Update: I’ve just been made aware of yet another article alleging I lied about Reist’s religious affiliations, and that a bullying campaign of lies is being conducted against her on the Internet.
The fact that there is a comprehensive record of her involvements with a variety of conservative Christian groups, based almost entirely on their own literature and available both on line and in libraries, makes these accusations and the people who make them look very dishonest or gullible, to say the least.
Along with the conservative Baptist group the Salt Shakers, Reist was also involved with the Endeavour Forum, formerly Women Who Want to be Women. The motto of this organisation, run by Babette Francis, is “A feminist is an evolutionary anachronism, a Darwinian blind alley.” These people are seriously anti feminist and anti choice. Their stated aim is to “outlaw abortion.” Their connection with Reist is confirmed in their literature.
If Reist has changed her views and moved away from these groups and their philosophies, why not simply say so? Denying any connection with them is absurd – the sourced and referenced evidence is available for anyone to see. Are Reist and her supporters claiming all these religious groups have falsified their records in a conspiracy to discredit her?
Most of us understand that people can change their views and their affiliations. What is more difficult to understand is why anyone would attempt to deny those affiliations, and co-opt others into publicly supporting them in that denial to the extent that they put their own reputations on the line when it is apparent that the affiliations existed.
As I’ve said before, there are areas of Reist’s work that I agree with in part, and I applaud her determination to bring these to public awareness, even though I don’t always agree with her methods. It seems to me that her determination to deny her past is only doing Reist and her cause harm, and quite frankly, I can’t see the point of it. Suing me isn’t going to make her history go away.
We all change allegiances about something during the course of our lives. It’s no great offense. But it becomes a problem if we deny the allegiances ever existed, and that anyone who states otherwise is a liar.
The more Reist and her supporters persist with this farce, the less credible they appear. No doubt Reist’s supporters do their own work well, so why risk their hard-earned reputations?
While I don’t doubt Reist has been the recipient of unsavoury commentary, this is a separate issue, and has nothing to do with me. I have used reliable sources, the religious groups themselves in most instances, and I have not abused Reist. So it might be time to leave me out of the claims of bullying, lies and on line abuse.
This may sound bizarre, but when I learned that I can’t be forced by the law to apologise and retract my opinions about Melinda Tankard Reist, I experienced the most profound relief. She can still bankrupt me. But she cannot make me lie.
This caused me to consider what it means to take away someone’s right to speak freely, and the conditions under which it might be justified. There are not many, I concluded. I will defer to Russell Blackwell on what these might be.
I don’t know what it does to someone to be forced into publicly professing a position they do not hold, out of fear that otherwise something dreadful will happen to them. It sickens me to think about it. I also wonder what could be the satisfaction in wresting a false apology from an opponent, in the full knowledge that they don’t mean it and have only proffered it to avoid the trouble you’ve threatened them with if they don’t comply.
Impasses caused by wildly differing opinions and interpretations are not unusual. Civilised people must find ways to deal with them that don’t require one party to compromise themselves out of fear.
In the weeks since I received the defamation threat, I’ve read some dreadful things about myself, some written by people one would expect to know better, some written by people who are pitifully uniformed, some downright threats such as the one that advised me to dig my own grave. I’ve been hurt, angered, saddened and disgusted. I’ve also taken on board what seemed to me like intelligent critical commentary, and I’ve learned from it.
Much as I would like to be able to silence those whose observations have caused me distress and even anxiety, I can’t, and I’ve had to find other ways of dealing with my discomfort. It’s called standing on your own two feet, and my grandmother taught me all about it. Threatening legal action is the easy way out. Finding the resources within yourself to deal with what somebody says about you that you hate them saying is far more challenging.
What I’ve also learned is that determining what causes “harm” is complex. For example, many things that have been written about me leave me entirely unaffected, while some cut me right to the heart. This in itself is an opportunity for learning. What is it about certain attacks that hurt so badly while others, that someone else might find intolerable, are irrelevant?
The answer of course lies in the individual psyche. In psycho babble terms, some attacks push buttons and the buttons they push are to do with personal history. Whenever my buttons are pushed, I’m compelled to ask why, and to track down the origins of the sensitivities. The good thing about this is once I’ve identified them I can defuse them, if only to the degree that when I next bristle I know why. This gives me better control over myself and my reactions, rather than yielding up that control to those who want to make me squirm and will be gratified if I do. It’s a long process. I expect to be in it for the rest of my life.
If I can get the law to just shut everybody up what have I gained? In my terms, nothing, and in the end one can only live by one’s own lights, no matter how bizarre they may seem to someone else. Demanding the law take care of something one can quite easily address oneself is like running to a parent when somebody’s said something mean. It’s fine for a certain phase of childhood, but after that it’s sad.
The moneyed (because it is only the moneyed who can embark on these actions, they are inaccessible to those without ample funds) who cannot deal with feeling offended, misrepresented, badly done by, wrongly described, wrongly judged, affronted, and so on ought not to be able to turn to the law in an attempt to resolve their injured feelings. There aren’t many of us who get through life without suffering these indignities, especially if we have any kind of public profile. To believe that we have the right to deny free speech to anyone as revenge for injured feelings is narcissistic overkill. “You hurt me and I now have the right to destroy you, because I can afford to destroy you.” Or ” You hurt me and I will make you take it back by threatening to destroy you, because I have the money to do that.”
Mmmm. Wouldn’t a grown up just handle it?
I love free speech. I don’t love it blindly, and there are circumstances in which the speaker must be held legally accountable for his or her speech.I would like to imagine that anyone who is considering defamation action thinks deeply about what they are doing because what is certain is that one threatened action is like a pebble cast into a pond – the ripples are endless, and people not immediately involved are also silenced or restricted in their speech, out of fear. I would not like to be responsible for casting such a pebble without very good reason.
I can’t imagine a world in which everyone is always nice and inoffensive. It isn’t one of my dreams. What I do imagine is a world in which people stand strongly on their own two feet, because they’ve been taught how to do that. A world in which offense is dealt with by drawing on inner resources, because people have been taught from childhood how to develop the strength and character do that. A world in which something as precious as freedom of speech is not threatened by the disgruntled wealthy, but where there are legal safeguards for when it is dangerously abused.