September 9, 2006

Quaker blog etiquette

The variety of comments to one of my recent posts has got me thinking and reflecting... Always an indicator that there is more to be said.

I share with Martin a sensibility about the Quaker blogs I am drawn to.

What unites my favorite blogs is the care and discernment that goes into them. These bloggers are open to those who use unfamiliar language, listening to where the words come from, and they’re curious and open to learning and tender with their comments.
- from Martin's "Munching on the Wheat"
I can't resist wondering if Quaker blogging etiquette is qualitatively different from the "generic" blog etiquette that has already been written about.

That said, the Quaker blogosphere that I know and appreciate seems to use an etiquette that has more to do with building caring relationships rather than building a web of hypertext links; writing in order to be faithful rather than writing to be popular, politically correct, or controversial; and encouraging one another to mind the Light rather than pressuring one another to support a political platform.

It's an etiquette based on traditional Quaker practice and Quaker constructs: love, forgiveness, faithfulness, accountability, and Divine prompting.

For what it's worth, here are my own recommendations for Quaker blog etiquette, both for publishing a post on one's own blog and for submitting a comment elsewhere.

1. Show care rather than be impersonal and persuasive. Go ahead: be sentimental and encouraging. In the impersonal world of the internet, an extra effort to express a sense of connection and support goes a long way. Insert statements that mirror feelings or are supportive, and ask questions that draw the other person out: "You certainly seem frustrated." ... "Take it one thing at a time and keep listening for God." ... "Can you say more about this particular item?" Avoid questions that embed one's own point of view, which often start out, "Don't you think...?"

2. Be discerning. Resist the temptation to respond to everything; resist the temptation to make every point that could be made. As a Quaker blogger, one query I return to often is:
Is what I am about to post really what God is wanting me to?
3. Self-disclose. The point of self-disclosure, though, is not to step into the lime-light and raise oneself up, but to help the person normalize her or his experience, demonstrating that others have trod a similar path. Sometimes the path of faithfulness can be so lonely, and we maybe can lessen that spiritual aloneness by sharing something equally tender with that person. For example, if a blogger wonders if she or he made the right choice and indicates a feeling of alienation or self-imposed shame, I may include in my comment how I relate to that person: "Your experience reminds me of a time when I went through something similar..."

4. Check out assumptions ...once you've realized you've made them! One way I have caught myself making assumptions has been when I find myself writing, "I think Jane was really wanting to tell me such-and-so." If Jane is a part of my life, I need to stop writing and call her, email her, hold the post until you I see her next week. When making a comment about what someone else has written, if we find ourselves riled up, we may be helped if we can discipline ourselves to back up a step and consider what has pushed our proverbial button. Allowing for the possibility that I am wrong or have misinterpreted something, and checking out my assumptions before using the "publish" or "submit comment" buttons probably has spared me from many angry responses as a result.

Which leads to the next, perhaps more obvious suggested practice:

5. Season the post or comment before putting it on the blog. For comments, preview them (if you have that option; otherwise, re-read them caringly) with the expectation that it is not yet clear what needs to be conveyed or how to convey it. When writing a new post, save a draft of it and return to it at least once or twice for another read-through and revision before publishing it.

6. Read through God's eyes. Change the emotional filter through which the blog is read. Instead of assuming that an author is "spewing," consider how the post or comment might read if the author in fact has good intentions, holds a deep concern, or is writing out of fear rather than anger. Leaving a short inquiry for the blogger can give you space to change your filter and help the exchange along: "I can't tell if you are angry or if you are worried. Can you clarify before I comment?"

7. Be accountable. Sometimes, no matter how much etiquette we employ, no matter how long we wait before posting something, we goof. Like a small pebble that finds its way into our shoe, at some point, we need to stop in our tracks and take a look to see what is making us so uncomfortable. Pull out the pebble and, as needed, make it known to the appropriate person whatever the hurtful or inappropriate behavior was. And don't expect others to appreciate the apology or change their behavior for us. Being accountable is as much--or more--about having a clear relationship between ourselves and God as it is about having a clear relationship between ourselves and another person.

