We know the expression. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
The web can be a hotbed of hate, an open forum for letting loose all the nastiness we wouldn’t dare to inflict in person. Comments on the web provide anonymity for some, a sense of distance and safety for others, and the proverbial bully pulpit as well. But remember – these are words on a flat screen – stripped of the speaker’s facial expression, gestures, or tone of voice. No different than an email that may be taken the wrong way, leading to misunderstanding and lost opportunity for real communication.
Nothing unusual in any of this, right? We take it as a given, and try to do better the next time.
In one of my reading (and writing) corners on the web, there is a great deal of friction at the moment. Things are getting personal, and they seem to be escalating. And in the process, we are obscuring important issues.
Important Issues, Expert Opinions
When we’re talking about issues of extraordinary importance – the future of marriage, the drama of divorce, the necessity of divorce reform, the complexities of single parenting – issues that affect millions of us and our families – it’s critical that we not lose the substance, and the voice of expertise.
I believe we should tell our stories. I believe we should listen respectfully and with an open mind. I also believe we should rely upon voices of authority.
I believe we should write to share, to help, and not to judge. Every marriage is different. So is every divorce. And post-divorce life is something else again. As for the children, impacts will vary because each situation is unique, each child will respond differently, each adult possesses a varying capacity to put the needs of the child first. And some adults never put the needs of the child first.
Marital Advice, Divorce Advice
I read a number of writers who are divorced – both men and women. I see their disparate perspectives, including those who dismiss the experience of others as though it is exceptional or even, untrue. I view this as unfortunate, and also, a disservice. I don’t find it to be malicious; only ignorant.
It is the diversity of experience, including the negative, that will alert us to areas that require attention, that will inform us and lead to possible solutions – but only if we accept the spectrum of behaviors and their consequences as real – not to mention not somehow deserved and created by the individual concerned.
One of the writers I read from time to time has offered her post-divorce situation as a model of cooperative parenting that certainly seems worth striving for. I applaud her ability to pull this off, and I’m sure her children will be better off for the willingness of both parents to work together for their benefit. I wish her – and her family – well.
But at times she suggests that her model is a function of “work” and not luck, implying that if we all had the right attitude (and worked hard enough), we could live a similar scenario. At these times, her words deny the reality of the rest of us for whom there is no ex in the picture, there is no “time off for quiet,” or worse: the ex is always in the background, a constant thorn in the present, a malevolent force in the lives of the children – no matter how many times we’ve tried to wave a white flag and do anything for a bit of peace.
A remark was made that we make our own luck or more specifically: “luck is toil.”
My response to that?
- Is an accident or injury the result of toil?
- Is a dreadful economy that puts millions out of work the result of our lack of toil?
- Is an ex who weasels out of support responsibilities a matter of toil?
- Is insufficient funds to pay an attorney to fight for the support a matter of toil?
- What about chronic illness, aging parents, lack of family – is any of that brought on by a lack of trying, of working, of hoping, of looking to the positive? Of toiling?
I don’t think so.
One Word: Tolerance
One of the life skills I’ve acquired in recent years is tolerance. I also work hard to remain open-minded. Just because I haven’t lived it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
My natural tendency is one of trust. That has proven to be a problem at times, yet I remain convinced that most people I have encountered – in real life and on the web – have the best of intentions. And while we know the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, I choose to err on the side of believing that someone is trying to do good.
Yesterday, I also wrote about credibility and credentials, using one’s voice and expertise. I did so because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time. I published the piece when I read a dating coach with neither credentials nor appropriate experience stating that single parenting is ideal.
I believe that we lose our way on the web all too easily. We forget to “vet,” to check our sources, to use common sense, to value credentials and experience.
There is someone who has credentials and credibility in my book; she also has many years of real world experience helping men and women dealing with divorce. I only wish I had known this woman years ago, and been able to avail myself of her knowledge and counsel at that time. It could have made an enormous difference in my life, and in my children’s lives.
I call this woman my friend. I trust her. I respect her.
Give marital advice? Divorce advice? I tiptoe through both, partly serious and partly playfully; I do so as a function of my stories and my life, and nothing more. I recognize the contradictions in my own beliefs, my constant state of evolution, and the variety of perspectives that I consider valid.
- I am for living together – if that is what adults choose to do.
- I am for marriage – when couples wish to sanctify and legalize their union, realizing the implications.
- I am for adults loving each other, expressing it sexually, and living a model of family that works for them.
- I am not against divorce. I am against an attitude of “if it doesn’t work out, you can always divorce.”
- I am against easy divorce when children are involved.
- I believe the reasons for divorce matter, that the sort of pain we feel varies; abuse is different from infidelity, falling out of love, wanting to find oneself, or even the “empty marriage.”
- I do not believe that one person’s happiness trumps another’s.
- I am against disparities in state-specific divorce laws that govern everything from support to custody, and the unenforceability of these agreements when up against a clever adversary.
- I am against a family court system that allows attorneys to make vast sums of money with no apparent accountability.
- I believe that both genders suffer from these injustices, as do our children.
I believe in being positive but not naive. This is the result of my experience; it may not be yours. Had I been less naive 10 years ago, or 8 years ago, or even 5 years ago – or luckier - it would not be mine.
Make Love, Not War
I am aghast that for those of us whose marriages have ended, who are trying hard to raise our sons and daughters as best we can, that we aren’t banding together to listen to and support each other – trying to find solutions to systemic problems.
These problems are tangled up in our employment environments which are not family friendly (whether you are married or not), our cultural propensity to live at the surface rather than doing the hard work of introspection, our growing preference for gender-based “game” over real communication, our lack of social benefits (lose your job or your marriage, and say goodbye to your medical care, your life insurance, your disability, all of which increases your spiral into financial ruin).
Post-divorce life isn’t simplistically rearranged by magical thinking; by adopting faux forgiveness in the face of one who continues to beat you down, by claiming positive attitude as the cure-all, by any one-size-fits-all strategy or approach.
Check Your Sources, Listen to Your Gut
As for the web wars – there are many who position themselves as experts either explicitly or indirectly; some misrepresent, while others lie outright. I am all for American ingenuity and entrepreneurship; if you can create yourself a business out of some sort of experience or skill – good for you. But it’s always a matter of caveat emptor – buyer beware – whether you are a consumer of products or services, or a consumer of information. Let’s not forget those distinctions I made yesterday – authenticity versus authority, expertise versus a voice.
And perhaps we should add – infomercial versus information.
Despite all this, I still put my money on good intentions. I believe most of us want essentials: someone to love who will love us back; a committed relationship that suits our lifestyle (however you may define that); satisfying work, and some measure of security that we will not find ourselves on the street despite plenty of “toil” and too little “luck.” If we have children, we want them to grow up with the best possible experience we can offer – one which is never perfect because not only is that impossible, but it would teach nothing of survival in the real world.
I wonder – if we were sitting face to face over coffee or tea, rather than dealing in isolation, hunched over our computer screens – might we find a greater measure of moderation? Would we set aside the posturing in favor of sharing? Would it be easier to “play nice,” to put our good hearts, our good minds, our skills and our diverse experiences to positive ends – accepting that what others have to say is valid whether we’ve lived it or not, knowing that we are a single community with more in common than that which divides us?
As for that road to Hell, I’d say that’s a matter of opening our eyes. It is neither luck nor toil; we all take the wrong turn at times, and I’m surely no exception. But nothing says we can’t pause, take a breath, look around, and join forces to take a better road, or at least – the higher one.
© D A Wolf