Blog guidelines

by Yule Heibel on April 24, 2005

Elaine sent an email the other day asking “about what kinds of self-imposed ethics or guidelines you have for yourselves about what you blog.” It’s part of an information-gathering exercise she’s engaged in to prepare for a panel on youth leadership at an upcoming Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership conference. Lots of responses have been coming in here, and I just added my too-long (surprise!) bit, too. Thought I’d cross-post it here (because, again no surprise, writing a comment somewhere else left no time for writing something else here…). I guess my blog is turning into a personal “post-it” note on my fridge, the string around my finger, the stray piece of paper stuck in a book…:

Interesting question, Elaine… I’ve been drifting away from my blog a lot lately, and it has to do with being more enmeshed in day-to-day concerns that involve people in the “real space” communities I’m part of, which seems to be doing two things to me: it’s taking up a lot my time, thereby taking away from time I might otherwise have to write and to follow different bloggers; and it’s made me aware that “virtualising” something/ someone is different when there’s a chance of running into him/her/it on the street. I feel really comfortable voicing my opinion on matters that are “common ground” (theoretical, intellectual, whatever) and/or clearly ethical or moral or just something I feel really strongly about, but I feel less comfortable about voicing my opinions about issues that are local, where proximity becomes an issue. Perhaps that’s part of the concern of every query about “allowed” topics: writing about your family, about your employer, challenging “experts” (if they’re in your industry or field and nearby), etc. One tends to settle into a status quo, and it can get choppy rocking the boat. That doesn’t mean there’s a hard and fast rule about it, though.

I guess blogging (and writing) is in some ways about effecting change … in me, in my community. But I have run up against some “discomfort zone” boundaries. I generally haven’t blogged about my husband, or about my kids, except obliquely, and I’m very careful not to blog about any public committee I’m on or about anyone’s affairs or about my criticism of how people I deal with daily are carrying out their jobs (there are a couple of cases where this affects me, my kids, etc., but it’s not [yet] for publication).

On the other hand, deep emotional issues told in narrative form help people. I think it helps others in situations similar to yours if you blog about it. In your case it helps others who have a comparable plight when you blog about your mother’s mental confusion and your stress in caring for her. That’s the “effecting change” piece again: it does help people to realise that others have been on this road, and to know they’ll get through it somehow. I’ve blogged about my kids in that oblique way, when I thought it might be useful for someone else to know about trying to homeschool (or distance ed. school), for example. But you have to find that line, know when it’s not a good idea to cross it. Maybe it comes down to respect, which is certainly not packaged and easily commodified. You respect those in your community, those you love, those you have to live with, because you respect yourself. The problem is that you also have to know that you can kick some ass, too, and that sometimes it’s a good idea to do so, which is interpreted as disrespect by some people — but false respect isn’t a panacea anyway. I’ve had local critics in my comments board who think I’m a stupid cow for dissing Victoria restaurants, Canadian farming practices, or Victoria sewage disposal policies (among other things), which makes me step back and wonder whether I’ve been disrespectful. The alternative (not to criticise) was worse, though. With my kids’ homeschooling and distance ed. situation, it’s a different matter because, getting personal in my account could infringe both on their privacy as well as on their work-in-progress. (Don’t know how much longer I can hold back, though…)

Re. the high school panel/ audience: Betsy Devine makes a good point that blogs are public, which means it can be a good idea for kids to blog anonymously or pseudonymously. But I also think blogs can be wonderful instruments for modelling understanding (eg., when you blog about your mother and your situation of being cast into caregiver for her). You are working something out for yourself, vs. simply assuming that you already know and projecting the “expert” image. As a homeschooling mom, I’m interested in how people (kids and adults) learn, and found a recent re-read of Howard Gardner’s The Disciplined Mind useful. He writes that we can believe that children’s brains are tabulae rasa, with nothing on them, and then set to work furiously scribbling them up with morals and ethics and precepts, or we can assume that every mind is already “furnished” or structured with powerfully held, if often flawed, theories. Part of educating for understanding is to find ways to “raze” these powerfully held theories in order that the learner (and this is a life-long process, not restricted to “kids”) can continuously “construct” new learning (which is the classic Socratic approach, asking questions, making the learner assess and reassess). (It was actually interesting to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink immediately after Gardner….) I think what happens in some of the blogs I read — Shelley Powers comes to mind — is that you can see understanding being modelled in the entries, and that many times her comments board wonderfully amplifies and expands — through affirmations, criticisms, and questions — that modelled understanding. The very worst thing that can happen is a flamewar in the comments boards (and it happens), but in the best cases you see this back-and-forth which inexorably moves toward greater understanding. (Although sometimes the comments, which can start in or spawn another’s blog entry, become so hair-raising in their tabula rasa certainty of inscribed thinking that it’s physically painful to follow the thread. I think the Burningbird should get a medal for often being the main course, roasted and charred by those cocks who still think that it’s not about WHAT is right but about WHO is right, but that’s another issue… ;->)

I’d ask the high schoolers to think about why they want to blog, and what that means. If they want to broadcast, evangelise, disseminate, whatever (“teach”?), it makes sense to think about the medium: you’re creating a particular kind of space, which gets linked to other spaces (or not), and it’s a lot of work to travel in those spaces. Not for the faint of heart; I know I often just drop out, from sheer exhaustion. It’s not like having a conversation over coffee, it’s not like being in a classroom, it’s not like writing for a newspaper, it’s not even about having a platform which you control from on-high. I’d tell the high schoolers that blogging is for people who want to keep asking questions and who don’t mind leaving home and travelling around the world and back in 80 minutes. Seconds. Whatever. And then I’d tell them that it can be Socratic, …and that Socrates was supposed to have been really ugly, haha! Forget about attractiveness! 😉 Blog, and break the “beautiful society”‘s last taboo!

As for government regulation — what’s that all about? Joke, right? Or is it?

Regulate blogs? (“Lemon curry?” That’s absurd.)

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