Controversy, activism, and the internet: Part two

In my previous post, I detailed why I believe people who can’t handle controversy well should not directly engage with controversy whether it be coming out as an atheist, making a public stand for church/state separation, or writing about controversial topics on the internet – especially when they have seen similar results after various similar attempts. Rather than participating in direct engagement, I offered some advice such as writing anonymously, refusing to engage, sending information to others, or changing tone.

One commenter, Kate Donovan, a writer for TeenSkepchick, responded to my post accusing me of ‘ableism’ – quite the odd response [especially considering I work as a program assistant for a class including students with developmental and physical disabilities]. According to Wikipedia, ableism is “a form of discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities.” Kate, making this comment, referred to the following paragraph in my previous post:

I handle controversy really well; I do not break down in tears, jump to unreasonable conclusions about my safety, or have mental breakdowns. When I was preparing to challenge the constitutionality of a religious holiday display on a courthouse lawn in Luzerne County, I was told that I will very likely receive death threats, threats of violence, and a great deal of nastiness. I was ‘warned,’ one might say, and had every opportunity to back down and ‘pass’ the issue to someone else. I did not. I was aware of the potential outcomes of what turned out to be my very public challenge and weathered the nonsense.

For more context, read the following paragraph:

Had I been a person who did not deal well with controversy, the responsible action for me would have been to not go forward with the challenge. If possible, I could have remained anonymous, passed the ‘public torch’ to my friend Rodney Collins, or completely stepped back from the issue. In a climate that is generally extremely hostile to atheists who raise church/state complaints, there are obvious ramifications for those who go public with a complaint.

How my stating that I do not break down in tears, jump to unreasonable conclusions about my safety, or have mental breakdowns and handle controversy really well translates into ableism is beyond me. My post fails to make negative judgments on individuals who do not handle controversy well, but rather states examples of not handling controversy well. It should be obvious that breaking down into tears, jumping to unreasonable conclusions about safety, or having mental breakdowns are examples of not handling controversy well. Again, this is to say nothing of the character of the person who happens to experience these responses.

Many people handle situations differently. Personally, I love debates about religion while friends of mine — some of whom are atheists and theists — tell me that they would get angry and, as they say, “commit acts of violence” if they were to engage with people who, for instance, protest gay pride events. I have actively discouraged these individuals from engaging protesters and understand why they would be angry. Some members of groups such as the Silent Witness Peacekeepers, while at gay pride events, discourage people from confronting the protesters – often because they believe confrontation will end in violence.

I don’t want people who are prone to violent tendencies to engage in situations which may trigger them just like I don’t want people to engage in church/state activism who can’t cope with the negative ramifications. I don’t want atheists coming out of the closet if they can’t cope with what negative consequences may follow. I don’t want people to be put in harm’s way who can quite easily avoid the harm. While it would be nice to see a non-hostile environment, it is simply not the case – although we can, and do, work to change it.

Aside from focusing on the secular community and ‘atheist activism,’ all of us likely do not get along well with certain people whether they be persons whom we formally were involved with intimately, co-workers, family members, fellow peers, etc. Understanding that future interactions with these people would go poorly, especially when the past interactions went poorly, should lead us to a conclusion that we should avoid these people.

Different personality communication styles/types will shine in some situations while others will not. Our past experiences, too, may be important to reflect upon. Have we handled certain situations well in the past? If not, should we continue to engage in these situations again, especially if we are going to react in a similar manner? In hostile climates, people should be especially aware of the environment and not act in ways which would put them in harm’s way if they cannot cope well with the results which may follow.

I hope to address ways we can reduce hostility, work to improve the image of atheists in the public sphere, and perhaps even encourage people to express controversial opinions and take unpopular stances in future blog posts. I won’t address everything there is to address in one post and did not plan to in the previous post.