In my kitchen, right above the oven, I have these words on a plaque:
Great minds discuss ideas.
Average minds discuss events.
Small minds discuss people.
Everyday, at least once, I read Eleanor Roosevelt’s words and assess, based on what my mind is discussing (usually with itself), the quality of my thoughts.
Six years ago, I started a FB group for women in my small town to discuss great-minded ideas. Certainly, that’s happened, but recently there has been a lot of average-minded discussion on this page. These discussions of “events” have been mostly related to masks and mandates and this seemingly never-ending pandemic that we’re all simply tired of.
And over the last couple of days, the discussion has slid into the realm of the small-minded, i.e., discussing people. To put a finer point on that: people trying to determine who said what about whom and when and then drawing conclusions about intent and motivations alongside questioning the accuracy of claims made. These back-and-forths inevitably further devolve until all that’s left is an audience of (mostly) aghast women watching a few verbally bloody one another. It’s exhausting to witness, but like a multi-car pile-up, it’s hard not to be morbidly curious.
As an administrator of the group, I’m tasked with addressing when problems come up. (Side note: I probably shouldn’t be an administrator because I don’t relish having to address conflicts despite my experience and skill at doing so.) (Further side note to explain the claim made in the previous sentence: These skills come from raising four children and my training in and practice of divorce mediation.) But here’s the thing: I don’t want to address conflicts between people I don’t know who are bickering over matters I don’t care about. So, the quickest solution (for me personally) would be to resign as an administrator, exit the group, and move on.
But something about washing my hands of it all feels wrong: Since this FB group was my idea, I shouldn’t give up on something I created, and instead, I should encourage the better angels in us all to be great-minded thinkers who discuss ideas.
One of the biggest problems with the FB group is that I didn’t make any “rules” apart from asking that the discussions within the group stay within the group. That one “rule” has been violated time and time again (screenshots shared with non-group members), and as it is an unenforceable rule, it’s not really a “rule.” Rules have consequences for their violation. But to my mind, even the very establishment of rules (from the outset or now six years into this experiment) is problematic as someone will interpret another’s actions as violative of the rules, report it to the admins, and thereafter ensues much administrator wringing-of-hands to try to determine what to do. Currently, with no “rules” to rely on, a justifiable course of action is hard to take as there will be some who deem the action (or non-action) as wrong insofar as that action/non-action is not in keeping with rules that fail to exist in any prescribed form. Bringing to mind this image:
You’d think adult women would know how to comport their behavior within a FB group this far into our experience with FB, not to mention our experience as people living in a small town.
Yesterday, I spent a lot of time choosing my words carefully as I tried, as an administrator of this group, to address a reported problem. I spent the better part of my day debating the possible choices to make with the other administrator of the group. When the time came to take action, I asked the 458 members of the group what they thought about deleting a post that had turned into “unproductive banter.” Unsurprisingly, that post further devolved into more of the same.
So now what? Well, this quote has been surfacing a lot lately:
“Acceptance is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.” ― David Foster Wallace
And that’s how I feel about this group, fatigued. Fatigued because I’m spending time (time from my unknown, yet guaranteed limited allotment for my life) on people I don’t really know, who are arguing over matters I don’t really care about.
What choices do I have?
A. I could permanently remove those who engage in small-minded discussions, i.e., the mudslingers.
Benefit: They’re gone.
Risk: Be regarded as a censor who picks and chooses (and sometimes quashes) what debates are acceptable on the page and who gets to participate.
Further risk: Even with present mudslingers gone, there will be others to replace them.
B. I could ask the group what they want to do about the mudslingers.
Benefit: It relieves me of making a unilateral choice and opens this choice up to a democratic debate with a majority-based end decision.
Risk: The mudslinger feels targeted.
Further risk: The targeted mudslinger accuses my question to the group as passive-aggressive.
C. I could make up a new slate of rules with enforceable consequences when violated.
Benefit: People know the rules.
Risk: People interpret the rules to favor their behavior and malign the behavior of those with whom they disagree.
Further risk: Having to interpret whether rules have been violated and then having to enforce the consequences.
D. Delete the group.
Benefit: Being able to look back and say, “Well, I created a space where women could share their ideas and that happened from time to time, but when the group morphed into something that was not intended, I did the right thing and ended the experiment.”
Risk: Being regarded as “taking my ball home” when the game got too tough for me.
Further risk: Taking away a platform where there has been some great-minded discussion.
Well, I’ve made a decision that some will applaud and some will condemn. And I’m sharing this blog post within this FB group so that the 458 women in the group know that a change is coming.