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An attempt to have a meaningful discussion on dealing with sensitive topics

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by BWFoster78, Jul 20, 2015.

  1. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    ascanius,

    First, Yay! Someone actually agrees with me. I feel like the contrarian around here so much of the time ... Thank you!

    Regardless of how my previous posts on this issue came across, I'd like to take responding to your post as a way to clarify my thoughts. Hope you don't mind ...

    1. I think it is difficult to find the right balance between shutting down threads/issuing warning/etc (which all serve to stifle conversation) and to let things go (which tend to lead to a lot of arguing and unproductive conversations and hurt feelings). Modding is tough job - one I wouldn't want - and I think the mods here do a fantastic job.

    2. I agree with you that the policy as it was enforced was a bit confusing to those of us standing on the sidelines. Now that the exact problem has been explained, I understand a lot better why TAS took the action he did. Admittedly, it's not how I would choose to run things, but the fact is that I don't know the goals of the administrators. From their statements, they made the policy after carefully weighing all the issues. Even if I might would have come up with different rules, I completely respect them making the best rules they can to further their goals for the site.

    3. I really get that some people are emotionally impacted by the particular issue in question. I can especially feel for those people who have suffered through something like that. They come here to relax, maybe learn a little something about writing, and then they have a painful memory thrown in their face. I am not at all unsympathetic. On the other hand, it seems that, regardless of how admittedly careless the wording was, the policy shut down discussion of a scene from a mainstream fantasy book discussed in terms of writing craft in a community of fantasy writers. The admins got together and said, "Hey, we've had some discussions lately that negatively impacted some of our base. We have to decide what to do about it. Do we err to the side of protecting those who we feel are emotionally vulnerable to this topic? Or do we decide, as much as we don't want to do it, to limit conversations severely on some topics?" I think it's a valid conundrum (ironically, a worth example of a protagonist's dilemma :) ) and can't fault them for choosing differently than I probably would have.

    Thanks.

    Brian
     
  2. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

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    My take is this:

    1 Everything is a trigger to somebody, I'm not going to limit myself creatively because it upsets someone. I'm not going to be flippant or disrespectful about it, but I'm not going to avoid it.

    2. Depending on who makes the complaint, I may just completely ignore your outrage. Case in Point: White friend of mine is offended by the Confederate flag. No, sorry YOU are NOT offended. You lack the cultural heritage to be offended. You can not like it. You can say it needs to come down. You cannot be offended on behalf of a group you don't belong to. That is patronizing and borderline racist.

    3. It's the Artist's job to provoke, to draw out feelings, to plunder emotions (Good and Bad). Who gets to arbitrate what is a good emotional reaction versus a bad emotional reaction?

    4. If a work contains something that could trigger you, why partake of it?

    5. No matter what, someone's going to try to take what you do and twist it into a personal attack on them. Nicole Kurtz, a wonderful African-American Speculative Fiction Author, has a review on one of her books that states "The author obviously knows nothing of the struggle of African-American women in modern America."

    6. Sometimes hate is good. When I was doing my webcomic my readership always spiked dramatically whenever someone posted how much they hated it. I actually collected some of my favorite hate reviews to put on the book. Most of the things I'm still interested in today were the very things other people told me to avoid cause they hated it. Played right, being offensive can be very, VERY lucrative.

    Having said all that though, I'm still going to abide by the forum rules.
     
  3. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Speaking as the first person to express offense, I never asked for that thread to be locked. I understand why it was locked, and I won't argue with that decision, but I was simply expressing my displeasure.

    We allow posters to criticize stylistic choices or quirks of language on entirely subjective grounds, and those aren't serious matters at all. Arguments similarly arise regarding subject matter, and in the case of rape, those arguments are going to be heated. It seems like a bit of a cheap shot to tell people that if they don't like a particular representation of rape, they shouldn't read topics about rape. It could just as easily be said that if you don't like to see comments criticizing the way you write rape, you should skip over those and just read the comments praising the way you write it. (And if you never get any of those, there might be a message in that.)
     
    Nimue likes this.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I do want to add, in case it isn't clear, that rape is what drove the new guidelines and where we'll be seeing the biggest change in moderation. We'll see how this ends up applying to our gender and diversity discussions, but the impact should be small by comparison.
     
