Flickr photo by Martin Abegglen

Addressing The Elephant in the Room

By Brien Pittman

I know, I know. What I just wrote in my post for FāVS is not a readily appreciated style of writing or viewpoint for some readers of FāVS. Not because it is actually harmful or discriminating, it just doesn’t fit into some people’s sense of propriety and moral sentiment.

Recently, my innocuous (my opinion) words opened a door of possible contention with a FāVS reader but, we were able to close that door and open another door to understanding and dialogue.

How did we do this? Well, since we both eventually agreed that the matter was innocuous in nature, we compromised. We tried to understand where each other was coming from, and I saw the need, out of respect, to make some changes to the articles I write for FāVS, even though it is not necessary to make the same changes on other online sites I write for. Is that censorship? Hardly, I’m still going to say things that are considered stupid by some people on FāVS but less often. Out of respect.

Why not stop writing thing considered stupid all together Brien?

Well, that ‘would’ be applying censorship to what we don’t like to hear. Not because it harms anyone, we just don’t like to hear it, and from my understanding of FāVS.


It’s kind of like how some people really like the Three Stooges but, many people think they are the Three Idiots and would rather have an anal polyp removed than watch one of their shows. Several times, I’ve actually seen people get into heated arguments trying to change each others opinion of the freak’n Three Stooges.

My point is, why should anyone give a crap. The same applies to everyone’s way of expressing themselves when it fits within the boundaries of FāVS established guidelines, even when it pushes the envelope. It might sound like finger nails on a chalkboard to you because it’s different, and when a writer’s words are worrisome to you, the fact remains: No one has to ‘change’ their position and no one has to try and ‘change’ the another person’s position. We have ALL been and hopefully always will be different and it is displayed in every aspect of our individual lives, not just our writing.

To try and take that which makes us all different in life, and shape it to either extreme is oppression at worst and suppression at best; both threaten one of the most precious aspects of human existence –diversity. Plus, they KILL dialogue and go against what so many of us profess.

It would be cool if activism and the right to change the differences found in people was bound by one universal law. “If anyone is ‘actually’ harming themselves or others, in any way shape or form, then the rest of society has the right to intervene, out of love and respect for ALL of societies members. Otherwise, please find something in yourself to change.”

That’s a pretty good rule of thumb for the most part but, hard to do for obvious reasons. And also for not so obvious reasons that border on pathology. Some of us wave red flags, and are harmed by everything any one ‘not like them’ does, says or thinks. It doesn’t even have to be harmful for us to either try to put a stop to it or, pontificate endlessly until the offender screams OK! You’re right!  I’m wrong! I will try to be more like you.

That’s a very unhealthy balance in so many ways but, especially in the sense that ‘real’ issues are completely ignored, when our attention is focused on harmless minutia. The old pull the rafter outta yer eye, before you even think about pulling the splinter outta my eye, applies here I think.

Besides, hitting people on the head with our giant rafters accomplishes only two things. One: it’s offensive and judgmental and puts people on the immediate defensive. Two: it makes people not want to converse with us.

None of us should make another human feel as if they have to guard and watch everything they say or feel simply, because it doesn’t fit neatly into our personal sense of propriety and moral sentiment. FāVS is supposed to stand for inclusion of our differences ‘minor’ and major.

What I am suggesting doesn’t mean we fling the doors wide open to hate speech, bigotry, discrimination and rants of profanity, we just about have that under control at FāVS. Instead, it means we establish a ‘safer’ place by simply being respectful of the innocuous differences that make all of us different but don’t really make much difference in the scheme of things. We all have to remind ourselves periodically that life is ‘not’ about changing others. Pressuring them in any way shape or form to conform to our sense of propriety and moral sentiment.

We are fortunate that FāVS is a great place to learn how to engage in healthy dialog by not condemning those who speak and think differently than us. Jim Downard recently set a great example of healthy dialog for all of us in his “Ask An Atheist: Would the world be better off without religion?” 

So, there you have it. The elephant is out in the open, for better or for worse, depends completely on our subsequent reactions and responses.

One thing for certain, we will always be grateful to FāVS, the writers and the readers; for reminding us at times, and for educating us at other times  — that life is profoundly beautiful and fascinatingly diverse because of our differences.

