Whenever we’re irritated or confused or offended by a human being, a community, or Elephant, that’s actually a good thing—it means we’re involved with something real, not a predator, manipulator, or cult.
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Recently, we’ve had nearly-daily drama in the Elephantverse (see below). It’s painful, and stressful, and sad, and that’s okay—if, like any relationship, we get through it together, it’s an opportunity for going deeper and learning from one another.
Mostly on our Facebook pages, interestingly–when you readers actually slow down to click and read the article, even if we still disagree, we tend to reply thoughtfully in our criticism. On Facebook, however, or Instagram, or Twitter, it’s all memes and insults and folks calling one another racist or sexist or threatening to quit Elephant because of one article.
As I always say, Elephant is meant to be, and usually succeeds in serving as, a place for tough conversations. As opposed to a playing-it-safe site devoted to selling you stuff you don’t need while shoving a smoothie recipe down your throat (nothing against smoothies, we share those too, but they’re meant to be actually-healthy, organic, and not just vehicles for making money off of you).
Elephant isn’t about making money. If it were, we would close up shop today. Media is getting crushed by InstagramFacebook—the Man. There’s easier ways to make a dime than working so hard only to get yelled at for sharing a controversial article via a dear writer-reader (our writers are our readers, you, our dear community). If Elephant is an independent media exception to the rule—stable, successful, fighting the good fight—it’s only because of our team, our commitment, our seeing one another through tough times, our slowing down, our community, our willingness to be that rare space for real talk, and respect, both.
As I always say, if you or she or he wants to agree with Elephant 100% of the time, Elephant’s not for you. You’re looking for a cult. Cults are no fun. We’re a caring, feisty community. We keep it vulnerable and brave, but kind.
But, lately, when we write about Kobe, or Shakira and J Lo, or The Donald…Facebook comments quickly get, as Jon Stewart used to say, conflictinating.
Conflict is an opportunity for education. For learning. For listening. For clearing up confusion.
On Elephant, that is. In person, often.
On Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, however, conflict is an opportunity for more conflict. That’s how they make their money: by promoting extremes, division, not because they’re proactively evil, but because they make money (ads) off of more views and comments:
Last week, I took out a loan and succeeded in buying a (small) (tiny) office for Elephant. It’s a big step, after 17 years. Took me awhile. It’s small, I might have mentioned.
But it’s a big step forward, a bet on the notion that human beings still care about journalistic values—you know, truth, facts, rather than mere invective. It’s a big bet that we can figure a way out of the trash compacter that is InstagramFacebook. It’s a bet on you, and our writers and readers, and our editors and sales team and our business partners, and on me, and on Dave, and on Michelle, and Vanessa, and Jules, and Marisa, and Kelsey, and Kelly, and Naomi, and Brian, Corti, and William, and on Khara, and Sara, and Tara, and Farah, and Samara even, and Kaitlin, and Nicole, and Cat, and Lindsey, and Molly, and Emily…Shanon, Kerry, Emily S., Vin…okay, on all of us, including Redford. That’s our team, and I could cry for caring about them and what we’re trying to do together, a noble, powerful, yet fragile ship piloting its way through an asteroid field. That’s my second Star Wars analogy, which is appropriate, given that that most indie of rebel franchises has been bought by the Death Star behemoth that is Disney, one of the biggest, hungriest corporations in the world along with Amazon, and the aforementioned FacebookInstagram, and Google.
If anyone’s still reading, let me leave you with one blessed image.
So I biked through the snow and slush, today, to drop off my $20,000 check (part of my loan, for earnest money, for the office). And on the way out I noticed a fabric store. Not some cheap chain–but a place really glowing with something like craft.
Craft is a word I’ve grown to worship, above all else. Many of you know that, and celebrate the word too, as evidenced by the number of readers on this here little article.
I’d heard about Elfriede’s for years. I’m not a sewer, or a quilter—I don’t know how to fix things. I do know how to sew a button on, or fix a ripped out crotch in my jeans, as I did just the other day while watching LeBron or Zion.
So I walk in, and there’s a straight-spined, elegant elder: Elfriede herself, clearly. We talked for 15 minutes, about the importance of craft, of slowing down and getting off our phones, of the cruel power and speed of Amazon, of the vanishing act that is the way of life she represents. The whole shop filled with, as she said, bolts of natural cloth (most of us wear plastic, which never goes away–our yoga pants and jackets and, you know, everything from Patagonia (which I love etc.—it’s almost all plastic, which never goes away, as I might have mentioned).
She seemed sad. Sad, but not self-pitying or complaining. She said it was a labor of love. But the power, and elegance, the inspiration just rolled off her. When I left, she dared to thank me for re-inspiring her. I wondered aloud how I might support. She offers free classes for anyone, even button-sewers, every Sunday. Amazon doesn’t do that.
Elfriede. She epitomizes the mentorship that is available, yet not sought after, in this sad, speedy, cruel world.
And here’s the cosmic joke, as Trungpa Rinpoche would have put it: this world is delightful, wakeful, magical in an ordinary way, beautiful, so beautiful, it’ll break your heart and make you smile at the same time. And that, as they say in Buddhism, is the ideal human emotion.
Empathetic, yet cheerful. Open, yet brave.
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