  5. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Every member is free to pursue expression of their art however they please. Here though, as a member of a community, we are not.

    I know you said you'll follow the forum rules, & I'm only using your post as an example.

    No one is saying, "Don't write about sensitive issues". Far from it. Speculative fiction is a fantastic medium to explore societal problems. We're simply saying that doing so here requires an extra level of care and consideration. If that's not given, a moderator will take action. If a member can't abide by that understanding or fails to comprehend what is honestly not that difficult a concept, then they should refrain from such conversations on this site.

    Really, it's not that hard to understand:
    1) Consider how you present a discussion
    2) Show empathy
    3) Show respect
    4) Don't approach these topics flippantly

    Why is that so difficult? We can't spell it out in black and white. That's an impossibility.

    Seriously, if people can't present their arguments in the written form without stepping over those basic principles then they either don't care to begin with, or they are incapable of clear and reasoned expression. If the latter is the case, they may want to reconsider their writing goals.
     
  6. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

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    But you're also limiting the discussion of sensitive topics and taking away a resource to learn about them. The new policy just insures continued stereotypes, bad writing, and willful ignorance. We don't grow and learn from avoiding things. Looking through rose tinted glasses at only the things we agree with (and try to force others to agree with) only insures the continuation of the problem. This is supposed to be a place where writers can improve and discuss all aspects of their writing. It's why the site was created, correct? Today you took a stand in direct opposition to that. Today you decided that bad, misinformed writing is the better choice.

    Feo Takahari, It's not a cheap shot. I don't write about rape. I have no characters that rape. I think it's a cheap ploy to try and make a female character strong. Therefore, I choose not to visit those topics but one of the thousands of other topics that do interest me. Are there topics on the forums that upset me? Yes. Would I ever take away someone's freedom to discuss it or learn from others about it because of my personal feelings? No. The proper course of action would have been another forum category for the discussion of Sensitive Topics. We need to quit worrying about being nice and focus more on being good.
     
  7. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    The question is not as simple as you like to frame it and the part I bolded above is really just over-dramatic rhetoric.

    But you seem to ignore the fact that this is supposed to be a family friendly community where writers feel welcome. Working with groups requires some compromise and accomodation, things that you clearly are not willing to consider. These are important attributes in a mature community.

    And if it sets your mind at ease, I have spent hundreds of hours taking courses with, presenting with and conversing with top notch authors, editors and agents across more than one genre, including spec fic. In none of those conversations or courses have I ever seen or heard anything close to some of the poorly thought out comments on sensitive issues that have published around here. It seems that the very best artists are perfectly capable of meeting these very basic standards. I don't see why this community is not.

    No one is telling you not to think about, write about, or discuss sensitive topics. You are just being asked to do so in a respectful and mature manner.
     
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  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Hainted,

    You said this:

    I'm not sure where that statement comes from.

    The people who run this site have made the decision that this is a place where being sensitive to how others feel about certain topics is more important than discussing writing. That is a valid decision, and it is theirs to make. Not ours.

    Again, this is a fantastic community. If I ever become a bigtime writer, I will definitely attribute a big part of my success to my early days on this site. I'm still reaping huge benefits from the site today. Trick, Ankari, Chilari, and Nimue have generously volunteered their time to beta read for me. Amanita's critique of my pitch the other day made me realize a huge mistake that I was making. ThinkerX convinced me that I had to completely redo the opening scene of my novel - a huge improvement.

    The people here are fantastic.

    I think, though, that writers need to treat it as one of their resources, not their only resource. Svrtnsse said something awesomely on point earlier in the thread:

    For example, posts on business and marketing and most anything to do with becoming a professional writer draw little interest here. For a long time, I was like, "Why is no one interested in this? Isn't this why we're all here?" Now, I've just accepted it and learn all that kind of stuff over at the Writer's Cafe.

    Truthfully, on this subject of sensitive topics, groupthink is strong here. No one is going to change anybody else's thinking on the subject. If you want to discuss how to deal with sensitive topics, you're really not going to get anything out of the discussion other than, "You need to be sensitive to the topic." And pages and pages of rehashing the same arguments over and over. The mods have decided that such rehashing doesn't do anyone any good and does some people harm. Therefore, they made a logical decision to move on from it.

