Disadvantages to kindness…

Alright – that title is a bit over the top. The thing is, I’ve been pondering the difficulty of managing groups filled with people who all mean well (you’ll read why later on). Or rather – the majority means well, wants to be kind and all that. The disadvantage is… that unkind people can create havoc in such groups.

It’s a classic philosophical problem. I think Pascal formalized it first (please correct me if I’m wrong): In the realm of the ideal Christian (meek, kind, turning the other cheek), the one selfish person is king. So how does one have an organisation, or a community, of people who try to live as ‘a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity‘?

The easiest solution is to scorn all organizations. To keep on migrating online to whatever spiritual forum or ning has not been spoiled yet. The second obvious solution is for the leaders to just get rid of those that they don’t like. This is the solution that has given the Catholic Church such a bad name in certain quarters.

But let’s focus on the reason I’m asking these questions. An online theosophical community has recently faced first the expulsion of a trouble maker – then the expulsion of the moderator who expelled her – then the reintroduction of the trouble maker – then the moderator leaving the community. Yes, I’m taking the side of the moderator on this one. The lady who was expelled had been rubbing me the wrong way for a while.

[edit] I’m not talking about myself. I’m still a member of that community and will remain active there depending on the quality of the conversation. I have NOT been expelled or banned. [/edit]

What happens in such a community full of decent people – is that the person who was expelled gets defended. I think it’s a reflexive defense of the underdog. But if one doesn’t protect the lambs from the wolf, how can the lambs be expected to live? The troublemaker has been making trouble on that forum, and while it’s still active, I expect the atmosphere to deteriorate further.

As an ethical and spiritual question it’s a hard one: when is it kindness to give Love for Anger? And when is it best to be firm and strict? When to ignore misbehavior – knowing that ignoring it may well bore the person who is being a nuisance – and when to step in and say something?

I was terrible at this balance when I was teaching middle school math. I have a tendency to respond to everybody & everything. Online this usually works alright – keeps the conversation going – but I do have to reign myself in when I have nothing kind to say. Recently I’ve been deleting my own comments from this blog for instance.

Getting back to the other reason why this is relevant: the moderator who was expelled and a few others, including yours truly, have started a new theosophical forum. If you want to be invited (it’s invitation only for the moment, though we’ll be going public in a few days), say so in the comments.

In forums the issue is simple: how to have a lively forum where people feel free to express themselves, yet avoid flame wars?

10 thoughts on “Disadvantages to kindness…”

  1. I have a few corrections to make, since you are referencing the Community that I moderate–for the sake of portraying the situation accurately.

    1. The expulsion of ~ was not the first expulsion of a troublemaker. It was simply the first one anybody disagreed with.

    2. The other moderator was not expelled, nor even asked to leave. He voluntarily left the Community.

    I would very much appreciate it if you would adjust your summation of events to reflect what really occurred.

    Aside from those details, I thank you for comments here. They offer important facts for consideration and represent a very real dilemma to which there are a few different approaches.

  2. To comment further on the actual theme of your post, when it comes to moderating forums, one important consideration comes into play: Intention.

    When to be firm and when to be lenient? That depends a lot on the person playing the role of “troublemaker.” Aside from the way their troublesome actions effect us, what was their motive in being troublesome? This can be hard to gauge in an online setting, which only makes the solution that much more elusive.

    What else does the person do? Are every one of their comments troublesome and divisive? Some people seem to never have anything productive to add to a forum conversation. Others are usually positive, and still others do both. Now where does one draw the line?

    In my own style of moderation, I am much harder on those who do not seem to have added anything beneficial to the forum–those who seem to post only to argue and wreak havoc. There is no reason to tolerate such actions when there is no sign of a good faith effort to contribute to the positive atmosphere–those who only detract from it.

    The input of the other members is important and not to be disregarded, either–and this is about more than conforming to popular opinion. As moderators, we are there to serve those who frequent the forum. We may think we are serving them by removing a troublemaker, but is it possible that our idea of what is good for the group can be biased and inaccurate?

    Mob rule doesn’t work well, but when the active core is relatively small, and most of those people do not find the troublesome comments important enough to spoil their experience, why remove the person? To prove a point? To make ourselves feel better? It can be very difficult, as a moderator, to set one’s personal opinions and prejudices aside for the sake of serving their forum more effectively. Sometimes to listen to the masses is a grave mistake, but at other times, it is “the wisdom of the crowds” that takes precedence over the ideas of a single person.

  3. Hi Dan – that’s not true. People have disagreed on other points & with other people on there. The difference was in the way in which the disagreements were expressed.

    Anyhow, I have not left that community, which is still reasonably active – just created another one alongside it.

  4. This was the first expulsion that anybody disagreed with–that was what I meant. I was not saying that this was the first time there has been disagreement in the forum. There will be disagreement in every forum.

  5. Hi Katinka,

    I will watch for your new forum to go public, and know you will make a fair-minded effort at the thankless job of moderator. There are already more discussion groups than I can follow, but I will try to keep up with yours and the Theosophical Community. Good luck!


  6. You ask, “When is it kindness to give Love for Anger?” Is it perhaps a question of what boundaries we have? Usually these are rather fuzzy but we all recognise when someone is getting near or has clearly gone beyond what is acceptable. Censure is appropriate whenever anyone contravenes the mores of a group; within that, acceptance is appropriate.

    Yet you started with the comment, “In the realm of the ideal Christian (meek, kind, turning the other cheek), the one selfish person is king”. I see this as a completely different issue. It is only relevant if that is a value that has been agreed amongst the people. A conscientious objector would be applauded for sticking by his principles, even by family members he failed to protect — provided the family had discussed and agreed with those values. The “boundary” here is the family.

    Jesus was suggesting that, as individuals, we are richer if we embrace our enemies just like our friends. That is a behavioural value. I believe, when truly done, everyone recognises that it is not “the one selfish person” but “the one selfless person” who is king. Not everyone will like it — having someone raise the stakes beyond your reach (or understanding) is intensely infuriating. Therefore, there are often costs involved, as Gandhi’s followers discovered.

    In a group of one, the decision is a personal one. In a larger group it needs to be discussed (and is often only discussed as a result of issues such as this expulsion).

    The moderator’s job is easier if what constitutes acceptable behaviour is more explicit. I don’t think there is a right answer about where the boundary should be drawn — it is just a matter of agreement. You might argue that rogue members actually make the group stronger as it forces the rest to reach a consensus. Unfortunately, this usually happens after the poor moderator has had to stick his/her neck out.

  7. Yes – it’s true that the only way to prevent this sort of thing is to have clear boundaries, unfortunately we usually only learn our boundaries by how people go over them. It’s pretty hard to be consistent on keeping them respected.

  8. I wonder if I am on the forum that went public yet. By the way, that should be ‘boundaries’ (plural of ‘boundary.’)

  9. There are sets rules that help us to exchange opinions productively.
    An example of such rules are those often used in 12Step groups. And there are others.

Comments are closed.