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Posting with Compassion in the BellaOnline Forums

This post was made in the Buddhism forums at BellaOnline. The message of the post applies to every area of the BellaOnline forum network.

The sequence began with an individual, "Al", who relished strongly worded postings. She would routinely instruct new visitors, "No. You are wrong." When asked to be more gentle, Al's response was: "You can't be tender and gentle all the time. Occasionally the Buddha was severe, direct and seemingly unfeeling. But he told it like it is."

Here is the response written by Lisa Shea, BellaOnline's owner.

I understand completely that some individuals have this stance in life, and that these individuals take great pride in being "brutally honest". They feel their straight-talk is a source of pride - that they challenge authority, shake up other people, and put their own true selves out there in the world. They state their message with strength and courage and it is up to the recipient to listen to the message and "take it". It is the recipient's responsibility to be full of self esteem and strength and power and to be able to hear that message without being upset or taking it personally or feeling hurt.

I do understand that stance, and I understand how it can be off-putting to a person in that position to be told "your style of speech - one you take pride in, one which you cultivate, does not match the style of the community you wish to be a part of." When the community says, "could you gentle your speech slightly" the individual hears "your style is wrong. You need to change if we are going to accept you." That is a difficult thing for anyone to hear.

I think the key is that BellaOnline is a site specifically geared towards the newest of the new. We bring in brand new web visitors from quiet rural villages in Peru, from small tribes in Africa, from remote locations in India. We actively support and help these people learn how to get on the web, how to knit clothing, how to make healthy food. It is something we believe strongly in. Most of our ads go to charities like these, as you can see. When these visitors come to the forum, they have the most tender beginners minds. They are nervous about being on the web. They are afraid to post. They will run off if they feel an unwelcoming environment.

Buddha said: "Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little." Our forum is all about compassion. We need to post not only for the person who asked the question, but for the hundreds who read and are currently afraid to post. We need to show them, with each post, that we are here to help them. That their questions will be answered gently and with encouragement.

The Dalai Lama said: "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."

Al - we greatly respect your knowledge and your desire to share. It is only your word choices that many of our forum members have commented to me on over the years, in my role as site owner. Here is an analogy.

Say a six year old student went up to a teacher and asked for a ruler. Say the teacher said:

"No. Absolutely not. Rulers are only for after lunch. Get back to your seat."

What she said was accurate, and true, but it was also said in a way which cut off the dialogue and made the asker feel as if their question was wrong to ask. When you start creating a mindset of "questions are wrong", then people stop asking questions. That is the opposite of the environment we are fostering here.

If the teacher instead said:

"What would you like to use the ruler for?"

It would engage the student, elicit more information, and then be able to provide information in a way the student understands and can use. The student is now encouraged to ask more questions, because he is being trained that asking questions leads to interesting discussion.

We must talk to the visitors on our forum - both those who post and those who are only brave enough to read at the moment - with tender care. They do NOT all possess the self esteem and strength right now to hear sharp "No!" messages. We need to encourage them and help them to grow with gentle "tell me more about your question" messages.

I hope that makes more clear what the purpose of the BellaOnline forums are.

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