FreeExFest 09

As I check out Tweats about South by SouthWest (SXSW) and hear about NPR broadcasting REM at SXSW, I wish even more that I could be there. Perhaps participating online is the best that I can do.

Yet yesterday, I stumbled across a comment about how SXSW started back in 1987 as a battle of the bands. Hmm, that is not the only thing that has cross my attention recently that started as a battle of the bands. Things clicked, gears whirred. The old phrase, “If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed” came to mind.

Years ago, when I first heard that phrase, it seemed like a good way to make a mountain come to Mohammed was to first, return the mountain to its shape as a molehill, which many mountains are made out of, then transport the molehill and make a mountain out of it again.

So, the mountain of Freedom of Expression, which was made out of the molehill about when and where a high school battle of the bands could take place might be just the way to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

Freedom of Expression Festival 2009, FreeExFest, North by Northeast, whatever you want to call it. What if we were to take the Lewis S Mills Jamfest that was the starting point for the Avery Doninger case, combine it with Poets and Writers for Avery in Litchfield, the State of Student Free Speech symposium at Quinnipiac, and perhaps add in some additional fine arts, film, or other additions?

We could have our own festival celebrating the Freedom of Expression, right here in The Constitution State. You wanna help?

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Modeling Responsible Online Speech

How do we deal with people we disagree with online, with people who say something offensive, or possibly damaging? I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and writing about this issue recently.

The New York Times has an article about Paul Tilley, the creative director of advertising firm, DDB Chicago. He had received anonymous harsh criticism on two advertising blogs. To what extent are the people who posted those comments responsible? To what extent are the moderators of the blog responsible for not doing better moderation? To what extent are the companies responsible for hosting these blogs responsible? What is the appropriate way of dealing with these sorts of comments?

I’ve spent a lot of time arguing this with various friends online. I worry about companies and schools restricting the free expression of ideas. Yet I also believe that people need to learn civility in their online writing. The same question applies to the Avery Doninger case. What is the best way, the right way, to help people like Avery learn to be more civil in their blog posts?

Recently, Chris Gingrich wrote a harsh blog post about how the Doningers have handled this. It was based on very incomplete information from newspaper articles. I wrote a comment addressing some of the misconceptions he had about the case and challenged him on the way he presented some of his arguments. On Sunday, he removed the original post and put up this post.

A commenter pointed out that the news articles I had based my post on left out some important facts. And, in a number of areas, he was right. Worse, my tone was harsh and unfair.

He then explores many important points. Should this be viewed as a censorship case? How do we help people to become more ‘moral’? What can we do as parents, people of faith, as members of our communities? How does it apply to specific issues in his community?

I would like to suggest that his response is part of the answer. Adults need to model constructive, wise and caring ways to dealing with issues in our community. Mr. Gingrich has done exactly that. He is strong enough to admit when he is wrong and to look for better solutions. If Superintendent Schwartz and Principal Niehoff had done this in the first place in the Doninger case, it would not be in court. It would not be a censorship case. Instead, it could have been a case study in how better to deal with conflict in an era when people can easily express their feelings online.

Mr. Gingrich writes,

My frustration with such issues stems from recent efforts to try to organize volunteers to help out in a local school where discipline is a major problem (think knives, gang assualts, arrests, threats against staff and epidemic rudeness and disrespect). I am hoping to start up after school programs and eventually mentoring type programs.

Avery’s difficulties started when she tried to organize citizens of her community to address one of her concerns. Whether or not bands should get to play in a new auditorium is not as significant a problem as gang assaults in schools, yet the aspect of organizing volunteers is the same.

So, let me propose a radical idea. Mr. Gingrich, reach out to the kids that bring knives to school. Get them to deal with their anger and frustration by using words like “douche bag” on blogs instead of knives in schools. Over time, you can get them to use more civil words and become more effective in dealing with their anger and frustration.

Chris Gingrich has modeled constructive online behavior in his blog. I believe that Avery has already learned from her mother how to be more constructive in her speech online. I do not believe that Schwartz or Niehoff have yet learned how to deal constrively with online speech, and it sounds like there are a lot of youth in Mr. Gingrich’s community that could learn similar lessons. Let’s all try to learn from him.

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Both Sides of the Middle East Conflict

On the Group Psychotherapy mailing list, there has been an interesting discussion of hope and despair as we look at the fighting in the Middle East. Here is a modified version of an email that I sent to the list.

