Lately it seems that more and more, we find ourselves mired in an acrimonious time. If ever there were a time to remember the old adage about not discussing politics or religion, it would be now.
For the most part, our discussions on the Jonestown Forum have been immune to the goings-on around us, but not always. Sometimes – in spite of our best efforts to avoid these issues – the harsh discourse of the times enters into our discussions.
I don’t know exactly how it started, but a few months ago on the forum, somebody made a remark about how Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler looked alike. Words to that effect. A second, palpably incredulous member challenged the remark. In turn, the person who made the original comment returned fire. Other people quickly join the fray, throwing other political grievances, slights and prejudices into the mix. I’m leaving out a whole bunch of what happened before I got wind of whatever was going on, but I’m sure you can imagine it.
I was driving home from Kingman, Arizona that day after a long week of staff meeting and drafting reports. About the time I hit Lake Havasu, my phone started pinging, first once, then twice, then more in rapid succession. I pulled over and started scrolling through a few messages. When I logged onto the Forum, I realized that things were getting a little heated. There was nothing too outlandish – yet – but left to fester, they had the potential to create real hostility.
As quickly as I could fire off PM’S, I started trying to get people to stand down as diplomatically as I could. I dug out a few metaphorical firebreaks in deleting some of the more belligerent messages. I even went as far as lightly admonishing a couple of other people on Messenger. This is something I really dislike doing, but I did what needed to be done. There was a brushfire trying to talk hold, and while I was walking around with buckets of water, a few seemed to be carrying cans of gasoline.
One person even replied by calling my own political affiliations into question, to which I responded that I was apolitical as far as this discussion forum is concerned. Another person made a disparaging remark about me being in law enforcement when it appeared that I had sided with a member who happens to work in the Department of Corrections. I can’t say whether this person knew it or not, but it was an eye opener for me that people knew that I am in fact in law enforcement, especially since I make it a special point to underplay what I do for a day job and try to keep it completely separate from my job as an administrator.
Thankfully, things didn’t get too far out of hand, and the situation was defused almost as quickly as it started, but it was sobering when I considered what it could have turned into. What I didn’t want was for people to get so upset that they left the forum altogether. I would have taken that as a failure on my part, and anyone who knows me knows that I do not like to fail at anything.
It does require vigilance. Even in the aftermath of this one incident, I notice that some people try to use the Forum to push political viewpoints unrelated to discussion about Peoples Temple. It’s like walking a tightrope. On the one hand, I want people to feel like we are a laid-back group of people, and that the Forum is a place where you can let it all hang out and bring up any darned thing you’d like, but I’ve learned that can’t be a blank check.
Politics aside, I also want to keep the integrity of what our discussion forum is about in the first place. I would prefer that we keep our discussions confined to Peoples Temple – and only Peoples Temple – related topics.
The Forum represents an ever-growing group of people from very different backgrounds and with very different ideas. Conflicts are bound to arise from time to time, but as long as we deal with these situations fairly and with a modicum of equanimity, there should be nothing we can’t work though.
This job of Administrator has its challenges, but I welcome them with a sense of pride that people have placed their trust in me to continue to serve in this capacity. I would be remiss if I did not show my gratitude by doing my very best.
(Mark T. Gallaga is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. His companion article to this piece is The Jonestown Forum: A Place for Respectful Dialogue. His earlier articles may be found here. Mark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)