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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That discussion was beaten worse than a dead horse.

Doris, your comments come from some well of wisdom and I find you are worthy of trust. Are you saying we all should stop participating in this group? or that you are no longer participating? or there is another topic that holds more interest for you? 

Joan, Doris said "discussion", not "group"! I assumed she was referring to "Why Do You Dislike Jesus So Much?". I've just terminated it in favor of Anger, logic, and moving on.

It is expected that every person participating in a debate should not indulge in personal offence and every person should understand where not to take personal offence. Otherwise, as I have said elswhere, taking unwarranted personal offence will become a useful tool to stop discussions.

I just started a discussion about this sort of thing...

My point being that new comers can be treated quite harshly by our atheist community....

What is your response to none rational thinking?

What are your thoughts about what we need to do as a community to effectively promote rational thought?


It seems though that this is a basic abusive behaviour thing - lists can be found on many sites.

Emotional Abuse

  • Frequently blames or criticizes you
  • Calls you names
  • Ridicules your beliefs, religion, race class or sexual preference
  • Blames you for "causing" the abuse
  • Ridicules/makes bad remarks about your gender
  • Criticizes or threatens to hurt your family or friends
  • Isolates you from your family and friends
  • Abuses animals
  • Tries to keep you from doing something you wanted to do
  • Is angry if you pay too much attention to someone or something else (children, friends, school, etc.)
  • Withholds approval, appreciation or affection
  • Humiliates you
  • Becomes angry if meals or housework are not done to his/her liking
  • Makes contradictory demands
  • Does not include you in important decisions
  • Does not allow you to sleep
  • Repeatedly harasses you about things you did in the past
  • Takes away car keys, money or credit cards
  • Threatens to leave or told you to leave.
  • Checks up on you (listens to your phone calls, looks at phone bills, checks the mileage on the car, etc.)
  • Tells people you suffer from a mental illness
  • Threatens to commit suicide
  • Interferes with your work or school (provokes a fight in the morning, calls to harass you at work, etc.)
  • Minimizes or denies being abusive
  • Abuses your children
  • Breaks dates and cancels plans without reason
  • Uses drugs or alcohol to excuse their behavior
  • Uses phrases like "I’ll show you who is boss," or "I’ll put you in line"
  • Uses loud or intimidating tone of voice
  • Comes home at late hours refusing an explanation


Thanks for this detailed list Alice. A lot of these ring true to me, though I hadn't had them in mind. Overall, it shows the larger picture of an abusive relationship. While not all of these happen in a social network, I noticed several that do, which I hadn't realized.

Ruth - it is an issue that people can get offensive, abusive due to their own frustration etc...

I think that leaving people be free important - as in order to overcome our attitudes we do need to expose them before we can be challenged and educated on how better we might do it - otherwise we breed a culture of hidden things... which is festering I think, and doesn't promote education or well being and also can create a false sense of reality.

I think the answer is to allow freedom of expression, but create a culture of kindness by calling out abusive behaviour in a way that is educational - Alfie Kohn's book Unconditional Parenting is useful as he talks about perspective taking as way to gain compassion, understanding and behaviour modification.  

If we know what is moral and ethical - we can have thick skin and deal with abuse that shows compassion for both the abuser and the abused....  unless they are a psychopath, then they do have feelings and are fully caused to be abusive - because they have some dysfunction that needs help.

Obviously it's a case by case situation and if someone is wantonly abusive then kick them out!

Alice, as usual, your arrow strikes the bull's eye. 

Restraint is required in everything in life and so it is required in criticism also. Why does any one criticise anything? Any person with some intelligence would normally not start criticising something, unless it offends his sensibilities. Therefore, it is desired that such restrained criticism should be given adequate consideration.

Ruth, these rules would put Fox News and talk radio out of business!

The time has come for members of Hang With Friends to consider standards for our group discussions in regard to mind games. In 1964, Eric Berne identified a pattern of interpersonal response in which people narrowed their perception of reality to interpret everything as fitting either a victim, a rescuer, or a persecutor role in Games People Play. The bottom line is that something happens, some trauma from a person or event, causing the individual to give up on self worth based on their own merits. They settle for self worth, or self esteem, based in invidious comparison. Instead of "I'm OK, You're OK" they opt for "I'm OK, You're NOT OK."

There are many cultural traps of this kind, in many arenas. It's so easy to feel good about yourself  by feeling morally superior to someone else. Those who identify as victims of harassment feel morally superior to their persecutors. Those who rescue victims, feel morally superior. The third rotation of this position, which always eventually comes into play, is to judge that someone else deserves to be punished because they deserve it, in which case the persecutor feels not only morally superior but gets to do nasty things without guilt.

It is my judgment that one of our members has introduced two discussions which fit this mind game pattern. It's NOT against the rules & guidelines. However it's incompatible with my description of Hang With Friends as a safe place to discuss difficult issues.

I could arbitrarily declare such discourse out of bounds, close the discussion, and "throw my weight around." Ha Ha. Not my style. The opportunity to empower members is far more important to me. I suggest that we adopt a policy prohibiting Victim/Rescuer/Persecutor mind games and authorizing me to close, or even delete such discussions or replies. That's a lot of power. You should decide. This group is for you, not my kingdom.

We need to discuss the issue. It's subtle, and many people won't "get" the differences.

First, this is not about "Is the topic relevant to religion?" It doesn't have to be relevant to religion or atheism in Hang With Friends. It just has to be relevant to you. You can introduce a discussion about your hangnail problem, if you like.

Second, this is not about being angry. Let's distinguish person from behavior when we discuss anger. It's inappropriate to insult someone as an angry person, because that implies he or she is incapable of other responses. But expressing anger, in nonhostile language, is important. Hard issues invariably arouse anger. Acknowledging anger, and channeling it appropriately, empowers us. There's a line however, we want to avoid hate language or rage.

Third, let's distinguish unacceptable discourse from unacceptable people. Just because someone has slipped into using mind game language once or twice, doesn't mean he or she is incapable of respectful discussion. I see no reason to ban a person, unless the group wants me to because their patience is exhausted with someone's behavior. In that case, I think that separate issue needs to be brought up to the group. If the group wants to authorize me to expel members on mind game grounds, your standards for me would need to be explicit.

In sum, after familiarizing yourself with the issue, please weigh in here, in this discussion. Thanks!

This is your vote. I'll decide after two weeks for member input.


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