Controversy. It’s not pleasant. In an election year, for example, friends and relatives who generally enjoy harmonious interaction with one another may find themselves disagreeing over the merits of candidates and issues. Certainly some disagreements are unavoidable; If someone gets in your face and challenges you, it’s only natural to react and defend yourself or your position. Yet there is something in the human psyche that makes us love a good fight even when it is completely avoidable. From debate clubs to boxing matches, many of us seem attracted to confrontation…It seems to get the old adrenalin flowing.
Comments have often been made regarding the way in which our shared love of bluegrass music has created a sense of community resulting in friendships even among people who might have found very little in common were it not for the bond of our music. There has also been something of an unspoken rule that if this harmony and sense of community are to be maintained, we must steer clear of discussions revolving around controversial topics, most notably Politics and Religion. Or must we?
A couple of years ago, some character began trolling the Message Board, trying to stir up a reaction from visitors to the CBA’s web site. Although I usually oppose censorship, I was among those CBA members who supported registration for the Message Board, believing, as I still do, that the interloper did not have the right to sabotage our normally polite community with messages that were absurd, inflammatory, or downright hurtful, all under the cloak of anonymity. The idea of registration was hardly unreasonable; Most message boards have a mechanism in place to hold users accountable for what they choose to publish in a public forum. At first, the idea of registration was opposed by our organization’s Powers-That-Be, with the concern expressed that a registration requirement might result in decreased use of the Message Board forum. However, repeated attacks from the saboteur, including some cruel and obscene personal remarks against individuals, led to the requirement that Message Board users must now provide a name and verifiable email address in order to post. Just as the Powers-That-Be had predicted, visits to the Message Board have declined, and most threads that are started result in only a handful of responses. I’ve heard more than one person complain that our Message Board is now “boring”. It almost appears as though civility equates with blandness, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For example:
In mid-September, a thread was begun with an innocuous post thanking L and S Promotions for another great Plymouth festival. However, that initial post was followed by a reply challenging the presence of Sunday morning Bluegrass Church at the festival. Religion? Someone had actually gone there! By the time the thread died several days later, it had achieved a total of 31 posts! On the very day it died, another thread was born entitled “Ralph Stanley endorses Obama”. Politics! Someone had dared to go there, too! This thread achieved a whopping 37 comments. And just as that furor was dying down, a “Part Two” to the same topic was started, in which another 31 comments ensued!
Granted, some of the posts in these extra-long threads were well-intentioned pleas from readers to steer clear of Politics and Religion and get back to picking. But two things struck me as I read through the multiple comments on these very controversial subjects: (1) With very few exceptions, even those who disagreed with one another did so in a respectful manner and refrained from personal attacks, and (2) It was darned entertaining! I certainly don’t miss the rudeness bordering on cruelty of the original saboteur whose inappropriate posts made the registration requirement necessary. But I think we have proven ourselves to be a civil community that can respectfully agree to disagree. As the Message Board rules state, it is “maintained to encourage a free exchange of ideas and information.” So long as you follow the rules by maintaining civility in your comments, you should feel free to express whatever is on your mind. Of course, if there is bluegrass content, so much the better!