8. GAS CAN: Put the relationship first. This item very much relates back to the first one I mention, about showing care. The acronym GAS CAN is from FGC and it seems it never went anywhere, from what I can tell. I belief it was used for awhile as shorthand to describe the qualities of long-term support committees for Friends who were engaged in ministry:

In my experience, the Quaker blogosphere thrives when we write to one another out of care, support, and nurture. ...And when we allow the Spirit and Love guide us, even in cyberspace.

I hope other fFriendly bloggers out there will chime in with your own particular brand of blog etiquette...


UPDATE, Eleventh Month 2009:

9. Use your real name, or at least a portion of it. Part of what reduces the anonymity of the internet and helps us to be known to one another in the Quaker blogosphere is that many of us have been using our name. Of course, for some of us who have a concern for privacy and internet security--myself included--that gets to be a bit tricky, which is why some of us use our first name and last initial, or we shorten our last name so it won't be [as] searchable through Google.

In addition to the disciplines of accountability and speaking plainly so that we might support one another on- and offline, using our names has been a great help in practical matters to find one another when traveling to events, such as the FGC Gathering. There's one less layer of society to have to peel away when I can know a blogger right away as "Robin" or "Martin" and not as "QuakerFriend" or "FriendlyWorshiper."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


  • Hystery - writes about using a pseudonym.

  • Cat - when a casual wave 'hello' is what's called for.

  • Marshall - advices on making comments... though this content is on Marshall's sidebar and does not allow comments.

  • Zach - offers his own thoughts on the Quaker blogosphere


    Kody Gabriel said...

    What a helpful post. I think I'll come back to it a lot.

    Thanks for the care and intentionality you put into your blogging; you hold the rest of us more accountable because of your faithfulness.


    Anonymous said...

    Hi, Liz!

    There's a whole lot of wonderful stuff in your list. I particularly liked your list of good versus bad statements and questions, your discussion of self-disclosure, the read-through-God's-eyes approach, and your discussion of the point of accountability! The advice to season and not speak immediately didn't grab me as much, but only because it is so very familiar in the Quaker world generally; I'm sure it's valuable as advice to novices, and so I'm glad you have it in there.

    On the other hand, I do have a criticism, although it's a mild one. I think your list, as presently constructed, is excellently designed from a pastoral point of view; but I don't think all Quaker bloggers are called all the time to the pastoral rôle, or should be limited to such a rôle, and a list of points of etiquette for Quaker blogging needs to note that the rules will be somewhat different (not totally different, but somewhat!) if the rôle you are presently called to is different.

    For instance: Your warning against leading questions is, for most of us most of the time, spot on. But a Friend called to active advocacy should understand that leading questions are at times genuinely necessary for that purpose; a Friend called to really shake things up, should be fully willing to ask leading questions in order to do so. In such cases, the Spirit doesn't tell us to avoid leading questions; it does call us, instead, to a heightened sensitivity to the way those questions might affect the people we're addressing.

    Again, a Friend running an informational blog on loaded topics, such as Karen Street's excellent A Musing Environment, may actually be well advised to be impersonal and persuasive. Getting "caring" in that context could be counterproductive, drawing out inappropriate, emotional reactions from the blog's readers.

    Even "put the relationship first" is not an absolute. I think of Christ with the Pharisees, or George Fox in the marketplace, or Bayard Rustin on the bus. A person who too readily puts principle ahead of relationships winds up friendless and unheard; but one who keeps faith with the Gospel must understand that there is a point beyond which relationships cannot be permitted to presume.

    So. I think your list is splendid! I hope that you will hang on to it, continue to polish it, and eventually make it a permanent fixture on your site, so that I can link to it -- But do please make a note in it, somewhere, that the lesser rules in it may in fact sometimes need to be broken, depending on the rôle that God calls one to play, and that the only unbreakable rule on the list is: thy neighbor as thyself.

    Liz Opp said...

    Kody - Hey, thanks for reading me.

    Marshall - Thanks for your remarks and your added considerations about how one Quaker's blog etiquette may be another Quaker's barrier to faithful witness!

