Journalist. Writer. Researcher. Editor.

The third space – a place for meaningful, heartfelt engagement

This is a comment I made on @ivovegter’s most recent column on the brouhaha about rape metaphors. I decided to re-post it here, because I have been thinking about this a great deal in recent months. In short, this comment was responding to how the debate became a point-scoring session of one ‘team’ against another, which just devolved to such a point that both sides felt angry, hurt and frustrated. We can’t seriously have debates continue this way – it’s not contructive, and we’re just hurting each other. So, with the help of Leon Louw, I came up with the “third space” – a place for debate and dialogue that is premised on compassion and good faith.

Please do let me know what you think in the comments.

Ivo, you have framed this issue through the lens of ‘us’ and ‘them’, of “you are either with us or against us”. I don’t believe this is the appropriate way to respond to matters like this, and I apply this to all involved, including myself. We’ve presumed things to be adversarial when it truly wasn’t met that way, and human beings seem to naturally create a binary of that argument. You have drawn two distinct positions here – those “hateful, vitriolic” detractors, and those that support you. This is not how the debate played out, and casting it as such only serves to further alienate one side from the other.

I am truly sorry that you so viciously attacked by some parties. But I need you to take cognisance of the fact that I did not attack you in this way. Similarly, I don’t blame you for your supporters’ assertions that I am a “banshee”, “rabid” and “unhinged” – none of which you challenged, to my knowledge. I would also like to apologise to your survivor friend, who I will call Jane Doe for the sake of brevity. Jane, I am truly sorry you also feel personally hurt and attacked by this engagement. I do believe that is a serious problem, and I do want to address it somehow. Obviously and ultimately, the shape that will take depends entirely on you and what you are comfortable with. I have suggested to Ivo an anonymous email address, so that we may discuss your concerns. Again, it’s entirely up to you.

Unfortunately this engagement was framed as the “speech police” come anti-rape activists versus the free speech loving “mansplainer”. These two positions have been sniping at each other from the word go.

But I do believe there is possibility for a third position. A third space for engagement. This third position is to engage with one another without point-scoring and grand-standing, and to listen and engage with compassion and in good faith.

As I said before on your last column, Leon did not see the letter until after I spoke to him. He is an exceptionally kind and generous person, in my experience, and I learned a great deal from our interactions in recent weeks. The difference between how we have interacted and how you and your alleged detractors have interacted was set up by the antagonistic tone in your first column. In our engagement, you also were bent on believing I was attacking you personally, when I was not. An example would be when you jumped to the conclusion that I didn’t believe you could speak on this as a man, simply because I criticised your use of gendered language.

In my conversations with Leon he opened up to such an extent that we could have incredibly honest discussions about, as he put it, “What is right, not *who* is right.” In terms of our engagements, I believe we have occupied the aforementioned third space. We moved from being adversaries to, in my opinion, friends. We agree on many things, and there are many others where we don’t. Perhaps the mere fact that our conversations did not take place in the public eye meant our engagements were predisposed for success? I don’t know what it is. But I would like all of us – you, me, the people reading and commenting – to get to a place where we can speak about this in the mutually amicable and extremely helpful space I found with Leon.

I’m not sure we can achieve this with regards to this specific conversation. No doubt another opportunity will arise again. I will continue to hope that when it does, we will be able to frame the conversation through the lens of a mutual conversation in good faith. I will continue to hope that we find that third space.





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2 Responses

  1. I wasn’t involved anywhere as much as others and can’t speak on behalf of other libertarian minded contributors nor Ivo. But although I am from the ‘other side’ on the issue I appreciate the sentiments expressed above and it’s my hope for a more amicable conclusion too. There was certainly wrong behaviour on ‘our side’ too from some and you and others did make other valid counter arguments that did strike home.

    I also agree that all our emotions did become very heated in all of this – I certainly felt it in the writings myself – and recognise that we lost sight on our side of our own unstated goals we strive for and share with yours too – for a better reality for all even if our views and methods differ even while we’re a bit of an atomized individualistic bunch.


  2. I await Mr Vegter’s reply with bated breath. Well done, Michelle.Sometimes we all need to take a breath and recognise the person in the words.