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For years now I’ve been communicating online, and it’s been a wonderful experience. I really enjoy it and don’t plan to stop. What’s helped me sustain my joy is to never take things personally (or try not to) even if they’re meant personally. I try to live by this rule in all my interactions, and if I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t leave my house much less get online. I’ve also told my kids ad nauseum to go and do likewise. They usually finish the sentence for me when I launch into it and say, “Yeah, Mom, we know don’t take anything personally.” To which I usually reply, “Yep.” Several weeks ago I broke my rule.

There is a forum which I’ve frequented for almost two years, and I really love reading it and do not go there to have any kind of serious discussion about religion or politics or anything that tends to get people riled. But in reading some of the boards there, I got the sense that Americans are not held in high esteem and especially “conservative” Americans. A lot of places online are fairly “liberal” in their views, and frankly, it’s good for me to read those views. It provokes me to think about my views, which tend to be “conservative” or “libertarian” depending on the issue, and why I have my views and whether or not they hold water, as it were. So opposing views usually never bother me. Some of this may be due to growing up in a household that loved to argue and frequently practiced the devil’s advocate. If someone doesn’t play that role, I find myself wanting to do it. Yes, I guess I’m that antagonistic, but again, I don’t usually take opposing views personally and expect others to do the same. It’s not about me or someone else but should be about the issue.

All of that changed when I kept seeing posts either strongly implying or seemingly flat out saying that “conservatives” in America are stupid or mean or other things that none of us want to be. No, this isn’t the first time I’ve read personal attacks. Far from it. But I guess I got my fill of this because of all that’s going on in our country. I’m sick and yes, tired of hearing that crap. So I jumped in and stated I was offended. Then I got involved in the discussion in earnest, and it was not taken well at all. Hey, I expected that and began to give as good as I got. This only served to make some people on that board really dislike me. I realize I rose to some bait they laid out there (whether intentional or inadvertent) about “conservatives,” and I was dumb enough to create further tensions. Shame on me for breaking my rule, but hey, I did, and considering how seldom I do that, I’m not going to beat myself for slipping up one time out of hundreds or maybe thousands online where I could have. Having said all of that, this post is not about making amends or trying to figure out whether or not those people will eventually like me. I guess I’m arrogant enough to think they’ll get over it and learn to like me or at least respect me. I like them and hopefully, they know I respect them.

What I can’t shake is the private reaction I received. Numerous PMs and emails of support came to me from others who read the conversation. Some of them encouraged me not to back down, and I had to really step back and consider those so I didn’t let myself get more inflamed. Those kinds of communications are common when a debate is going on. But this was far more than I’ve ever seen. However, the majority of communications I received were from people saying more or less, “You’re not alone; I agree with you! I’m just not going to give my views because I don’t want the hassle or to offend.” These kinds of messages are also fairly common when a debate is going on but again, it was a lot more than usual. By the way I respect when someone doesn’t want to get into an argument. But those responses have me thinking about how we, as “conservatives,” respond.

I don’t think a fun forum is necessarily the place to comment, but it’s not just in these places that “conservatives” restrain themselves. We’re so good at keeping quiet, that when we do speak, ala something like the Tea Party groups, “liberals” have to characterize it as out of control. All of that serves to keep us quiet. Because hey, we’re the reasonable people, the sane heads. We can’t be out of control. That’s how “conservatives” generally think of themselves. The sum of that is that we are still pretty much a silent group. We believe that the difference is made at the ballot box. Certainly, cheating notwithstanding, the ballot box is where the difference should be made. But my friends, what inspires people to go to the ballot box? Talking. Defending your position. Certainly not in a harsh, knee jerk, name calling manner, but in a thoughtful, factual way, and yes, with some passion! And no, passion doesn’t necessarily mean being loud and certainly doesn’t mean spewing venom or name calling, but it does require being heard.

We need more of this, and I challenge myself as well as anyone else who needs to hear this that your speech, no matter where it is done, is being heard. Some may actually change their minds based on what you say in public places including fun forums. Don’t be shy. No, I’m not advocating that people indiscriminately argue or take on a hassle, and especially where it will do no good. Some wisdom should be applied, but perhaps it’s wise not to decide so quickly that we are in a place where it will do no good to speak. It will require thinking and, dare I say it, praying to determine this. Even though I received all those communications from people who agree with me, there was one type I received that got to me more than the others. Those from people who admitted being on the fence and didn’t feel like they knew enough to make a decision. Yes, those are common communications too, but once again, there were a lot more of these than usual. There are people out there who really do want to be informed but are afraid and don’t know where to go. That was clear by their questions to me. Hopefully, I was able to help them in some way. Think of all the people who didn’t send a note and just read my posts.

Bottom line: if we don’t speak more about our views and why we hold them, we will certainly see more of what we’re currently getting in our government. So as much as that was a painful exercise on the forum, if it helped someone to see the principles of “conservatism” are worth exploring or adhering to, I would gladly do it again!

note: if you’re wondering why I put “conservative” and “liberal” in quotes, it’s because those terms can be fluid. I’ll be happy to define what I mean by them, but that’s another post.