This week, an absolutely horrid thing happened to a friend of mine. In reality, that’s no different than almost any other week. What has stood out in my mind more than anything else this year is the ongoing spats between people over trivial issues, or in some cases out of pure spite and jealousy. In those cases, we tend to see what we saw happen to my friend: a completely unprovoked attack.
And I was uncharacteristically silent.
As I’ve said before, I don’t do particularly well when friends are attacked. I also don’t do particularly well with conflict. Evil Kev says I love to fight, but he’s mistaken. I love to fight with him. There’s a distinct difference. Fighting is part of the spousal job description.
But no matter how sincere the intention to keep issues to issues and the personal to personal, the lines tend to get blurred. And in the most recent example I’m thinking of, there was no effort to keep it objective. It was a blatant personal attack, the accuser hiding behind the veil of anonymity.
Big surprise. One by one I’ve left forums, lists and even some blogs because of that type of behaviour. Also, because I’m aware of my own weakness when it comes to standing up for someone I feel is being unfairly pushed around. But the emotional cost is high. On the one hand, I feel horrid for not standing up for people when they’re attacked. To be blunt, I think that’s pretty shitty. If you call yourself a friend, there are certain things you do, and standing with friends is one of them.
Unfortunately, that often means standing against someone, and there’s a cost there as well.
Whenever a person takes a stand, they’re going to have people who dislike them for it. People will disagree. And the more honest a person is about their opinions, the greater the chances they’ll ruffle some feathers. I doubt there’s a person reading this who doesn’t know of at least one conflict I’ve been in in the public domain.
Part of me wishes I could just be a smile. You know what I mean. The person who smiles and stays silent when the mudslinging starts. But then, I never feel comfortable with most of those people. They conceal all their opinions. In order to maintain an amiable public image they stand for nothing and nobody and even if a person’s attacked unjustly they’ll keep their nose clean. I never know what those people stand for, other than themselves.
There are people I disagree with about almost everything who I have more respect for, because at least they put their name behind their views and are passionate enough to express them.
But this week… this week I started seeing things differently. I got thinking about hiding. Just walking away for a while. Taking a break, being invisible. I go through this every few months (believe it or not) and sometimes it lasts a day and sometimes a few. This time, it’s been about a week.
Seeing a friend get hurt didn’t help. I felt so much rage I couldn’t see straight. And then there was the sense of powerlessness. There was nothing I could do that would fix things for my friend.
Why is it the path to hate, to division, to judgment and mudslinging is so much easier than the path to camaraderie, friendship, happiness?
Much of the time, I wonder what I’m doing here. I’m not a particularly funny person, so my blog lacks that entertainment value. There are others who whine better, others who report better, and others who do a better job dishing their opinions.
Plus, my life is actually pretty boring.
When I get in one of these modes, what I really start to think is that the only thing I’m doing here is being an idiot, because I’m opening myself up for personal attack from people who don’t like my opinions or decide they don’t like me.
When you put yourself out there, in any capacity, you can be subjected to criticism. There are people who will like your books. There are others who won’t. Some will appreciate the short stories. Others, well, not for them. Some people will like you. And others won’t. Industries being what they are you can be ‘in’ today and ‘out’ tomorrow.
I don’t particularly like that level of vulnerability. And after seeing the spats, the attacks and feeling my own anger and frustration at some things said, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to insulate myself.
And then I remember that a big part of the reason I started this blog was for my own discipline, to write something on a regular basis, and to try to stick to one cohesive train of thought (which is a challenge for me). And part of the reason I’ve kept on with it is for the readers who email and tell me how much they (for whatever reason) enjoy the blog.
There have actually been so many spats and squabbles within our community this year that I’ve had to remember that those we see on the internet are but a small section of the community at large. Most of my emails come from people who’ve never commented here, but read in relative silence. Most of the people who read books don’t participate on lists or forums. And only a fraction of the authors in the genre are active online.
It’s the one bit of truth expressed in a cruel, cold attack. Blogs aren’t life. The internet isn’t life. But I also don’t think anyone here believes it is. This is just a way to keep up with people, to stay in touch, know what’s going on. Most of the blogs I read these days are written by friends – Angie, Amra, Vincent, James, Stuart, Mindy, Anne, Patti, etc. etc. etc. I want to know how they’re doing more than anything else.
And I think when reading stuff online gets me to the point where I’m angry, it’s as good a time as any to pull the plug and just stop reading those sources. Sometimes I have to get it out of my system here, but it is true that most of these ‘arguments’ can’t be won. People aren’t interested in genuine discussion – they’re interested in propping up their hobby horses.
Well, I suppose I have to give them the credit due for actually standing for something. But I’ve come to the point where I have a new respect for the silent smilers I was criticizing earlier. Sure, some may be only about their image and be the type who hoists a flag and follows the winds of popularity on any given day…
But some are people who are smart enough to know that most of these disagreements can't be resolved. And the cost is time, sanity and emotional energy that’s better invested elsewhere.
As much as I've been saddened by some who've stopped blogging (and been annoyed at others who've bullied people until they quit) what matters most is that my friends are comfortable with their decision. They'll have my love and support, even if I miss seeing them here.