Emotional Policing from Within: Choosing Right Relationship Over Being Right on FAR by Elisabeth Schilling

I have something hard to say. It is about some of ourselves, some of the time.

Let me start by offering you my perspective on negativity on the internet: people are not always conscious or mindful. We let our bitter wounds affect our ability to listen to each other and respond in compassionate ways. Being compassionate does not mean we have to agree with each other. But it means that we shelf our ego and do not immediately jump to disregarding another’s experience or perspective; we can disagree without being harsh. We can be honest, while being kind.

There is some negativity in the comments from regular FAR readers and contributors that I want to speak to in hopes we can become a more supportive community and a better model of peaceful difference. Support simply means that we will create a more safe space for people to share their experiences, give their opinions, and be able to disagree. Diplomacy is the key. If diplomacy does not feel authentic to you. If it feels repressive and you equate it with being polite, then let’s look at the definition of the term:

Diplomacy: “The art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way.”

‘Tact’ is defined as “skill and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues.” The word comes from the Latin tactus, which refers to touch or the sense of touch.  

When I feel harsh and unmindful, I am more narrow and one-directed, less reciprocal. I tell others what I feel and think from a distance. I definitely don’t feel I am touching them. A touch is connecting, intimate, and it is also communicative and strong. I’m not asking us to quell our power or wisdom. I’m asking us to do what one religious leader incited his people to do: be wise as serpents and innocent as doves . . . because we are sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16).

Wolves do not have to be designated as “the bad ones.” None of us are wholly good or bad. But when I think of wolves, I think of sharp teeth. And sheep have all that wool that can get entangled in sharp things. Teeth entangled in soft wool is a kind of contact but not a kind of touching that might be conducive to anything but emotional or physical harm for either creature. We are all sheep and wolves, getting potentially caught mistakenly in strange attachments but also potentially relating to each other’s sheeply and wolfly elements, and so it makes sense to have more compassion and curiosity for both.

In writing this, I know I could be talking about being diplomatic and then not actually be diplomatic. I want to keep from doing that as much as possible (it may take a revision or two). My strategy must be that I am also writing to myself, in my most undiplomatic moments (so many of them on the internet and real life).

Many of us know how harmful reward/punishment systems can be if we think back to manipulative relationships and institutions in our experiences. When people start to understand what gets rewarded and what gets punished, they might feel compelled to mold themselves into what the rewarder/punisher wants, knowing what kinds of messages or stories will be accepted and what will be shown protest.

But in a system where ideas are not punished OR rewarded, but taken into the fold and dealt with in loving, equanimitous ways, people can take risks, they can be experimental and curious, they are encouraged to be authentic because they know the commitment is there. Enough love is shown to be able to bear criticism and disagreement. In this way, people can grow and transform, celebrate and admit more easily when they are wrong, all helpful for individual human beings and the community. There is a difference because the users of one system end up (consciously or subconsciously) controlling others and the users of the other end up showing they care more about relationship than being right.

I am taken back to Carter Heyward’s book Saving Jesus from Those Who Are Right: Re-Thinking What It Means to be Christian (1999). In it, Heyward says, “’Those who are right’ refers not only to the Religious Right in the United States and elsewhere today, but moreover—and more importantly, probably—to all of us whenever we assume that we know it all or that our way is the only way to think or act. Those who are right tend to be impatient, I suggest, with God, themselves, and others” (1). Heyward goes on to say, contextualizing it theologically, that the Right among us and within us, do not accept incompleteness, fail to hold mystery graciously.

Perhaps we can hold the mystery of each other’s differing perspective with graciousness and patience.

Personally, I feel comments should be made with a certain element of curiosity. Sometimes when we oppose another person’s response to or articulation of their own experience, it feels like we’re smashing it or pointing at it with disgust and distaste in our mouths; we take on the tone of a policing parent instead of having the instinct of getting closer to a person’s words and feelings, touching it, inquiring about it.

Do we pause and consider the possibility that we might not understand? Do we aim to discuss with at least an inclination of resolution? How do we learn if we come to the table with staunch presumptions? Again, we can disagree but still be kind and open. Then, if we feel bitterly opposed still, let us craft our own post, not necessarily calling another out, but using the opportunity to fully express what probably cannot be expressed in a comment, and perhaps should not, being inspired and thankful that a post’s perspective reminds us of our own deepest values and ethics.