    It's probably the right call when you look at it from that perspective.
     
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  9. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    This thread is on its ninth page. The mod-only thread where we came to the eventual agreement on the guideline is also nine pages long. Feelings about this were mixed, but what helped was to focus on one thing:

    This is a family-friendly site.

    If our members are jumping down each other's throats because we're knowingly allowing a conversation to persist simply on the basis that it's relevant to writing, then this site ceases to be family-friendly.

    No one is paying us to do this. We're simply trying to support Tony (Black Dragon / site owner) and his vision for a family-friendly site where fantasy writers can learn from each other, show their work, hone their skills, etc.

    Not all topics are really family-friendly, and so we try to be reasonable about how we keep the environment as family-friendly as we can, or at least friendly. There have been some patterns lately—two specific "causes" of repeated problems. One cause was a long time member, who regretfully, had to be permanently banned. The other cause was a topic that was mishandled repeatedly by well-intentioned members and all of these threads escalated to the point that almost everyone in the conversation was upset, and I'm of the opinion there was no good-guy-bad-guy in these cases.

    As for the opinions of other mods—how serious this issue is, how damaging the topic is, to what degree we allow future discussions on the topic—there was a broad spectrum. The guidelines were the compromise everyone agreed upon: something that's not as severe as a topic-ban, but also something that doesn't tie our hands when we see a sensitive topic posted flippantly.

    As I mentioned in at least one earlier post, we predicted the problems before they happened, but let them go on because there was no wrongdoing. Now, out of proven necessity, we're looking at this through a different lens. We're not blaming anybody for the fact that, when it comes to certain topics, some are more sensitive/affected than others. We're simply taking preventative measures. We may err, but on the side of caution—as opposed to before, where we erred on the side of inaction.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2015
  10. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    We're not limiting them. The only banned topic is contemporary political debate. We're simply requiring you to exhibit sensitivity for fellow community members when dealing with hot-button topics. Honestly, we all should have been doing that already. However, since it seems some members were not aware of their insensitivity, or simply didn't care, we had to enact guidelines. If I'm being brutally honest, those guidelines are a direct result of attitudes like yours.

    Absolute hogwash. Stereotyping, bad writing, and ignorance was part of the problem. As I said before, you don't have to avoid these issues. You are required to discuss these issues in a responsible and thoughtful manner. If you can't do that, your skills as both a thinker and a writer must be woefully inadequate. And, by the way, the word you're looking for is ensures.

    Wrong. As LS pointed out, this site was created as a family-friendly place for writers to discuss a variety of topics. If you want unbridled arguments where you can be as insensitive as you please, there are other venues. I think you'll find, swinging the pendulum the other way, it can be even more difficult to have a meaningful discussion when parties involved don't care about the other members. The vitriol and callousness can be astounding.

    That's the most ludicrous statement I've yet seen in this discussion. If you think a requirement to discuss sensitive topics with care and concern for your fellow scribes fosters bad, misinformed writing then you're part of the problem. I have no doubt that 95% of this membership is capable of debating these issues within the parameters of social decency, and that's all the new guidelines are really.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2015
  11. You and I both know that this decision didn't arise simply because of that one post. There have been several threads lately that are egregious in their insensitivity towards sensitive topics. Some that have made even I, a normally not sensitive person, have squirmed at some of the discussions. I, who has never been a victim of some of the crimes and atrocities being discussed but have seen the affects on other people who were victims or who helped victims, was getting angry at the lack of sensitivity. That's all these guidelines are trying to get us to remember. Be sensitive and courteous in your posts. And it's entirely doable.

    In my school career I have discussed rape, child abuse, torture, murder, arson, spousal abuse, and any number of other human depravities, but never have I seen discussions go quite so far off the deep end as some discussions here. All it takes is for a person to think before they type, and then if someone is offended, the offender needs to have the humility to admit their the offender made a mistake and personally and sincerely apologize to the person offended. Sensitivity and courtesy are not that hard to show.
     
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  12. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    T.Allen.Smith,

    I really, really get that this whole issue is important to you. On the other hand, it seems like the whole issue arose in the first place over members making really emotional posts about issues that are really important to them.

    Would you say that post #90 is an example of how the site wants us to respond to people who express opposite arguments?
     
