A little over a year ago, I started the What I Want You to Know series on this blog. I invited readers to share a part of their personal story that they wished others could better understand. When I put the call out there, I figured I would have a handful of people interested in participating. I was surprised on many levels: by the width and breadth of topics, by the vulnerability and bravery of the posters, and by the number of people who have submitted stories. As of today, I currently have just over 100 stories in the queue for this series. If I keep publishing them once a week, I have enough stories to take the series into 2013. So, I’ve decided to take the month of December to publish a new story every day. This will allow me to share some incredible stories that I’ve been waiting to publish, and it will always allow me to take a little blogging break leading up to the holiday season (though I’m sure I’ll be popping in from time to time). There are some really amazing stories in the line-up, so I hope you will stick around. On that note, I wanted to make a few observations about the series, in regards to both the writers and the comments. But first, let me go back to the original intention I had in mind for the series:
I can think of many times my views have been stretched by reading the experience of others. I can think of times that I have been insensitive and have been called out. There was a time two years ago that I joked about Jafta being “ready for the short bus” because of some dorky shoes he was wearing. A mom of a special needs child told me how hurtful that was, and I never forgot it. I can also remember comments here that dismissed my own experience . . . that basically indicated, “you are the one with a different family, but why should we all have to care?” I still feel that sting. I think that at a surface level, most of us want to be compassionate and sensitive to others. But I do think that certain barriers (lack of exposure, tolerance, defensiveness, etc) can ruin the best of intentions. If only we could peel back the layers to our humanity, and really see where the other is coming from. This is what I want to try, in this space, a couple times a month. I’m starting a series called “What I Want You To Know”. It is, quite simply, a place for you to share your story, and the sting that you want other people to be more sensitive of. Maybe you are a single mom tired of the assumptions, or a mom of an autistic child who wants more understanding. Maybe you are an interracial family. Or a same-sex family. Maybe you work. Maybe you homeschool. Maybe your kid is sick . . . really sick. Maybe you are Mormon. Or Muslim. Or decided not to breastfeed. Or can’t get pregnant. Maybe you are depressed. I want you to tell us – what do you want us to know about your particular circumstance? What is that burning thing that you wish people would “get”? And then I want us to collectively reach across this little campfire of the blogosphere and hear each other. We don’t have to agree. We just have to listen.
This was my initial hope for the series, and by and large I think it has been a great exercise in empathy. However, I’m wanting to put a few guidelines out, because over the past few months I’ve noticed a subtle shift . . . a little less support and a little more judgment in the comments and even in some of the essays. Thus far, I have published (with two exceptions) every story that has been submitted, because I’ve wanted to honor the time people have taken to write out their story. During this month, I will continue posting the stories as they have come in. However, moving forward, I’d like to offer the following guidelines: For submissions: I would like the essays to stick to your own personal story. For example, this would be appropriate: Growing up, the divorce of my parents was very difficult for me. This would not be appropriate: People who get divorced are selfish and don’t care about their kids. This would be appropriate: I struggle with people-pleasing and worrying about what others think about me. This would not be appropriate: People who say they don’t care what others think are liars, and the worst offenders. Stick to “I-statements” and your personal story and feelings, rather than blanket statements about others. In terms of commenting guidelines, I’m going to be a bit more liberal in deleting comments that are critical within this series. First of all, because these are GUEST POSTS. Most submissions are not written by professional writers, or bloggers accustomed to having their words picked apart, but rather by readers who’ve taken a risk on telling a vulnerable story in a public place. While I’m usually up for a spirited debate or a difference of opinion, I just don’t think this series is the forum for it. The point is to listen. I’d love to see comments that offer support or empathy, but I don’t want to see writers being accused of being overly-sensitive, histrionic, or wrong. If you don’t like what the writer has to say, make a mental note of your dissent and move on. Alright! On that note, tomorrow I will be kicking off a month of What I Want You to Know posts. There are some incredible stories to be shared; some emotional, some shocking, and all deeply personal. I hope you will listen, and I think we will all learn. If you would like to submit your own story, you can do so here.