Heyward explains that Jesus needs to be saved so that we do not destroy relationships.

Maybe we need to save feminism in a similar way for the same reason.

Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland. 

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

24 thoughts on “Emotional Policing from Within: Choosing Right Relationship Over Being Right on FAR by Elisabeth Schilling”

  1. Thanks for this Lasche, I do think we have gotten better on FAR than we were at the beginning, but I have been the recipient of some very harsh criticism on this forum in the past and “even I” at my age and with all my credentials am hesitant to bring certain topics up here on FAR in fear that I will be told off again. In the academic feminist movement as a whole harsh criticism based on currently fashionable theories is the norm and this certainly is not a good thing. There must be a better way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you as well. I suppose it is an ongoing journey. As we reflect and evolve in thinking, perhaps there are always new dynamics to negotiate with ourselves and others.


  2. Thank you for this post. Very well said. I have frequently felt my feminist Christianity was not u derstood ir welcome; as if Christianity is inherently anti-feminist, rather than engaged within the topic I raise or with the curiosity you describe. It’s exhausting. I hope we can all learn to ask genuinely interested questions, rather than make judging and assuming statements. I will continue to strive for that myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your presence and voice. It is so important to find community. I support you and your aim to nuance such terms, helping people who might otherwise misunderstand to emerge from reductive presumptions that might undergird such resistances. May they not fail to see you, the life and being, through their fear.


    2. I understand what you are saying Tallessyn. I think the comments you find upsetting are not so much directed against you and your choices but against a religion the commentators have grown up with, been told was true, and in the forms they experienced it, was harmful to their bodies and souls. So they are writing out of deep hurt even trauma that is not fully resolved.

      I do believe that the choice to stay and fight vs to leave and find a different path is complicated and, as Judith Plaskow and I wrote in Goddess and God in the World, I believe both choices can be valid. I also believe that both those who have left and those who have stayed have a right to criticize religions as patriarchal. With care, we also have the right to criticize aspects of religions that have never been our own as patriarchal.

      So the question is, how do we do that with respect?

      I have three suggestions, one is to always be critical of our own traditions when we criticize the other–for example “paganism” has lots of patriarchal elements in the past and today. The second is to always remember that the “essence” of any religion is always a matter of interpretation–I may find with good reason that religion x is inherently patriarchal while you may focus on different aspects of religion x and find reasons for hope. The third is to recognize that whatever religions have been, they can change and even be radically transformed. Even if religion x is inherently patriarchal that does not mean it has to stay that way!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully and diplomatically expressed. Interesting the parable of the sheep and the wolves. Wolves are predators. They prey to eat, ie survive. I think sometimes in the exchange of ideas we mistake difference of opinion/experience as a threat to our survival. We go into fight or flight mode without stopping to reflect. Those who run probably don’t post, but those who feel they must fight to survive do and may later regret their instinctive reaction. I love what you say about commenting with curiosity. Curiosity is possible when people feel safe. Curiosity can transform relationships. When I work with couples, I know we’re getting somewhere when, instead of repeating old, often vicious, patterns,they get curious instead. Where does that reaction come from? From what old wound of my own? What is the effect of that reaction on my partner? How might I/we respond differently? They become investigators on the same investigative team, and each understanding, each change a win for them both. So, too, in a community. Thanks, Lache, for this thoughtful invitation.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. This is a wonderful articulation of another layer. Thank you. “Threat to our survival” – something I should have mentioned. I was talking to someone the other day about how his tendency to allow me to make my own decisions and not try to control or manipulate me actually helps me depart from the fight or flight habits, to slow down. I realized that usually I act hastily because I think it’s my only escape route. Maybe also sometimes people respond loudly and sharply because they are used to not being heard. Thank you for focusing on the curiosity. This idea really transformed my thinking about approaching life when I first encountered it as an alternative to fear in, I think, Pema Chödrön’s books. Thank you so much for your rich response and experience. I agree it takes feeling safe. It is so cleansing and freeing.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, let us speak and forgive and pause and be multi-prismatic and varied in the way we respond, not limiting, hopefully, but allowing to blossom and grow the dialogue. In real life, absolutely.


