sides, but I only agree with one of them. At least this time, the side that lost isn’t the side that blackballs its opponents and destroys their property.

  13. MikeInWeHo says:

    “…..time doesn’t change the fact that the conversation ultimately served no useful purpose.”

    I disagree with this statement. While I share your weariness on this particular issue, I’m not convinced all is in vain when it comes to dialog between those who hold divergent views on contentious topics. Perhaps few do change their opinion over time, but the conversation is helpful in other, less-obvious ways. It’s Conflict Resolution 101: Begin with communication.

  14. At least this time, the side that lost isn’t the side that blackballs its opponents and destroys their property.

    Which one is that?

  15. Left Field says:

    I think what bothers me most about the issue is that both sides seem insufferably pompous about how right they are. As soon as someone starts talking, I start hoping the other side will win and put them in their place.

  16. Eric S (2) – And I, like you, hope that the Church will allow this next act of theater to play out before it as a passive member of the audience, who can sit back and be observant and accepting of the plot’s outcome.

    Well, actually, I don’t want the church to necessarily be accepting of the outcome. I just want us to weep, wail or exult amongst ourselves, kind of like we do on other issues we don’t get politically involved with.

    Martin (4) – I am defeatist. It works for me, though. That’s my point.

    Ardis (6) – I don’t think you meant to, but you made me LOL. For my own sake, I should certainly keep this post on speed-dial.

    Silver Rain (8) – I just figure other people will have their say, anyway, if they feel like it. I don’t feel the need to personally facilitate their say because a) there are plenty of other forums for that and b) I don’t have it in me to sustain a conversation on the topic and c) I can’t stop other people from fighting about it.

    philomytha (10) – I appreciate that. Suffice it to say, there would have been something to offend everyone.

    MikeInWeHo (13) – the conversation is helpful in other, less-obvious ways

    So much less obvious that they can’t be seen with the naked eye! I fear there is an unbridgeable gulf between us on this point.

    But seriously, I’m not against people talking about it if they feel like it. I Just don’t feel like it. As I told Silver Rain, I don’t want to facilitate it. Technically, I do believe people can be persuaded to change their opinions, because I’ve changed mine–on a variety of issues, including this one. But not as a result of arguments in internet forums. I also believe intellectual clarity is a valuable thing–but again, I don’t see a lot of that in internet discussions. Mostly I see a lot of expression of strong feelings, and feelings can’t be argued with. (Well, they can, but it’s pointless.)

  17. nasamomdele says:

    I think the most good happens to “us” in life when “I” get out of the way.

    There is definitely such a thing as too much talk. It turns into word vomit. Or worse.

  18. Michelle says:

    Technically, I do believe people can be persuaded to change their opinions, because I’ve changed mine–on a variety of issues, including this one. But not as a result of arguments in internet forums. I also believe intellectual clarity is a valuable thing–but again, I don’t see a lot of that in internet discussions. Mostly I see a lot of expression of strong feelings, and feelings can’t be argued with. (Well, they can, but it’s pointless.)

    I like this perhaps the best of everything you have said.

    I just wanted to clarify that I, too, think there can be a time and place to talk about things like this. I think it’s important to learn to be able to communicate. But I think that usually happens best one-on-one where more meaningful communication can happen.

  19. Here is an interesting point of view from a New York Times Op-Ed.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/09/opinion/09douthat.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

  20. I feel this same way about a number of topics (political, theological, health issues, you name it). I just don’t have the emotional energy to engage on the internet.

  21. You are a good soul, RJ.

  22. Michelle says:

    (Just a thought, Rebecca, since I, too, am interested in others’ thoughts…maybe you could post something and close comments?)

    (For someone weary of it, it’s still something that is on my mind a lot.)

  23. Larry Ogan (20) – It is an interesting point of view, and worth reading. It is valuable to read/listen to opposing points of view. But if you want something considerably less nuanced, and considerably less valuable, look no further than the comments on that column. That’s what I’m talking about.

  24. Michelle – Well, now that I’ve gone to all the trouble of saying how I’m not going to post it, even unto the writing of an entire blog post, I’m afraid such an action would just make me feel silly. :)

  25. Michelle says:

    Yes, but if you post it without the possibility of it all dissolving into nothing but a fight, then it would negate one of the main reasons you didn’t want to post.