I hold desperately on to hope, not because I believe there ever will be peace in the Middle East, I simply do not know. Yet, for me holding onto that belief, that hope is what I must do to survive. My mind wanders to Viktor Frankl's 1946 book Man's Search for Meaning. Then, my mind wanders to A.M. Rosenthal's essay, "No News from Auschwitz"

Brzezinka, Poland—The most terrible thing of all, somehow, was that at Brzezinka the sun was bright and warm, the rows of graceful poplars were lovely to look upon, and on the grass near the gates children played.

It all seemed frighteningly wrong, as in a nightmare, that at Brzezinka the sun should ever shine or that there should be light and greenness and the sound of young laughter. It would be fitting if at Brzezinka the sun never shone and the grass withered, because this is a place of unutterable terror.
There is nothing new to report about Auschwitz. It was a sunny day and the trees were green and at the gates the children played.

From their, my mind wanders to W.H. Auden's great poem, Musee des Beaux Arts:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood

So those who despair that there will never be peace in the Middle East and people like me who desperately seek for ways to bring peace are parts of the same drama seeing two sides of the same horror. If I were a therapist, I feel I would need to embrace both parts to be able to reach the people that came to see me. I would have to hold the ambiguity that Miriam talks about. I might even have to channel a little bit of Joni Mitchell

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
Its life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

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AVC Investigation Committee

Today, I was approached by Konner McDonnell about assisting with the AVC Investigative Committee (AVCIC). This has presented a dilemma for me. I wish to be as helpful as possible, yet at the same time make sure that my sources and confidential information are adequately protected.

I have agreed to provide as much information as I can to the committee provided it doesn’t violate the confidentiality of my sources and stays within the guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Important to the commission, I agree not to disclose any of the information we have talked about until it is publicly released.

Besides providing information that may be useful to the committee, I also agree to review findings and provide my feedback to the finding. However, I do not intend to do any investigation on behalf of the committee. My goal is simply to see that the committee report be as fair and accurate as possible.

It is my hope that AVCIC will set a good example of how investigations can and should be done in Second Life. If you have comments, please contact me directly.

For additional information, check the AVC statement about me joining them.

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V. in Gaza

On the Group Psychotherapy mailing list that I am part of, there has been a lot of discussion about what is going on in Gaza. This is intermixed with discussions of conferences and issues that people run into in their practices. It seemed to me that these threads were more interrelated than they initially seemed, so I wrote the following:

I've been struggling to keep up with all the emails on this list and make sense of them. So many of them call out to me to say something and I've just not had the time or energy, and if I had, others would be feeling overwhelmed with the amount of emails In generate. So, I am glad that V. has given me a chance to try and tie together all my reactions.

It seems like there is an important underlying theme, how do we respond to injustice. We see a parent bullying their child. Do we walk away and say that the parent had terminated therapy and there was nothing more the therapist could do? Or do we try to find some other way to get through?

When we see a peace process breakdown, do we walk away and say that the different sides are hardened in their positions and it is useless to talk about it, or do we seek to find empathy and help others find empathy, and perhaps even a shred of hope?

When we see callous youth, do we blame it on the education system or the media, shaking our heads as we walk away, or do we own our own roles as educators as part of the media landscape and seek for ways that we can bring a little empathy and hope into yet another situation that might appear hopeless?

Four years ago, my wife ran for State Representative in Connecticut. It was a seat that a Democrat had not run for in around ten years and a Democrat hadn't won in around a hundred years. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district two to one. There was very little chance that she would get elected, but it was important to run. In the election she received 44% of the vote, much greater than anyone ever thought was possible.

Afterwards, people who hadn't seen the election results would ask if she had won. I would always reply, that yes, she had won. She hadn't gotten elected, but she had won. I didn't know exactly what her victory meant, and I still don't know exactly, but we saw increased dialog about the issues our little part of Connecticut faced. We saw other people become more involved and find their own voices in politics. I believe I even see a little more civility in some of the discourse.

It is with that in mind that I complement V. on her successful intervention. Would I have done things differently? Perhaps a little bit, but I'm not sure. Did the presenting case for the intervention get
resolved, the parent finding help? We don't know. We might never know. Did V.'s action send forth a little ripple of hope? Yes.

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of
energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
Robert F. Kennedy

So, with that, I want to thank V. for her contribution to trying to find peace in the Middle East, for her contribution to trying to help students in the United States learn more about the battles for justice that we have faced in the past and face in the future, and for her contribution here.

(Note: I post this with permission of the person on the list who brought the vignette, and have changed some of the details to protect privacy and confidentiality.)

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