I’ve been interested to read a few things lately on Twitter about the DOC not being a particularly welcoming environment. I am both saddened and surprised to hear that some feel that way, because I have always found the community to be very, very supportive and welcoming. Perhaps I am fortunate, or perhaps I have just found – and engage with – people who are friendly and happy to embrace new people in the community.

I’m unsure if feeling unwelcome is because there is a sense that the community may be a little like a high school clique. There are people who have known each other many years in this space, so they have a comfortable and easy banter as they share stories and inside jokes. I know that when I started, I was worried about that, but anytime I tried to engage, I found nothing other than friendly responses.

When I first walked into the DOC playground a few years ago now, I was considering starting a blog after years of reading what others were saying about their lives with diabetes. I’d lurked around a few online platforms to see how people interacted and what people said.

Then, one day, I decided I would join a tweet chat, and I tentatively said ‘hello’ to the #DSMA world. The rest is history and now I am a regular contributor and participant – both online and off – in the community.

But it did take me a while to understand the lay of the land and to get a handle on online communication. Trying to adequately put across a point in 140 characters or fewer leaves little room for qualifying comments, so often it’s only the bare bones that can be offered. This can sometimes leave people feeling a little taken aback at the directness of discussions.

I am, by nature, very direct. I take the ‘tell-me-what-I-need-to-know-and-leave-it-at-that’ approach, so Twitter is a perfect platform for me. Say what I want and get out! But I know that sometimes, I come across as being very direct; some may even say confrontational. People who meet me after having only engaged on Twitter say they are surprised that I am a lot warmer in real life that online. (I never know whether to apologise or say thanks to that…)

I had to learn that just because people had differing opinions didn’t mean that they were attacking me, or that I wasn’t welcome in the discussion. In fact, some of the people I respect most in this community are people who I don’t usually agree with. They challenge me to think about things differently and to step out of my comfort zone. I’ve engaged in some really robust and heated discussions about different aspects of diabetes. As long as it is done with respect, (and an understanding that an opposing opinion isn’t a character flaw!), I’m happy to not agree.

And, possibly most importantly, I learnt that I didn’t need to love everyone in the community. I’ve written about that before, and how it came as a huge relief when I realised that I wasn’t going to be friends with everyone; there would be some people I just didn’t really feel any connection to – just as there are many who don’t gel with me.

The DOC is a big community; there are many of us. And when there is a community, there will always be people who are more vocal and more active. But they are not the only people in the community. It really does come down to finding people where there is some sort of synergy, or some way to connect. Just like in real life!

So what’s the take away from this? I hate for people to feel that they can’t be part of the community because they have a different view to others. I have not come across another person in the DOC who I agree with all the time.  But equally, I’ve not ever had someone attack me for having a different opinion to them. (Trolls excluded in that last comment, because trolling is attacking and just not necessary.)

I guess the struggle is that when you have a lot of very passionate people given a microphone and a stage, we get very, very worked up at times and defend our position fervently, challenging those who don’t agree, building alliances with those who do. We can be a vocal bunch, we like to be heard and listened to, and we want to defend, defend, defend what we say. I am guilty – if that is the right word – of being and doing all these things.

But I genuinely do want to hear from everyone. I don’t have to agree, or even like, what you are saying, but I want to hear it. Any community is stronger with diversity of opinion, experience and outlook. And the community is weaker when people do not feel that they are free to share their thoughts.

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