elephant is not me.

Via on Sep 8, 2010

Warning: the below is written, first draft, after a long day of travel, so it may not make great sense. I’ll sharpen it up tomorrow, after reading it to a few friends.

Tonight, I’m sitting in a fluorescent-lit hallway in a fancyish old folks’ home, and am a tired boy. Nevertheless, since elephant as a forum seems to be getting bigger (we’ve topped 250K unique readers this month according to Google Analytics) and more feisty, embracing controversy and hurting the feelings of some of my friends, colleagues, and businesses, I want to share the below.

It’s on my mind. And I like to be open about things that trouble me. ~ ed.

#elej: a forum that welcomes respectful disagreement.

elephant is not Waylon, I could have titled this piece—but I didn’t want to highlight those two words together in the same sentence. There’s a reason my name isn’t over our masthead, or in our logo, though I’ve been advised by business minds far brighter than mine that highlighting yours truly is a good way to assure my personal success, financially.

Rather, my name is all over our Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, where it belongs. That talk show is, after all, based on my dumb jokes, my dumb questions, my personal point of view, my listening and learning to great minds and heroes and heroines.

But elephant is not me. Seem obvious? Well, it isn’t, apparently, even to my dear friends. Over the past month elephant has disappointed two elephriends who hardly even talk to me now, and more importantly aren’t sure they want to have much to do with elephant anymore. Their anger is a result of articles written by fellow elephant columnists, not me—but they hold me accountable.

And this bothers me, as it should. For one, I care about my friends, and while I understand their pain I want elephant as a forum to be independent of my personal viewpoint. We don’t have a party line. If I disagree with an article, I’ll say so in comments. And I’ve even welcomed articles by columnists questioning and criticizing myself.

elephant is an open forum. As founding editor, I have worked to create a welcoming, fun, vital forum that thrives on debate, and isn’t just a back-slapping MSNBC or Fox that merely agrees with itself, and its own readers.

Our very mission is to offer the good news beyond our core or choir and to the masses who may not have known they gave a care about “the mindful life.”

Today, on the plane to the east coast with my dad, on our way to a family gathering for my late grandfather, we got into a momentary, passionate argument about politics—whether President Obama was a failure, economically-speaking. My reaction? Write up your views, pa, we’ll post them on elephant! So what if my dad might be a bit more conservative than I? Great! He’s well-read and informed, and ele welcomes debate and discussion. What we need is to re-strengthen our ability to be agreeable with those we disagree. We’re all in this together. Still, it’s tough to be calm and sweet with those who are “wrong.” Likewise, it’s tough to be jerks to those who we’ve gotten to know.

And so I welcome articles by columnists who disagree with me. I won’t censor or block an article or writer unless they go way overboard. But that means I have to watch as those I like and admire get criticized, often justly, on a forum I’m ultimately responsible for. I’m a fan of Tara Stiles. I’m a fan of Tricycle. I’m a fan of KTD. I love Kathryn Budig. I heart John Friend. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t welcome intelligent articles questioning their marketing or what-have-you.

Why welcome controversy? Is this all about traffic?

No. Controversy may sell in the short-run, but ele better have some integrity in our articles. For if a publication, such as Huff Post, becomes focused on clicks, readers, numbers first…that isn’t good business. As a would-be journalistic enterprise, elephant and other mindful, independent media need to be about mission, first. That wins reader loyalty, love, and longterm growth.

So, from time to time, I may feel like an article is wrong or even unhealthy. I know Bill Schwartz, to his credit, tested my limits as an editor more than any other. And in the end it was good for me. And while I might edit any article to sharpen its pov (we do edit as much as possible, “we’re not a bulletin board” as I like to say), I won’t change an article’s point of view or pull it down unless it’s despicable or aggressive.

Why? Because new media, unlike old media, is a two-way street. You all—and I—can leave a comment for whoever the author is, and offer our differing point of view. Together, we can help enlighten areas of disagreement. We can serve as an uplifted forum for what would otherwise be mere gossip.

I’ve seen my own Buddhist community struggle with scandal, gossip, and how to be open about difficult issues. We even fired one of our best editors back in the day because he insisted on publishing news regarding a scandal. That’s sad.

How to deal, then, with controversy? I happen to know the answer. It’s in my blood—because I happen to be a live-out-loud human being myself. When you feel uncomfortable, insecure, or confused—or for that matter happy, sad, mad—be open. Be honest. And things will get better, almost right away. Works for me. We can have faith in our basically good human nature.

And if Tara, KB or any other elephriend feels attacked, well know this: our readers and comments will come to your rescue. If you’re the real deal, you will, like a rubber ducky, float back to the top.

About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal | facebook.com/waylonhlewis | twitter.com/waylonlewis | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom

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13 Responses to “elephant is not me.”

  1. A phenomenal post, Waylon, & I agree with you 100%. As a long-time readers of Elephant Journal (even when it had a print edition!), I've seen many many posts that I disagree with, but I don't hold it against you as a person. We are all different & through our differing opinions, we can learn a lot about each other. Being able to "agree to disagree" is an intelligent, advanced skill that is far too rare these days. I hope that #elej hopes to encourage the development of that skill more & more.

