A Hard Lesson I Learned About Dealing With Wolves

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A Hard Lesson I Learned About Dealing With Wolves

"Why I Warned About the Wolves" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

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This is a confession and an apology. A few years ago, in my online community The Lasting Supper, we were experiencing some conflict. I was doing my best to resolve it, but regardless of my efforts and the efforts of the other facilitators, it blew up in our faces. We lost some members. I’m so sorry this happened. These things are bound to happen in communities, but I regret the way I handled it. There was lots going on, but let me be specific about one particular aspect of it where I particularly failed. One of the men in the middle of the conflict was personally attacking others who he perceived were attacking me. Included in these others were women. I was told by some of the women involved that he was bullying them. I made a mistake by not immediately guaranteeing to them that he would be removed from the group right away. Instead, under my direction, he removed the offending messages, offered an apology, and I suspended him from the group for a time of restoration. The problem was I didn’t do it fast enough, plus I was naive to think that he could be reformed to the point where he could be trusted again by the victims. I was wrong. I was wrong to wait. I was wrong to ask the women to expect to welcome him back when I felt he was safe again. I was stupid and had more to learn about facilitating a safe online community. There are groups that experiment with restorative procedures. But this group was not intended to be one of them. We appreciated the safe space it had provided for people who experienced abuse in the church, and for me to offer a bully another chance in this context seriously violated that sense of safety. Do I ever regret that! I lost friends, and The Lasting Supper lost its hard-earned reputation as a safe space. I learned a tough lesson from it. But an important one! I’ve worked diligently for The Lasting Supper to regain that safety. It’s been years since this incident happened and I believe it’s working. We have zero tolerance for bullying now and I do not hesitate to enforce it. Although, that being said, we haven't had any instances for a long time. I don’t begrudge the work. Being known as a safe space needs to be earned and proven. Perpetually. The biggest lesson I learned is that when someone is acting abusive, you need to believe what you see and act on it immediately. Don’t mess around! Don’t disbelieve what you’re witnessing or hope for the best or that it’ll pass and be forgotten! You must overcome your insecure fears that you’re being too harsh, because the harshness the victims experienced was far worse! Active measures must be taken immediately to protect the people you are serving and to ensure the community survives as a safe space. If you don’t act immediately to protect others from a bully or abuser, you are complicit! Period! That’s how I and the other facilitators act now. And I’m happy to say the community is far healthier and safer because of it. There are over 200 of us, and the feeling of safety, peace, and mutual respect and support is strong. We were warned about the wolves so we could do something about it. And we are. To those people who were bullied… by that man and by others, including by me, directly and indirectly by allowing it,. and for expecting people to welcome back a bully, I apologize and promise to never do it again. If you have any questions you'd like to ask me about The Lasting Supper, please comment here or email me.

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