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Charlie Byers

Good read! I do worry that the “Three Stooges” example can be applied too widely; live and let live, by all means, but there’s a space between respecting our differences and reducing them to pure subjectivity. One thing I see on Favs is a wide variety of styles of argument, where it’s hard to guess how personally people are going to take things. I’ve seen some slugfests in comment threads where people were perfectly happy to make up afterwards, and I’ve seen some fairly tame exchanges that left real hurt feelings. I agree with your point about respect, but communicating respect can mean different things to different people.

This article seems like part of a bigger conversation that doesn’t happen in many spaces, especially online: people trying to get better at listening to each other. It’s nice to see.

Jan Shannon

I don’t know what this elephant is. FaVS writers and readers are always discussing this issue. How far can I express my beliefs before I am arguing, and how loudly can I disagree with others beliefs before I am ‘shutting down conversation.” I agree with your statement that FaVS is an excellent place for interfaith dialogue, and that we need to check ourselves and our language to attempt to not be offensive, I just don’t see this described in your metaphor. It also sounds like this is in response to an earlier conversation which you say you deleted or modified. If that’s true, then this is vague-booking and makes it difficult to understand why you have written this.

Riff Mattre

I’m slightly confused, Brien. I’ll comment here because you took a detour before completing your series on Human Nature (which, overall, I believe we are in basic agreement that the colloquial phrase ‘you can’t change human nature’ is never sound justification to abandon our ‘cooperative struggle’ to relieve collective suffering.)

For the record, Brien, it wasn’t any apparent lack of respect, propriety or morality by which I questioned your strategies and writing style. I simply I found it challenging to deduce how sincere you truly were addressing a subject matter I consider very significant to our greater society’s conversation: mental illness. I’m all for levity and satire, just not when it comes to labeling mental illness for anyone. It’s dangerous.

That said, thank you. I greatly appreciate the investments of communication and understanding you are sharing with FāVS. This IS a unique corner of cyberspace. Discussing challenging ideas otherwise warned against in public spaces could never be more needed than it is today. I am thouroughly convinced our founding fathers and mothers would agree. Many of us here at FāVS have experienced, however, the limitations of discourse on digital screens. That’s why FāVS strongly encourages conversations started here to continue offline in person. At times FāVS has had as many as three different monthly events (like Coffee Talk tomorrow!) just for this reason. Brien, I truly hope our exchange has been as positive an experience for you as for me!

(I have a Three Stooges shower curtain.)

Eric Blauer

Was the Elephant clearly identified?


I only saw it out of the corner of my eye but, I think it was a Palaeoloxodon naumanni.


Brien comments on Brien: I enjoyed your article but you’re wrong in thinking we could improve on our reactions and comments to the innocuous thoughts and words of others. In short perfection leaves no room for improvement and from most of the comments you have received you should know that. I’m very confused. In truth, I didn’t actually give your article much thought I just reacted by defending FaVs (and myself) and made this your issue. I hope you understand that we really enjoy your attempts at communicating and sharing on FaVs; just don’t use words that are considered wrong (we’ll create a list) or, ask anyone to examine themselves. And never mention elephants in your titles because apparently they are stumbling blocks, along with silly metaphors involving the Three Stooges and the futility of arguing the ridiculous. Minutia matters on FaVs, just look at the comments if you think it doesn’t.

(arguing minutia ‘is’ the elephant)
Why argue the innocuous?

Jan Shannon

Are you making fun of my response?


Jan, sorry I’m so slow. No I wasn’t making fun of your response. If anything I was making fun of the fact that we all (sometimes) slip into arguing for the sake of arguing.

Much respect,

Riff Mattre

IF (big if) I’m interpreting your comment correctly; you feel attacked on irrelevant grounds by readers(?) unwilling to self-reflect on the central tenants of your intended conveyence?

Not sure if I’m close on that, but then pixels ARE limited. Should you ever wish to meetup in person, that’s always cool. What more can I say? (I guess you’ve already replied to that invitation.)

For whatever it’s worth I have read each of your recent posts (including this one) MULTIPLE times, meditated on them, questioned my own intentions before responding and let go hoping for the best.

If you never intended to be taken seriously, my mistake. If I was with you face-to-face, I’d joke with you to reassure us we’re good. (It’s definitely my own hang up not to entrust this to words on screens.)

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