  2. Blake Wilson Blake says:

    You've got a fan in me, good sir! I just hope my snarkiness hasn't caused you too much suffering.

  3. currierose says:

    I love this article. it really sings to my heart. You see, until I submitted my work I had never been to this website. I only heard of it because I was asking friends how to make my work public. Innyhoo, I have been reading some of the posts and responding and when I read yours, I totally understood. That is partly why I made myself homeless if that makes sense at all… as you wrote, "How to deal, then, with controversy? I happen to know the answer. It’s in my blood—because I happen to be a live-out-loud human being myself. When you feel uncomfortable, insecure, or confused—or for that matter happy, sad, mad—be open. Be honest. And things will get better, almost right away. Works for me. We can have faith in our basically good human nature." From my experience that is true… when I am open, honest and transparent things do get better, our world does care.. and I think that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and keep pushing toward our dreams, we become a living example of all that is possible.. and ultimately (this sounds quite hippy) doing so frees others to authentically share, forgive or find peace and love in this world… So thank you for your post. Thank you for what you are doing and thank you for posting my article.

    OH! One more thing… when I read about loosing a few friends what really came forward for me were some words that a friend recently shared with me as I have been struggling with a few lost friends and judgments for my lifestyle choices… (this is no way meant to be religious)…. "Rejection is God's protection." That does ring true for me, because I don't think the source would allow us to be part of anything that does not serve our highest good.

    Okay, that is all. :)

    Blessings

  4. Bri <3 says:

    as a new member to this ele-community ive noticed that some writers here love to use this forum to massage their egos….validate their opinions….and claim truth. Personally, I enjoy information over opinon, but I respect the space. I am human enough to know that I truly respect others opinons as well, wether or not i identify with them….the development of this advanced skill of agreeing or disagreeing that Victoria mentions above, is elephant's gift to the readers….

    I pray that those attacking and those feeling attacked are able to ground themselves in their own humanity; repsect for self and others…

    Those that have the courage to put themselves out there like Waylon and Tara have to expect good and bad in return. Not attaching to either side, isn't that what its all about?

  5. Bill Schwartz says:

    Waylon,

    The idea that someone that doesn't like what I write for Elephant Journal would take their complaint to you instead of me personally and in public is a sad comment on the character of such people.

    Bill

    • elephant journal elephantjournal says:

      Bill, your articles are bold and brash and excite all kinds of good and bad inspiration and condemnation. As you said to me, the web is all about comments, give and take, two-way street. My hope is that, as soooo many do with you particularly, they'll comment directly to authors and have uplifted, respectful debates. Not only that, but that they'll be inspired to write something themselves: email write at elephantjournal dot com

  6. Ginny says:

    Waylon,
    One of your best pieces. This reflects you becoming more seasoned and shows your maturity. Were you to control content to match a narrow editorial view, would weaken elephant journal's scope and relevance. Keep up the good work!

  7. Aron Stein says:

    This is great. Thank you for sharing. Personally I would like to see more quality and less quantity of writing. There are many days when I am bombarded with 5 subpar articles and just want to hide EJ from my new feed. I know I'm not alone as sadly I have many friends who just got sick of too many articles. Often the articles seem to be rehashings of similar topics.
    Also I have a problem with articles getting reposted. I can deal with the Downside of downward dog reposting since i know you get a ton of hits from it, but do we really need Babar Yoga multiple times?
    Not sure what the solution is there. I do like the EJ gets sexy thing since you can have more of a niche audience. Maybe some more niche areas or just more filters on the quality of articles.
    A way to track certain authors and hide others would be a neat feature as well. Just some thoughts.

    • elephant journal elephantjournal says:

      Good thoughts. The "babar yoga" one was reposted after a month, once, and I'm not sure we ever properly publicized it when it first came out since we had a problem with the photos.

      Guy Kawasaki, a social media superstar, is a big proponent of multiple postings. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I know for myself I don't mind ignoring things I've already seen or am not interested in. As we focus on many areas of "mindfulness"—from cycling as a commuter to composting to plastic packaging to gas consumption to meditation and yoga to religion, adventure, politics, arts, education…we have to post a lot of articles, on a lot of different subjects, and let readers choose what they're interested in. Or, better yet, as I do with The New Yorker, choose articles we didn't know we were interested in, and learn something new.

      As for your final idea, it's a great one, but until readers become members and pay for a fraction of what they read, our quality won't improve, and our ability to offer tech solutions such as your excellent solution will be nil. http://www.elephantjournal.com/member $1/month helps!

  8. Michael Odom says:

    Great piece, Waylon! Reading articles that merely reinforce what I already believe are of little value to me. What’s published here is fresh, thought provoking, and often controversial. Thank you for providing such a forum! Keep it up!

  9. Ari Setsudo Pliskin Ari Pliskin says:

    I'm all for respectful debate and variety of viewpoints. Yeah!

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