    (I’m really being more than just a little serious here.)

  26. Now that the Prop. 8 sideshow is on autopilot, I hope that LDS will address themselves to the far more important issue of same-sex attraction within the community of Saints.

    What does it profit the shepherd to chase after the wolf and leave the most vulnerable sheep behind? As a gay non-Morman I can fend for myself, but it grieves me that gay Mormons will continue to suffer alone.

    Every ward has at least one person with an immutable same-sex attraction who felt betrayed by the Church’s stance on Prop. 8. I can only counsel that they should “just leave”. If you have wiser counsel and warmer welcome to offer them, now would be a very good time to do so.

    As for me, the last two years have been well worth the pain, for I have made one true Mormon friend. Thank you all for giving me the space and time to overcome my own bigotry. I hope some of you have also found out of the rubble something of lasting value.

  27. MikeInWeHo says:

    “I fear there is an unbridgeable gulf between us on this point.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you on that, madhousewife. My point was that even if that’s the case, it doesn’t render continued dialog between the two sides meaningless. The Israelis and Palestinians may never be able to bridge the cap between their historical narratives, but does that mean they should just pack up and stop talking to each other? How has that ever worked out in cases of intractable differences of between between two positions?

    On the contrary, perhaps the more unbridgeable the divide, the more important the conversation across the gulf.

  28. Prop 22 happened long before I found the blogosphere, but I would like to note that the emotional, forceful, opposing viewpoints eventually did cause me to rethink my position. Not in time to change my vote on prop 22, but today I do think very differently about the subject. Much of that change came about because I realized the underlying assumptions of one side were more in line with my feelings than the underlying assumptions of the other side. You’re right that most of the arguments are far too heated and emotional to do any good, but sometimes you do see discussions where the logical underpinnings of each argument are brought out, whether accidentally or because the discussion actually leads to real, deep thinking, and even empathizing with the opposing views.

  29. Which is to say, I’d love to read what you’ve written and see how you think about prop 8, even if I can’t comment on it. Although it may seem people are pretty set in their views, you might be surprised at how, long after the conclusion of the discussion, your points eventually hit their mark.

  30. The Israelis and Palestinians may never be able to bridge the cap between their historical narratives, but does that mean they should just pack up and stop talking to each other?

    Actually, in this case I think they may as well. As long as one side isn’t going to stop shooting until the other is annihilated, I don’t think talking is doing them a lick of good. If they packed up and stopped shooting, they could never speak to each other again and the world would still be a better place than it is now. If they kept shooting and stopped talking, I think the effect would be neutral.

    Fortunately, I don’t think the SSM struggle is quite on the same level as the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.

    As I said earlier, I don’t think people should just shut up and stop talking about stuff, period. I just fail to see the value of it in this forum. I get that you see some value in it, even though I don’t, so by all means, everyone who sees value should continue in it. I would actually be very interested to know what specific meaning you find in these dialogs. Talking for the sake of talking doesn’t impress me, but I assume there’s something more in it for you–or is there? (We don’t have to agree that talking for the sake of talking is lame.) If you could give me a specific example of how one of these conversations has edified you or someone you know, I’d be very interested to know that.

  31. Rebecca,

    On second thought, forget that I said that I am tired of talking about it. I am but I’m not, obviously.

    So I’ll bite on your 30.

    Talking in forums like this have helped me in the following ways:
    1) I realize that others have pondered and wrestled with this as much as I have, but have come to different conclusions. When people are open about that without insisting that I change my mind, it helps me respect their position more.
    2) I see the weakness or at least insufficient nature of some of the arguments that people have used in support of prop 8 (something that has concerned me for years, actually, before prop 8 was on the table), so I have become even more cautious and tried to be more thorough about my thoughts on the subject.
    3) I have come to realize that I can’t prove my point to anyone or can’t change anyone’s mind. Not that people won’t switch positions occasionally, but it rarely happens when someone is TRYING to change someone else’s mind. On either side, such efforts usually only weaken the position they have, because it’s usually done with too much emotion and not enough reason or respect.
    4) I learn a lot from people who are share their viewpoints, whether or not they agree with my point of view.
    5) I do feel that sometimes some level of mutual respect can be attained, if the engaged parties are willing, and that’s gratifying to see when it happens.
    6) I remember that there are REAL people on the other ‘side’ of the issue, and I don’t ever want to forget that (even as I know it’s maddening that I just won’t change my mind because of that reality). Hearing personal stories and perspectives of others really keeps that front and center for me. It also helps me understand better where those I know who are gay are coming from. It’s too easy to just take a stand on your position and objectify ‘the other’ in ways that close our hearts. I think talking can help us avoid this — if we will let it.

    The emotion too often gets in the way, but over the course of the many years I’ve thought about and discussed this issue, there have been some positives along the way, too.

    And hey, if there weren’t discussions about it, would we personally sort through things quite as much on our own, even? I doubt it. It’s harder to really engage the process of thinking about this “in real life” because it’s rare to really hash out the issues face-to-face on something this volatile and complex.

  32. “No matter how high-minded one’s intentions may be at the outset, there is an unbridgeable gulf between the two sides, and talking about it just makes the gulf deeper and wider”

    I can see why you think this, but I really hope and believe that you’re wrong in the long run.

    “Eventually the debate will be ceded to the loudest and most obnoxious voices”

    Loud and obnoxious wins in the short term, but the right answer is always persistent.

    “We can’t work it out, so we let the courts decide, and depending on which side we’re on, there is either joyous exultation or weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

    It’s ok to let the courts decide, it’s what they’re for, after all. But whether it’s the courts or the ballot box that decides we still have to learn to live with each other after the decision is made, and that’s the part we need to work on the most.

    I like the fact that the Church appears to be emphasizing tolerance for other viewpoints right now, rather than trying to score in the political debate or sway opinions. Maybe we should all follow that example. The California case has a long way to go in the courts. Letting time pass without pissing each other off might be good for both sides.

  33. That’s not to say I think we should stop talking. On the contrary, and despite the loud obnoxiousites, I learn a lot from blog discussions of difficult topics. It helps me refine my thinking and mostly I recognize arguments that I most emphatically do not agree with.

    Often, the most important readers of your words are the ones who don’t comment. They are the ones who are most unsure of their position on the topic, so they are the ones most likely to learn something or be persuaded one way or the other. The loud, shouting commenters are not your true audience, they’re just the backdrop that helps the true picture come into focus for those who are actually interested in seeing it.

  34. Peter LLC says:

    I don’t think people should just shut up and stop talking about stuff, period. I just fail to see the value of it in this forum.

    On the other hand, what value does this forum have if not as a place for talking (about not talking) about stuff?

    BCC does a better job than most of walking the line between echo chamber and hate fest and I reckon that will continue as long as there are permas who publish considered posts that set the stage for thoughtful comments (and wield the ban stick judiciously).

  35. If anything, I am grateful prop 8 brought Dan Weston into the bloggernacle. My thesaurus will never be the same . . .

  36. Fletcher,

    So say we all. (For other reasons, too.)

  37. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 32, 33, 34

    I agree with you both 100%
    Can we talk about something contentious now?

  38. tesseract says:

    I am so grateful that there are still people who want to talk about this and try to understand the other side. I was on one side on Prop 22 and then was on the other side on Prop 8. People can change their minds, and in my case, it came from people sharing their stories and pointing out things to me in a non-judgmental way. I didn’t change my mind at first, but I thought about it a lot. So 8 years later when the topic came up again, I had a different stance. People do change their minds, but they need a lot of space and not feel pressured and let it be their own decision. Not all people on Internet forums are so objective and open-minded and welcoming in their discussions, but this is one place where I have seen it done!

  39. StillConfused says:

    Here is my problem with the whole Prop 8 war: in California, by statute, same sex couples are afforded all of the same rights as hetero-couples. Federal Law (passed by Bill Clinton) prohibits same sex marriage on a federal level. Hence, whether there is same sex marriage in California or not will have no tangible significance. The only difference will be the ability of a state sanctioned marriage ceremony and emotional benefits. But as a matter of tangible benefits, nothing will change. Hence, I really can’t feel one way or the other on this whole argument. But then again, if someone told me that I could not be married to my spouse but I would have all of the rights as a legal spouse, I would have no problem with that at all.

  40. On the other hand, what value does this forum have if not as a place for talking (about not talking) about stuff?

    Let me be clear about one thing: this is a valuable forum for talking about a lot of stuff. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be involved with it. But I don’t find it a valuable forum for talking about all stuff.

    And note, again, that I’m not telling people to stop talking about it. If they get something out of it, they should knock themselves out. The OP was about me realizing that if I posted on SSM, I would have no desire to see the ensuing conversation, let alone participate in it–because I’ve seen enough. I don’t think there’s anything particular admirable about my choice. I can’t actually come up with a single admirable thing about it. It’s just what it is.

    I’ll tell you what this experience was like for me. It was like the time I was in college and got into a “discussion” about Mormonism with a Christian in the dining hall. The discussion turned contentious and eventually she decided that she would cast my evil spirit out of the dining hall–and she did so successfully because as she was speaking in tongues I thought to myself, “Rebecca, when you’re getting cast out of the dining hall in Jesus’s name, your work here is finished.” Now, obviously I did not refuse to ever go in the dining hall again. I also didn’t refuse to talk about Mormonism with anyone ever again. I was just much more selective about who I’d engage and under what circumstances. And that’s how I feel about talking SSM on the internet with a hundred random strangers: I’ve been exorcised enough for one lifetime.

  41. This is a very thoughtful post. Thank you.

    I still engage in discussions about this topic, but I also am quite selective. The recent back-and-forth at FMH was a great example of the good and the bad, and I chose to participate because I thought there was a good thread running alongside the unavoidable vitriol.

    Otoh, I’ve pretty much given up on this topic at some other sites.

  42. Mark Brown says:

    Rebecca,

    Oh, man. Having the devil cast out of you in the college dining hall by somebody speaking in tongues just moved you to the top of the list of cool people I know. That experience re-defines the word ‘awesome’.

    Of course, since she was a girl she didn’t have the priesthood, so obviously the exorcism wasn’t efficacious. So that means you are still………

  43. MikeInWeHo says:

    re:39
    Yeah, but most people aren’t as pragmatic as you and me, StillConfused. Symbols matter.

    re: 42
    I am so with you on that one, Mark. How cool.

  44. until one side just sits down and shuts up (either side), this will not be resolved. simpe as that

  45. It's a series of tubes says:

    off topic: I’d like to request a moment of silence for the man responsible for my handle. RIP, and thanks for all the laughs.

  46. D. Fletcher says:

    Regardless of what the Church leaders may think about gay marriage, I really, really wish they had just been silent, and allowed the dialogue to happen without anything being directly pointed at them. Communication is good, but sometimes silence communicates a viewpoint most eloquently.

  47. Left Field says:

    Well said, D. I especially don’t get why they thought it would be helpful to issue a statement regretting the recent court decision. What in the world did that accomplish besides getting our name dragged through the mud into the newspapers again?

  48. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 47
    You know, that’s a good point. What on earth was the purpose of that statement? It’s not like there’s any ambiguity about the Church’s position on the issue.

  49. Latter-day Guy says:

    “…getting our name dragged through the mud into the newspapers again…”

    A goal we can always be confident in achieving! Honestly, I hope our PR people have really good health plans, because those ulcer treatments have got to get expensive after a while. (Maybe a bulk discount?)

  50. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Re #19:

    I did like this comment from the op-ed:

    “The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights.”

    If only the reading of King and King in Kindergarten wasn’t consequential…

  51. Left Field says:

    48: I don’t think there’s anyone out there (maybe uncontacted tribes in New Guinea and Brazil) who thought the church would be excited about the decision. But somehow a statement reminding everyone that we lost is in order.

    Of course the statement did also include a call for civil dialogue. But they’re tone deaf if they think a call for civil dialogue from *us* will carry any authority among those we might hope to have civil dialogue with. We already spent that capital.

    Maybe it’s time for some dignified silence.

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