On 12/29/11 a member was suspended from our group for the first time. Many of you may be confused about the line he crossed. The last thing we need is unarticulated anxiety that inhibits members from contributing, because they're unsure what Matt Rugar did wrong.

Groups need a safe emotional environment. When a member shares a painful personal experience, doubts, fears, or other personal vulnerabilities, he/she is giving all of us a precious gift. When another member uses that information to insult, ridicule, or attack the giving member, it's not just a betrayal of trust toward the individual. It's an attack on the group itself. If such betrayal goes unanswered, security shatters in the group. Members are reduced to superficialities, with no possibility for mutual validation. It sends a painful message, "nobody is safe here."

Matt Rugar didn't just attack Joan, when he said this, he betrayed the trust of the entire group.

Joan is still whinning about some thing that happened 4 decades ago and attacks who ever does not join her in her pity party. She goes from group to group to be martyerd.

So how does one give negative feedback without betraying trust and making others feel unsafe?


1. Qualify your criticism as your opinion or perception.


Example: (where X is an offending sexist remark)

Instead of saying "You're sexist." say,

            "That sounds sexist to me."

            "When he said X, I  heard a sexist remark."

            "To my ears that smacks of sexism." or

            "I perceive X as sexist."


By qualifying what we say as our judgment, we show respect for the person. We imply that he/she could do better. We present the behavior as a mistake. We imply that we too make mistakes, from time to time,  that we are equal adults. This is called making the person/behavior distinction.

When we label an offender, we imply that this bad behavior is a defining trait, that he/she is not capable of doing better, and that he/she is therefore inferior.


2. Avoid "Mind Reading", i.e. claiming to know the intent of others. Nobody knows what  goes on inside the head of other people. In the example above, Matt claimed to know what goes on in Joan's head. Here again, this is easily avoided by qualifying what you say as your interpretation, your reaction, your judgment. You can say you "feel as if", or "get the impression that."

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Replies to This Discussion

I agree with Pat and Justalysn.  I don't comment often, but I do follow various conversations, as I have with this conversation.  Honestly, I thought that Matt was way out of line with some of his comments.  I also feel that Suzan, Joan, and you, Ruth, responded respectfully.  It felt like he was trying to pick fights and get people riled up.  

I look forward to contributions from all three ladies and thank them for their time, dedication, and level-headed reactions.

Forgive my typo, Susan :)

Ruth, you continue to be a source of strength and inspiration for me and I do appreciate your guidance.  

Just so no one thinks I am intimidated by comments directed toward me, I want to be really clear.  I will not stop telling my experiences until and unless child and wife and husband abuse stops.  Silence achieved nothing for me about this matter, never has, never will.  My story is not so gross that I am easily dismissed, yet it tells a story of how individuals become helpless, hopeless and immobilized. There was a time when I could be in the shelters and boys' ranch and prison teaching life skills, but those days are gone and will not return.  Now, I have a forum that deals with the dysfunctional nature of religion and relationships, realizing that not all religious behavior is dysfunctional. I know I sound like a broken record and when anyone gets tired of my ideas, just use the Delete or Block button.  

By the way, the first chapter of "A Splendid Heresy" is about defining the problem.  That is not the whole book ... the rest deals with setting goals, exploring options, developing action plans, setting evaluation criteria and creating a healthy, happy, productive, responsible, self-directed life for oneself and one's family.  Those chapters come next. 

I was following that mess and I agree, the right decision has been made.  Good job!

Ruth, it seems I have a lemon here and I need to make lemonade.  

Obviously, I have an issue, it is real and pervasive and sometimes feels indestructible. What I need is to be effective. Therefore, if you or any of your followers can offer ideas on how to be effective in this effort I would be most grateful. Since problems don't solve themselves without effective pro-action, I don't want to wallow in "self pity" or sit on a "pity potty" I want more individuals to understand the problem and join me in challenging it.  

I didn't read through everything but I agree with all that you said Ruth. I loved Joane's posts and found them all really inspiring. Joan is a great inspiration to me and many other people. When people post a painful experience about religon. Many others can relate to it. A lot of hurt people are told to just shut up and not play the victim card but I think its important for individual voices to be heard no matter how long ago it happened.

I'm sure it goes without saying that Joan's comments have never sounded like she is playing the victim.  She has simply shared her experiences and explained how they have brought her to her current point in life.  I, too, have been inspired by her words and greatly appreciate the fact that she has shared them with us.

I fully agree. I WANT to hear what has happened to people. For far to long we've been silent. Christians are in love with themselves and with what they've done. Now it's time the world knows these things. You'll never hear an apologie from a Christian for the centuries of horrific things they've done - even until today - so it's up to us to tell thse stories.

While I missed the posts, I do have to agree with you.  We, as non-theists, need to stick together with the glue of mutual respect.  We are all faced with hate from religious fanatics, so divisive behavior is not accessible.  I hope that Matt realizes this, and changes his behavior.

 I'd add 3. Avoid Sarcasm

Written sarcasm usually doesn't come across as intended. It probably shouldn't be used in verbal communication either. Fortunately a friend pointed that out to me that something I wrote was sarcastic and unbecoming. Now I try keep an eye out for sarcastic comments so I can rewrite them in a different tone. Sarcasm means caustic remark, irony, satire. My comment was meant to be ironic, but it could have been seen as caustic. It's horrible to accidently insult, or hurt someone's feelings.

I became too busy to keep up with most of the threads I was reading. It's amazing how fast some threads grow. Hanging out with friends gets a lot of posts. My comment about sarcasm is written as general information and suggested guidance. I wasn't following the thread that became offensive so it isn't in reply to anything specific someone wrote.

Thanks for "3. Avoid Sarcasm" Chris G! You're 100% correct. I particularly loathed Matt's sarcasm about killing Christians. I've always reacted strongly to verbal violence veneered with humor.

Ruth, I think so as well. 




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