I recently told my mom that I plan to drive to Illinois next week. An old friend is getting married on the 4th, my cousin’s turning 12 on the 1st, a 97 year-old great-aunt is in the hospital, and, well, my mom’s there. But because of the timing, plane tickets were going to be unpleasantly expensive. So I’m driving partway, staying the night, and continuing on, for half the cost of the airfare. Deb did not like this. I asked why, saying, “If I know what you’re worried about, I can either tell you why I’m not worried, or I can tell you how I plan to handle it if it happens. And then maybe you’ll be less worried about it.” And we worked it out. I’m arriving Friday night, and I anticipate no big troubles other than being tired of my car (and Ohio) somewhere past Cleveland, and I know that my mom will be waiting for me when I get there, happy to see me.
But the conversation came back to me as I tried to think about what, if anything, I wanted to write about a conflict I had in an online community earlier this week. From this side of the issue, it looks like this: I asked a question of a group of librarians, in short-form as suited the venue, and then began refining my question based on the feedback I was getting. I also revised the information I was sharing, adding in details and clarifying others based on the questions people were asking and the assumptions they were making. My initial question was a fast, vague summary of a three-page proposal that had been distributed to the library staff, and so was necessarily incomplete, and as people asked questions, I was filling in details. And more than that, I was asking “Why?”. The group was, on a whole, dissenting with my position, and I genuinely wanted to know why. It didn’t make sense to me, and I wasn’t hearing compelling reasons that took into account the scenario I was trying to describe. I kept adding details, and asking why they thought what they thought.
Or, that’s what I thought I was doing.
Several participants — people I trusted and respected — assumed I was “playing” the group, trying to compel them to give me answers that agreed with what I thought was best. And accused me of such. It went downhill from there. I am no longer participating in that community until I can figure out my feelings about how the interaction went down.
But as I consider my own words and motives, I’m sure of one thing. I still don’t understand why they were all disagreeing with me so strongly. I still don’t see the connections they were drawing between their positions and the greater good of the problem I’m trying to solve. I still don’t see the “why”.
And, like with my mom, I can’t offer assurances, make changes, or re-evaluate if I don’t understand the underlying issues that are rising to the surface of the argument. I need to know why. It’s part of how I understand my world, assign value to opinions, and make decisions. I’ve done some soul-searching about my part in the social disintegration of the conversation, and regardless of what I did wrong, I still believe in this: I need to know why if I’m going to understand. I won’t back down from that. In most circumstances, unless you’re one of a very small group of implicitly trusted people, your word is not enough. But I’ll believe you when you tell me why.
But the point is moot. I walked away from the conversation because I thought it was the best thing to do, and at our staff meeting, no one advocated against the change I was proposing, though we made modifications to other aspects to suit the concerned reasoning of the staff. The deal is done.