    I want to reiterate how I introduce the list I offer: that it is a list of what I myself "know and appreciate" within the Quaker blogosphere.

    In addition, I believe it is in good order for etiquette that says, even if we are led to be persuasive, to raise "leading questions," we must be discerning in how to go about that. I see that your own comment reflects that discernment, or such is how I interpret your words:

    "the Spirit doesn't tell us to avoid leading questions; it does call us, instead, to a heightened sensitivity to the way those questions might affect the people we're addressing." (emphasis mine)


    Still, what I will take from you is the reminder that we strive to be faithful, and that we cannot ditch obedience to God's call for the sake of being nice or, to use the word I offered, "sentimental."

    Similarly, "putting the relationship first" must not supercede keeping God in the center of our life.

    Like so many other things among Friends, it's a BOTH-AND balance to be struck.

    Again, this list grew out of my own reflections on what I have found in common with the Quaker blogs I have appreciated--many of which (but not all) were among the earlier Q-blogs in the blogosphere.

    And so it also follows that this post follows my own gifts and leadings, which at this point are of the more pastoral "persuasion," if you'll excuse the term. smile


    Marshall, do you have any interest in crafting a post about Quaker blog etiquette for Friends who are called to peace/social action witness? You may well be right that the etiquette will shift in relation to the form that the ministry takes.

    And of course, not all Q-blogs are about ministering to blog readers...

    Thanks again for your comments. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking.


    Anonymous said...

    Um, uh, well, Liz --

    Actually, I facilitate workshops on witness. I've been writing a bit about them on my blog this past week or so, and I plan to add another posting on the subject today.

    But if there's one thing I've learned from facilitating these workshops, it's that a mere pointer on etiquette ain't nearly enough.

    Witness is very challenging stuff; to do it right, you have to have a good gut-level feel for how it works in general, and for the various directions that your particular witness might take, both good and bad. Anything less and your efforts will probably go nowhere -- may even blow up in your face, unless the Spirit takes you totally in hand.

    Working on witnessing skills in the context of a workshop seems to make some sense. Trying to convey something of those skills in a manual may or may not work -- I'm still trying to sort that one out. Boiling it down to points of etiquette, to me anyway, just doesn't seem possible. (Maybe I'm missing something, though. I'd be willing to be proved wrong.)

    Joe G. said...

    To Marshall & Liz's comment "discussion":

    I wonder if you, Liz, were referring to all actions coming out of a motive of love for those being addressed. In this way, what you, Marshall, suggest makes complete sense (to me at least) with what Liz posted. I believe that when Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his own community, he did so out of love and concern for both those the leaders impacted as well as for the leaders themselves. There is a beautiful part from the gospel of John (chapter 3) wherein Jesus and Nicodemus (a Pharisee) have a conversation I often refer back to demonstrating his (Jesus') love for someone from this leadership group.

    Just my thoughts after reading both of your comments.

    3. Self-disclose. The point of self-disclosure, though, is not to step into the lime-light and raise oneself up...

    What??? {ahem}

    Liz Opp said...

    Joe - Thanks for stopping by and chiming in.

    Basically, what you paraphrase as "all actions coming out of a motive [or motion] of love" rings true.

    And Marshall - I also agree that enumerating points of etiquette cannot address all action nor cover every scenario we encounter.

    I acknowledge that perhaps there is a danger to naming certain threads of our pseudo-collective behavior--in this case, Quaker blog etiquette: some of those threads are no doubt intrinsic to the fabric of the whole: pull out those threads and take them out of their context and the whole tapestry unravels...

    That said, my guess is there are ways of witnessing that are appreciated--and may have their own "etiquette" or norms--and ways of witnessing that are NOT appreciated.


    Anonymous said...

    While I am not a quaker blogger, I find your position about blogging quite heartwarming and satisfying. Thank you.

    Prophetic Ministry said...

    It's been said that God does nothing in the affairs of men except they pray. Prayer is the catalyst for worldwide transformation. Prayer incites the angels, restrains darkness, and releases nations into their destiny.