When one has a hypothetical situation to examine, a great way to do that is to invite five people to comment from their own “specialty” lens. With this “survey” a writer or scholar hopes to find a place of solid ground- something real in the shared, or in-between, places.

Certainly this is not quantifiable data; it is qualitative data- simply input “opinions and stories” that can help Amelia understand a topic.  It certainly plays on the cliché that “two heads are better than one” or the other idea that “it takes a village to raise a child.” The intent of my survey is to improve my work and my impact. (In the novel, the conversation that follows will be juxtaposed with stunning views and a deep appreciation for land- and for the absence of people on a lovely walk in the woods. It gives a great conversation to accompany a walk Amelia takes in the forest with a writer friend visiting from Minneapolis.)

 It is empirical truth that I am a much different person now at 45 than I was in my 20s- and twenty years of experience and “exposure” to humanity is the perspective that allows for wise people to say “listen to and respect your elders.”  Depth of experience should count for something in the hierarchy of things and last week made this point extremely obvious for me.

A 10 year old sounds one way to a 25 year old, and another way to a 60 year old. A 45 year old sounds different to a 60 year old than to a 25 year old, and so on into infinity. So, pairing the “little survey” with the “listen to and respect your elders” approach, I asked five people to review my blog at this point in its development. Of that team there was a 1) clinical psychologist, 2) a bartender, 3) a person in law enforcement, 4) a moral philosopher, and 5) a professional in youth and internet services, all friends (disclaimer- but I did ask them to be brutally honest- which is a thing a real friend will certainly always do for you).

Each of the five was charged with two questions to answer in specific. The first question to address was “Am I succeeding in provoking a conversation about humanity and government in America now?” The second question was “If you have a reader who hates you, what do you do about it?”

Of course each of the five professionals had a different answer. Here is the qualitative data.

All five said I was a good/great writer, and provocative in my ideas and discussions. They all said they had enjoyed reading my writing; while some said it rambled occasionally. All five said that I was provoking a range of issues and questions about “tolerance” in the USA which was at the heart of the connection between humanity and government, and very timely. Many interviewees referenced Egypt this week- and the internet being shut down, and the unrest of the people there seemed to be about extremism verses tolerance, all within the parameters of economic justice (who benefits in what way from tax dollars, and the ability to have a say in the matter). 

In regard to the question about a reader who clearly hates you, there was a mixed bag review. The clinical psychologist said “block him” entirely to prevent any emotional harm. The bartender said “yeah- you wish you could turn people like that off, but instead you have to feign interest and amusement.” The law enforcement friend said “you certainly are not being threatened in any physical way, but your character is being attacked. But it seems that your character is being attacked in the nebulous way that all character can be attacked in speech or internet chats. As a blogger you opened yourself up to this attack.”  He said that while “character assassination” lead to the teen suicide at Rutgers last fall, it was difficult to prove (they are still waiting to see how the Rutgers Student fares in trial because it will likely be a precedent setting case for cyber bullying.) Isn’t it better to know what people think and say about you up front rather than behind your back?

The moral philosopher could see many possible viewpoints and theories that were applicable to this situation (of course!). She said that consequentialism was likely the most applicable methodology to apply to this conversation: “What sort of consequences count as good consequences? How are the consequences judged and who judges them?”

She said, “Let’s make an assumption– a good action is one that results in an increase in pleasure, and the best action is one that results in the most pleasure for the greatest number.” “OK” I said, “that would be the opposite of my experience of starting a blog and having fun with expression about ideas and issues that are important to me; the idea that writing is a healthy outlet.” To which the philosopher responds, “Yeah but someone is gaining pleasure from it; often the author struggles and suffers for the reader’s sake.” Political liberty or political liberations can feel as pleasurable as the more ephemeral and physical pleasures. Conflicts and tensions, between the extreme points of view, are standard to ANY transition. From strife and discomfort emerges a higher moral ground. And the higher moral ground never just emerges by itself; it always relies on someone pushing for it.

Finally, the professional who works with youth and the internet, teaching Media Literacy said, “this issue of freedom of expression and the internet as a tool for social and political change is fascinating at this moment in history. How do you teach a generation of children about the power of the internet to educate and modilize, while at the same time teaching them about the power of the internet to manipulate, fabricate, and tabulate to a fault.” She felt that my characters were exhibiting exactly the tenor of a perfect debate about the use and misuse of the internet platform.

Would I use my child to advocate for higher moral ground? Yes. Would I use my child as bait? Never. The idea that someone gains pleasure from another’s pain may be at the root of why utopian visions are so difficult to attain. “No pain no gain” is the only direct line to utopian living; I must suffer under my critics until they realize that I am happy to be criticized, but unwilling to have my character assassinated.

“Socrates said “a person must become aware of every fact (and its context) relevant to his/her existence, if he/she wishes to attain self-knowledge.” He posited that people will naturally do what is good, if they know what is right. Evil or bad actions, are only ever the result of ignorance.” Aristotle added to this with “moderation is encouraged; and extremes are degraded and immoral.”

A few months ago, my 5 year old (to my horror) said “My mom thinks you are a weirdo” to an elected official in town. And while the elected official and I worked this out in a conversation that I initiated and during which I sincerely apologized for my child not “respecting her elders” (and the role I may have played in it), I have yet to feel any such respect handed back to me. I will continue to endure the pain with the hope of eventual pleasure, and I will continue to mine my life for clues of how to be better, and how to understand the culture in which I find myself living.

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