Saturday, July 23, 2011

Freedom of association, and freedom not to associate

I believe everyone should be free to think, to learn, and to express their opinions and beliefs. However, that does not mean that everyone should be able express whenever and wherever they wish. For example, someone may wish to loudly yell hateful rhetoric, but I do not wish to invite such a person into my home.

Most situations are more subtle than the decision not to invite a loud, hateful person into my home. Every time we deal with other people, there is the potential for conflict. But it is in dealing with other people that we find the greatest joy. We learn from other people. We are inspired by other people. We depend on other people for survival, for after all, few of us live in homes we have built singlehandedly, and eat only food we have produced singlehandedly. How do we cultivate the benefits of cooperating with others, while minimizing negative consequences?

There is an article called Weeding the Garden about what to do when a disruptive person joins your group. I think it's a good article. It includes points such as:
  • Groups have a right to choose whom to accept and whom not to accept into membership.
  • Deciding to ask someone to leave the group is a judgment call. You just have to do your best to make the right decision.
  • If your group is small, you may be reluctant to ask anyone to leave, because you need all the members you can get, but you may find that when the disruptive person leaves, your group will become more appealing to new members.
  • If you allow the disruptive person to stay, often the group will become consumed by conflict.
  • Sometimes people may have a legitimate complaint about your leadership. Consider that there may be truth in the views of those who criticize you, rather than immediately dismissing them as troublemakers.
This article was written for group leaders. I am a member of various groups, but not a group leader. How do I cope as a group member? I feel that the leadership of some groups is too restrictive, rejecting people's contributions for reasons that have no validity. I feel that the leadership of other groups is too welcoming, giving too much serious consideration to loony ideas proposed by group members, and failing to censure members who behave in a way that is hurtful to other members.

In a less restrictive group, I will 1) not engage in interaction with members whose behavior I find destructive, 2) speak to the group's leaders about my wish for the disruptive behavior to be controlled, and 3) take a public stand in favor of more constructive discourse.

In a more restrictive group, I face the possibility that if I speak up, I may be kicked out too. I may choose to speak up, I may leave quietly, or I may stay and look for more subtle ways to bring about a more positive climate.

I may choose to join a group or leave a group. I may try to change a group from within. I may choose to seek a leadership position in an existing group. I may choose to start my own group. When we choose to be a group member, we choose to live with that group's rules and leadership. Although the best leaders welcome input from members, it is not the responsibility of the group we have chosen to join to be exactly as we wish them to be.

And what of arenas other than group membership? If someone were to write a comment on my blog that I didn't like, I could delete it if I wanted to. That is not censoring their free speech. They can have their free speech on their blog. This is my blog, the place where I express my vision, not someone else's vision. If someone tells me that I should pursue a more lucrative career, that I should be more outgoing, that I should be more adventurous, I may consider their comments seriously, just as the group leader must give serious consideration before deciding to eject a disruptive member. But in the end, it's my own judgment call to decide what feedback to listen to and what feedback to ignore.

In living my life, my job is to seek the path that I believe is right. Everyone else around me is seeking their path, and the way that looks right to them is not the way that looks right to me. We learn from others. Others learn from us. But ultimately, we are each responsible for our own path.

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