  13. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    I can't speak for TAS but I will add my two cents. This addition to our forum guidelines is important to all of us Mods, not just TAS. We're passionate about keeping Mythic Scribes a safe, fun, friendly environment for all of our members.

    TAS responded in a passionate, articulate way because like me, he's tired of having to defend our decisions and rationale every time we decide to lock or delete an offensive thread or post.

    TAS, Black Dragon and most of the other Mods are too well-spoken and polite to be blunt with members who feel it's okay to be snide, rude and disrespectful. I'm not.

    The simple truth is that if a member isn't happy with this new policy then they're welcome to leave. I truly do value all of our members here and I hate when we lose someone but it is what it is.

    If a member wants to get bitchy because they feel they've been slighted, cheated or censored as a result of this new policy, then they obviously lack common sense and decency and I don't want them around. We don't need them here.

    I've been here since the early days and as strange as it may sound, this is like a home to me. I have a strong desire to keep it a safe, positive and friendly place. I will continue to do this for as long as I'm able.

    I know that Black Dragon, the other Mods and the Admin team feel the same as me.


    Mythic Scribes was created by Black Dragon because he wanted an online community where writers of all skill levels and ages could meet, interact, learn and develop in a friendly, positive and safe environment.

    Mythic Scribes has grown so much since I first joined over three years ago and I'm very proud to be a part of the team that makes it the best there is.

    But I digress... My overall point was that as this site grows, it gets increasingly difficult to moderate. We're people too and we're not infallible. We sometimes get emotional because we truly love this place.

    Please bear with us as we grow together as a community.

    I apologize for the rant and I'll get down off of my soapbox. Thanks for your contributions and being a valued member.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2015
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  14. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    It's usually not my way, Brian. However, in the face of such an inane and callous argument, I felt it necessary to draw the line pointing to exactly the kind of attitude which led to the need for new guidelines.

    You wanted black & white, right & wrong. There you go.

    If you disapprove, so be it. You're entitled to your opinion. I stand by my comments.

    That's the last comment, I'll make on this public thread. If anyone requires further clarification, I'm always available through private messaging.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2015
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  15. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Reaver,

    I can understand your frustration. You are a volunteer performing a difficult and often thankless function. I've seen some unmoderated parts of the internet, and even if I don't always agree with particular rules, I firmly believe that having rules and enforcing them is a far better route.

    I'm kinda feeling right now, though, that the mods are saying, "Y'all really need to be more sensitive." Yet the mods are sending this message in a less-than sensitive manner.

    If you really want the members to be sensitive on topics that cause emotional responses in people, perhaps a great place to start is to model the behavior you're seeking?
     
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Understood. I just thought your argument could have been stated more sensitively.
     
  17. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    If you think my post was insensitive in any way, please accept my apology. It wasn't my intention but I certainly don't see it as being insensitive. Are our forum guidelines really a topic that causes an emotional response or are the snide posts by some members little more than a misdirected, half-hearted stand against authority?

    Like TAS, I stand by my comments. Any further discussion about our guidelines and why some members just don't get it seems a moot point so I'm done with this thread.

    Thanks for expressing your thoughts.
     
  18. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    The argument was stated more sensitively multiple times. Clearly that particular poster TAS was responding to hadn't gotten the message that way. I think TAS's response was warranted in the circumstances and very well worded.
     
  19. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Perhaps I misunderstood the point of the whole exercise.

    I thought the idea was to encourage members to show high levels of civility and sensitivity when discussing topics that can be expected to have a significant emotional impact on people.

    I would be surprised if misleading, dramatic, insulting, childish, invective is a topic that falls under that rubric.

    And surely a defender of pure, unadulterated, insensitive speech as a key learning tool like Hainted can survive a spirited defense of the new policy unscathed.
     
  20. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Mythopoet,

    I quite often notice that I am alone in my beliefs around here, which is fine, but I like to point them out anyway. Not sure if it makes any sense to do so most of the time, but there you have it ...

    I guess I'm kinda thinking of mods like parents. If I want my kids not to cuss, my first step is not to cuss.

    Even if I'm justified in cussing. Even if their behavior makes me want to cuss. I think that, probably, it's best for me not to cuss.

    Maybe the analogy doesn't apply well in this case, though, and it's just me. It's not exactly the hugest of huge concerns for me.
     
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