first off, i write this as the subject of multiple callout posts as well as a friend & supporter of many people who have also been called out for stuff that could have been left as personal conflicts but were escalated into community issues. i will not be speaking in detail about any of the callouts in question, nor will i be calling anyone out, because i am not interested in participating in a culture that cares more about being "right" than actually resolving conflict & protecting people in a community. i am writing this post as a way to reflect on what has happened to me & my friends. if your reaction to reading this is to try to find out the details of the callouts or which friends i'm talking about, that very reaction is a symptom of what i'll be discussing below.
if this is something that will bother you, you do not have to read this post.
i see a growing trend online of an inability or deliberate refusal to divide what i would consider a personal conflict vs a community issue. this is how i define them:
personal conflict: a situation where two or more people disagree strongly or have ideas/opinions/&c. that are opposed to each other
community issue: a topic or problem that is being discussed by a group because it is relevant to the members of the group at large
for example, if person A and person B have an argument & decide to no longer talk to each other, i would consider it a personal conflict. meanwhile, if a community is divided on whether they want to attend an event, perhaps because some members believe the event does not match the community's values, i would consider it a community issue.
what i would like to write about today is when individuals try to escalate what was originally a personal conflict into a community issue, usually in the form of a callout post.
in what i've seen of callout posts, they are usually framed as an action done for the protection of the community. because something the poster feels bad about happened, they write the post as a way to warn the community so that it does not happen again.
i think this makes sense with community issues. if an event that a community is planning to participate in actively supports values that don't match the community's, somebody in the community bringing it up gives the community a chance to address the issue & decide whether they want to participate in the event, which is a way to resolve the issue.
however, for a personal conflict, because it is by nature personal, it can only be resolved by the people involved in the conflict. i believe that escalating a personal conflict into a community issue actually removes the ability for the people involved in the conflict to resolve the issue - once something is made public, it can't be made private again. & since it can't be resolved by the community (since they are not actually involved), there is no resolution there either.
callout posts i've seen have ranged from things like "this person was hard to work with so they're abusive" to "this person didn't talk about minority A in a post about minority B so they're erasing minorities". while having an issue with how somebody works is valid, as is feeling somebody's post could have more breadth, these are personal problems - not community issues. so many callout posts about personal conflict that i've seen can be summed up as "i don't like this person, so i don't want anybody else to like them either", & as an extension of that, "i don't like this person & i see them existing happily in the same space i do, but i don't want them to do that".
you might think that it would be obvious to a community that a personal conflict is not something the community needs to be involved in, but that is where the callout post comes in - in these posts, the actual conflict is often described in a very vague manner, using words that are generally fairly heavy: abuse. harm. predatory. manipulative. they are words that bring up very specific & alarming imagery, so what was originally just a personal conflict may seem like more - that is, something that could be a community issue. what could have stayed a conflict between only a couple of people instead becomes something the community is forced to take sides in, when it should have been none of their business. anybody who does not weigh in with their opinion is also considered to be in the wrong, because silence means complicity. even not knowing about a callout is not enough to protect somebody - they can be seen as not doing their community duty if they are ignorant of the latest callouts, which is what causes some people to purposefully seek callout posts out, to make sure they are always on the "right" side of the community.
why is this a problem? because it makes people in a community become afraid of conflict & incapable of finding resolution. when any personal conflict can be labelled as abuse, it makes people feel like they have to make a callout first whenever they have conflict - so they can avoid being called out themselves. it also breaks relationships because associating with somebody who is called out puts you in danger of being called out too. even associating with somebody associated is considered a problem, which means people are expected to tell their friends to not be friends with other people, or break up with their friends themselves. instead of resolving conflict, it just creates more, in a chain reaction which has no end.
when a personal conflict is escalated into a community issue, there are only a few options a community can take:
- ignore the attempt to escalate or try to de-escalate the issue. the problem here is if the community already has a culture of calling out personal conflict, those who ignore the escalation or try to de-escalate will then be viewed as "guilty" of allowing a community issue to continue.
- make the person who was called out "accountable" - but since it was a personal conflict, there is nothing
person has to be accountable to the community for. it forces somebody into a position where they have to
apologise & shame themselves for something that could have been private. this makes the person feel unwelcome
community, ostracising them from a space they belong to.
- as an extension of this, a problem with callout posts is that they are written in a way that automatically assigns guilt to whoever is called out, giving them no way to defend themselves with only the option to apologise & agree to be held accountable for whatever they were called out for. asking the person who was called out for their side of things would fall under option 1 & brand whoever asked as somebody who is "guilty" by association.
- remove the person who was called out - but this has the same issue as 2.
in my opinion, the underlying community issue is not the personal conflicts themselves but the community culture that does not allow for personal conflicts to be resolved privately.
what is the solution? refuse to participate in escalation of personal conflict. ask people not to escalate when you see it happening. resolve your personal conflicts personally. it can be scary, because many of the people who participate in this behaviour are quick to call out people who don't join in. it can also be unsatisfying to sit out, because participating in callouts is exciting - you get to feel like you are on the "right" side of things, & it feels good to be right. but continuing like this just makes a community that can never resolve conflict, as it never allows room for dialogue. it makes people afraid to be open with others, in case words they speak in private are used against them. it destroys the community, because nobody can trust each other.
if you've read this far, thank you. this is something i have thought a lot about this past year but have been too afraid to post. i'm too tired & fed up to be afraid any more though, so here it is:
stop calling out people for personal conflict.
foster a community that helps people resolve conflict instead.
& lastly, if something like this has happened to you, i support you & hope you are doing ok. let's get through this together.
stuff that helped me organise my thoughts:
- Lashon Hara — Director's Cut HD
- a post about lashon hara. i don't feel knowledgeable enough to summarise it here, but it was really helpful for me to read, especially as a reminder that this kind of thing has been going on for ages.
Getting Cancelled: Breakups in the Age of Cancel Culture
- a podcast that discusses cancel culture. this episode specifically is on why people try to cancel people they used to be close to.
- my partner & friends who have supported me
- not exactly "stuff", but if you are in a similar situation, i highly recommend going offline for a while & just meeting up with people you can trust. it helped me ground myself & remember that just because people can say whatever they want about me on the internet, it doesn't make it true.