Using Unitarian Universalist Values in Online Discussion

The quoted text below comes from Erika Hewitt, a UU in Maine that is working on what she describes as “A Very Large Project for Unitarian Universalism”. It can be found on her Facebook page for public consumption, and she invites people to share freely. I would like to share my initial reactions with the readers of this blog, then inquire as to their thoughts about the idea…

In her April 30, 2014 post titled “Building a New Way,” Erika writes, in part:

And far too often, our people respond to leadership — which is to say, an invitation to see, do, or experience something new — with crossed arms, narrowed eyes, and out-loud wondering what gives that person the right to extend such an invitation. Unitarian Universalists, is this the people we want to be? I’ve done all of these things, friends, and I’m ready to stop. It’s fraying the fabric of our faith. Do we want to want to punish courage, diminish creativity, and shame one another into dimming the gifts that we bring to the world?

…and…

The culture change that I want to be part of is, like anything, a continuum.

It goes something like this*:
 
Criticism ——-> Assessment ——> Curiosity ——> Appreciation ——> Trust
 

My reply:

For the most part, I agree with Erika’s post. It certainly has the requisite number of paragraphs and syllables to be authentically UU. That was a joke, folks. On a serious note, I was involved in what became a contentious discussion on a UU group last week. I know myself to be passionate about UU Youth, growth and Religious Education. The person on the other end of the conversation, plus one commenter, maintain that RE in UU churches is deficient in meaning and the program is dying, along with churches.

agressive keyboard user

Of course, I openly disagreed with that premise. We went back and forth in what I would call a tumultuous discussion. I kept trying to figure out how we could meld our ideas into some sort of consensus, as we’re ostensibly after the same goal- to grow UU congregations and keep youth engaged into young adulthood and beyond. Without getting into all the argument shared, we ended once the person on the other end seemed to pull rank by identifying as a minister, which to me implied her opinion had more weight and there was no need to try to work together towards a common end. Granted, this was only my interpretation, but that’s one of the more egregious limitations of online discourse.

In my experience, Unitarian Universalists often confuse disagreement with disrespect and make confrontation into a negative. It doesn’t have to be! I have seen amazing work done by groups utilizing confrontation and dissent in a positive way to build toward consensus. If we used Erika’s process above, even a shorthand version, I believe we could facilitate reasonable discussion based in Unitarian Universalist values.

One thing I’ve witness firsthand in online discussions is a post being thrown up on Facebook groups with a prompt asking for opinions. Folks, if you don’t want opinions that oppose your thesis, don’t post the idea and ask for them! If you know you are the type to get defensive, and are convinced your idea is absolutely unassailable, please, don’t invite the deluge.

What Erika proposes is very useful, provided the author of a post and everybody commenting abides by the same directive, but do not hamstring themselves with following it to the letter. When attempting to innovate, any limitation on free discussion is problematic. I can easily see discussion threads becoming lost in the details of where a respondent failed to utilize this process, getting caught up in that minutiae, and totally losing focus on the issue at hand.

Nothing, including new ideas, is born into this world without pain. Confrontation is inevitable when challenging a status quo in which some have grown quite comfortable. What I like about Erika’s post is the idea of remembering we’re working toward the same goal in the end. That means always moving forward with this question in mind:

“How can we work together?”

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2 Responses to Using Unitarian Universalist Values in Online Discussion

  1. interimdre May 1, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    Dear MB: with respect, I said that I was a DRE and a minister in that discussion because I was trying to contextualize and illustrate my interest in the Church Universal, rather than one particular congregation. Sunday School in it’s current modality in the Mainline Protestant denominations as a whole (including our own) is not sustainable because it was created in a different era, no matter how “successful” our particular church program is. That was my simple contention. I said who I was as a stakeholder not to “pull rank” but to further explain why my interest is more universal than specific. You didn’t (and still don’t) seem to understand that particular point, but I’m so very grateful for your work in Albuquerque, and for your wonderful children’s programs. Keep on keepin’ on.

  2. MB Tankersley May 1, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Thanks for the reply, & for the clarification of your intentions. Unfortunately, even the best of intentions, if not worded carefully, can be misinterpreted in online discussion, where there are no non-verbal signals to go by. Yes, you did attempt to clarify your point after the fact. Just for the record, I was not the only one involved that interpreted your self-identification as a minister in that way. Throughout the conversation, I’m certain you’ll recall my attempts to ask how we could work together. Also, you & the other person I mentioned chose to dismiss me wholly rather than answer why it isn’t a good idea to find out what is happening in successful RE programs around the country & model it. Tell you what- that gives me fodder for another post I’ll write down the road. By all means, please keep reading & commenting. Glad you are a supporter of I Am UU.

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