  4. Thanks for your thoughts here today, Lache S., and especially thanks regards your request for “a better model of peaceful difference.”

    For a better model, I read online recently that our planet Earth now has amazingly about 1.98 million species of plants and animals. Maybe we couldn’t get “a better model of peaceful difference.” The main thing, however, is that we continue to protect the environment, including all sorts of those wonderful plants and animals.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is a great point. Thank you. That is a good model, and here we are looking again to earth/nature for lessons. Always a sacred turning and learning. I like the idea of protecting – what can we then protect and nurture and allow with such peaceful practices?


  5. I like the word “curiosity”. Such a good way to approach other people’s thoughts.
    Being Catholic I’m sitting here doing an “examination of conscience”. (Catholics will understand this!) I find that when someone says or writes something I agree with, I (mentally of course) jump up and down shouting “Hooray!” Agreement cements my own opinion. When someone says or writes something I don’t agree with, I just move on. Without curiosity, I miss an opportunity to clarify meaning and entertain new thoughts. And you give wonderful guidelines for doing so without slipping into argument or verbal combat.

    Curiosity is a wonderful virtue! I’m going to write the word on my wall.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I love the idea of writing it on the wall. I have so much need for being reminded of these things. You have inspired me to do the same. I will find something to write it on tomorrow. I think moving on sounds peaceful as well. It could be a good response when we are not quite ready to engage.


  6. Wonderful post, Lache. I would just like to add that in my experience of the last few years, FAR posts and comments have in general been, maybe not tactful, but at least not particularly aggressive. That wasn’t true with regards to comments on some Mormon and Muslim feminist posts here in the past, and unfortunately, we have lost those voices in our conversations on FAR.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I think it is good to point out the varying shades of negativity, and thank goodness when/if comments are lacking aggressiveness in unmindful ways. Just if I could ask for clarification, what do you mean by losing the voices – do you mean we have lost some Mormon and Muslim feminist voices that you would like to see/hear more of? I think it is good to voice this if that is the case, so thank you.


      1. Yes, the Mormon feminist Caroline Kline used to post here. I enjoyed hearing a feminist voice from such a different religious environment than my own. Actually in thinking back, there have been several Muslim bloggers (some have left, but others have posted), but the Mormon women were shouted down in ways that I found disrespectful — essentially being told that they couldn’t be feminist and be Mormon — and they are not posting here anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Lache, this whole topic is so interesting to me. As I have watched the ‘evolution’ of social media, I think my personal journey has mirrored a lot of others. I think at first it was this incredible, freeing way to ‘find your voice’. Blogs, facebook, etc. gave so many of us a ‘voice’ to those who did not feel they had a voice previously, and we tenuously started ‘howling’. Funny your wolf analogy, because ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ was one of the first things that drew me to all of this, and I slowly started replacing stories I had historically told myself (‘Cinderella’ type stories where I needed to be saved or taken care of) with stronger ones. But along with the howling, I had to work through some anger. I think many of us did. And yes, words sting. They are such powerful things, aren’t they? And it would give such ‘warmth’ to me to see encouraging ones, and be so hard to take ‘harsh’ ones … so then I think we all migrated or tried to migrate to ‘like-minded’ communities where similar opinions were being expressed. An opinion that strayed from that would be quickly ‘squashed’ or discouraged. And unfortunately, that has led us back a bit to the ‘status quo’ .. follow it or get shunned.

    True healing comes when we are allowed our differences: of looking, of opinion, of thinking … and I think we all have to make a conscious effort to keep authentically expressing ourselves respectfully, considerately, truly listening … absolute yes, to the importance of ‘curiosity’: curiosity did not kill the cat, ‘curiosity’ helps us evolve. Thanks for the article.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. On the question of curiosity, when we hear someone expressing a point of view we disagree with, we might ask, what leads you to assert or defend idea x or tradition x, rather than immediately assuming that this person has no good reason for her position.

    There is a problem with dialoguing with people who believe they have “the truth” while others don’t, but I don’t think that is a problem we have on FAR.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a beautiful article Lache. It touched my heart. I recall one of our last conversations dealt with nonviolent communication. Expressing ourselves that was conducive to building and supporting our friendship and not tearing it down. Thank you for this.


Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: