This post is longer than the usual Nurturing Thursday entry, but please bear with me because it is meant as a continuation of last week’s half-baked post, and I hope it will make more sense! Before I got distracted by drama on someone else’s blog about a plagiarism incident, I had planned to write about social relationships in the modern world and how fragile they often seem. Sometimes it feels as if there is nobody we can count on to help us get through life—no safe ground.
Later I realized why I hadn’t been able to write on this subject while distracted by online drama. It’s all part of the same problem! In the small villages of long ago, people relied on their family and neighbors for survival. But in today’s world, where we just drive to the store and buy whatever we want, it feels like everybody is on their own. It’s good that we have more choices in the modern era—we are free to leave an unpleasant job, an abusive spouse, or a neighborhood we no longer enjoy. But the flip side of having so much freedom is that nobody has to stay with us either, and that feels very scary.
About five years ago, I was involved with an online community that fell apart. Efforts to punish bad behavior (such as by demanding that everyone delete their links to a blog where sexist stuff had been posted) went too far and left the community divided into several warring camps. Nasty gossip and conspiracy theories ran wild. As Elizabeth mentioned last week in my comments, online wrongdoing has to be punished so that the community can feel safe and enjoy blogging. But where do we draw the line to ensure that the punishment doesn’t end up being uglier than the crime?
Our ancestors’ villages had plenty of arguments and gossip too, but there were natural constraints. People knew that they couldn’t get too nasty with each other because they would need help if their barn caught fire or some other calamity happened. But in the modern world, we don’t need our virtual neighbors any more than we need our real-life neighbors. There is always somewhere else we can go; and of course, they don’t need us either. They’re free to tell us to shove off, as rudely as they want, whenever they feel like it.
So, when we put emotional energy into building relationships, it always feels risky. While I don’t expect anyone reading my blog would decide (for example) that I need to be punished for writing a bad Nurturing Thursday post last week, unexpected stuff happens all the time. There is never any certainty because the old rules of social interaction have gone out the window. Some of that is good because we have been clearing away ignorant prejudices, but some of it leaves us feeling vulnerable and anxious. How do we build a culture where people respect, value, and support each other just because it’s the right thing to do?
Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.