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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discussions which fit this mind game pattern... [are] incompatible with my description of Hang With Friends as a safe place to discuss difficult issues.... 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.


I vote "yes" to such a policy. It would be analogous to Atheist Nexus as a whole being a safe place without proselytizing; it's good to have a safe space where we can (among other things) acknowledge anger, but where mind-game attacks are explicitly out of bounds.

I'd suggest not deleting closed discussions. (Can they be moved "out of the way" somehow?)

" Victim/Rescuer/Persecutor mind games"

Which happens on this site more often than some may think.

Sounds reasonable. Thanks.

Ruth, I like your ground rules and believe we need a safe place to discuss complex ideas. Each one can learn to be more civil and I certainly have learned to tame down a bit and I appreciate the clarity of rules and expectations.

At the same time, furies get roused quickly, words become offensive, I want to strike back with all the energy and force I can muster. It is kind of like having a mouth full of blood and wanting to spew it out all over a person who speaks nonsense. I want to be heard, not to show off or to hurt someone but to reveal just how strongly I feel about things.

I am more like Steven in that way, I need to be roused from my slumber and he has a way of getting me up on my high horse and pouncing back. With Steven, I don't feel defensive, I feel challenged and others may not react the way I do. 

There is an obvious answer to this dilemma but I don't know what it is. Out of respect for you and others who want a safe place to discuss things, I want a place where I can bleat like a ram, and roar like a lion. Can you or anyone offer a suggestion? Maybe a boxing ring where we angry ones can punch it out. 

There's nothing wrong with anger, Joan. I only want it constructively channeled. You can always roar that you're angry. That's communication, not hostile behavior. It's when we act angry, by verbally striking out or by manipulating to make someone else look bad, that problems arise. I don't remember seeing you do that. I'm always open to correction, if I missed something.

Ruth, you didn't miss anything. You lead fairly and honestly with so many good ideas, and I especially like your guiding hand. I am very glad you didn't observe me, "verbally striking out or by manipulating to make someone else look bad" and I don't think I do that. I appreciate your willingness to tolerate my "roar". I feel heard by you and others and appreciate that. 


I am new to the site and to the group.  I am so glad to be here, knowing that if we can't all "just get along", there are cooler heads than mine who are willing to peacefully negotiate the changes we need to see.  Much thanks.


Be able to:

1. Identify what I like and say so.

2. Identify what I don't like and say so.

3. Identify my limits and set them.

I heard those in a college assertiveness training course I took soon after I retired (at age fifty).

I needed to hear them; my parents both used violent means to create the silence their parents, indeed their Germanic culture, had required. The violence succeeded, and grew children who had to state their needs but could do it only very noisily and angrily.

Why was silence required?

The German-language movie The Inheritors told me the reason when the subtitles said "No one spoke that day. People who said more than five words were said to be good for nothing."

I saw those words when I was seventy and instantly knew why my parents had been unable to tell their five kids that they wanted us to grow up to be good for something. I'd seen the word "tragedy" decades earlier but finally understood it.

I still remind myself:

1. Identify what I like and say so.

2. Identify what I don't like and say so.

3. Identify my limits and set them.

These occasionally result in my saying I don't like a conversation and allowing time for it to change. If it doesn't change, I leave. Less often, they result in my resigning an elective or appointive office.

I am kinder to myself than I was in my passive-aggressive years.

Tom, a wonderful story of your multi-generation experiences and the understanding that grew. 

Those sound like good ground rules, Tom. That requirement for silence sounds like Dominator Culture to me, people low in the hierarchy aren't allowed to have a voice.

I got even, Ruth; I joined Toastmasters and soon started talking back to the Dominators. I even ran for election to a state legislature. I didn't win but I started a talking habit I like well enough to keep.

I need to pick a nit, though. Instead of saying "Those sound like good ground rules', consider saying "I like those ground rules." Assertiveness Rule 1.

I like your your "pick-a-nit".




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