When Online is Out of Line: An Interesting Discovery

Soon enough my two-week enforced break period was up and I returned to the forum. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t returned. It would have saved me further drama, trauma and heartache. But hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

In fact, during my break Bernadette asked me if I thought I would ever leave the board. I replied “I think I might get banned eventually or the board might shut down” so clearly at that point I could not contemplate leaving.

I though of some things to say to the moderators and to the people who attacked me about the things they had said and done in my absence but in the end I did not say a word to them about it. I realized it wouldn’t do any good because they obviously knew how much they had hurt me and they obviously did not care. By responding angrily I would be giving those people exactly what they wanted. Instead I focused on thanking the people who had said things about me that were helpful or supportive.

As you may recall, the character I call Marcia was the one who said the nastiest things of all about me. Naturally this made her the subject of a lot of the conversation between Bernadette and I and naturally it made us curious about her. Bernadette asked me if I’d ever looked her up on social media. When I replied that I hadn’t she looked her up herself and shared what she found with me.

We had fun snarking on Marcia’s pictures and creating lolMarcia memes. I know it’s not very nice to make fun of anyone’s physical appearance because they can’t help the way they look but Marcia can help the way she treats people so I was pleased to discover that she’s as ugly on the outside as she is on the inside. And her fashion choices certainly don’t help matters.

Then Bernadette snooped on Marcia some more and discovered something interesting. Remember how Marcia accused me of lying about my identity? Well, it turns out she was being dishonest about her own identity.  Internet sleuthing revealed that her first name wasn’t Marcia as she claimed, her middle name wasn’t Ruth as she claimed and her last name wasn’t Jackson as she claimed.

If it seems weird that one would reveal one’s full name on an internet message board and weird that we would care that she was lying about her name, remember that this was a board about names. Marcia talked constantly about how she hated it when people spelled her name Marsha, pronounced it Mar-see-uh and made Marcia Brady references. She talked about how radical she was for keeping her maiden name of Jackson when she got married back in the 70’s. It turned out she’d actually taken her husband’s name of Green when she got married.

She also talked about how much she hated her sister’s middle name, Veruka.  It turns out Veruka is her own middle name and that the sister she calls Airlie appears not to exist. I suppose it’s possible that she just didn’t include her sister on her online family tree (that gave the option of listing a relative but making their name and information private) for whatever reason but despite the ninja’s previous advice, I’m not too inclined to give Marcia the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Let me make it clear that I have no issue with anyone using pseudonyms for the sake of privacy. In fact I’m using pseudonyms for everyone on this blog (I’m even using pseudonyms for pseudonyms-Marcia is not the name the asshole known as Marcia claimed to have) except Airlie, because there’s something very Freudian and funny about having a sister named Airlie who’s a lie you pulled out of the air.

What I do have a problem with is someone having the nerve to claim to have no tolerance for lying of any kind and to accuse others of lying about their identity with no evidence to back it up, when they are lying about their own identity. I wasn’t the only one she took to task for supposedly lying. She once chewed someone out for lying by referring to her friend’s son as her nephew. Funny, considering there’s a good chance her own nieces don’t exist at all. She said she did not think it was okay to lie about names on the forum. Funny, considering she had been lying about names on the forum for years.

The forum in general had a low tolerance for lying. It was made clear that you could choose not to reveal your name or your location but that if you lied about your name, location or pretty much anything else, you would be banned. Many people were banned for lying-sometimes for things like names, dates and locations, other times for things like fake children, fake deaths and fake stories. My personal favorite was the woman who was banned for pretending her dog was a human child.

Members of the board would go to great lengths to root out lies of other members through internet detective work and would take great delight in outing them for their dishonesty on the board. The person who lied would then be banned and the person who exposed them would be hailed as a hero.

The board rules stated that if you suspected someone of lying you could either contact a moderator about it or start a thread to out them.

“So, what are you going to do with the information you found about Marcia?” I asked Bernadette.

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why is a popular and controversial Netflix series that deals with the issue of suicide, which in a way is also popular and controversial. It’s based on the book of the same name.  I’ve read the book and seen the show so I figured I should share my thoughts on them.

Since my reviews tend to get long winded I’m going to start by answering three important questions in the most succinct way possible.

Is Thirteen Reasons Why a good book? No

Is Thirteen Reasons Why a good show? Yes

Does Thirteen Reasons Why glorify suicide? Yes

The story was an interesting one and it held my attention the whole time so I’ll give the book that much but Jay Asher is just not a good writer. It’s a good thing he had a decent editor. At the end of book the original ending of the story before the editor changed it was printed. It was so bad and ridiculous I found myself cringing in second hand embarrassment.

Movies based on books are almost never as good as the books but in my experience shows based on books tend to be better than the books. I wasn’t all that impressed with the book Orange is the New Black (although compared to Thirteen Reasons Why it’s a masterpiece) but I love the Netflix series (although I think it may have jumped the shark at season 5.) The series added all kinds of intriguing details and scenarios that weren’t in the book.

While I wouldn’t say I loved the Netflix version of Thirteen Reasons Why, I did like it.  Just like the Netflix version of Orange is the New Black, it touched on all kinds of details that the book just barely skimmed the surface of. Most notably we got to know the suicide victim’s parents and they filed a lawsuit against the school.

The lawsuit angle raises the question of how much responsibility other people have for someone’s suicide both legally and morally. Obviously the suicide victim is the one who chose to commit suicide and no one else forced them in to it but if you actively encourage someone to commit suicide, it seems pretty clear to me that you’re responsible for their death.  Recently there was a news story about a girl who was charged with manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide and I agreed with that verdict.

What’s less clear is how responsible you are for a suicide victim’s death if you don’t encourage them to commit suicide but make their life a living hell.  In Thirteen Reasons Why this is what the school bullies did to Hannah. The story also explores the ways in which well meaning people who love the suicide victim can contribute to their death, not only through their actions but through their inaction. Most of the people on Hannah’s thirteen reasons why tapes were people who treated her cruelly but the main character, Clay,  had treated her kindly and cared about her.

There has been much concern that Thirteen Reasons Why glorifies suicide and I’ll get to that shortly but there was another aspect of it I found concerning that I haven’t seen anyone talk about. There’s a scene where Hannah and Clay start making out and Hannah freaks out and tells Clay to go away. He does so. It’s later revealed that Hannah told Clay to go away because she was scared but she really wanted him to stay and it’s suggested that if he had, maybe she wouldn’t have committed suicide. Clay regrets listening to Hannah and leaving the room rather than continuing to touch and talk to her.

I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea from that scene and think that it’s okay to continue to touch and talk to someone who’s asked you to stop. If someone has asked you to stop touching and talking to them, the proper thing to do is to listen to them, even if you suspect they really want you to continue. In this world of rape culture it is so important to take people at their word and not do anything to them that they haven’t consented to. I’m not going to say that the show glorifies rape or touching people without their consent though because Hannah’s rape and her witnessing of someone else’s rape factor heavily into her decision to commit suicide.

I do think that Thirteen Reasons Why glorifies suicide, not because it makes suicide seem pleasant or admirable but because it sends the message that suicide is a way to be noticed, to get your voice heard, to make the people who wronged you feel bad about what they did, to make them suffer for it.  The people who wronged Hannah didn’t seem to feel bad about what they did or realize how much they’d hurt her until she killed herself. They also were not held accountable for their actions until she killed herself.

For people who are not depressed and who are respected and treated well by their peers, I think the message this story sends is a good one and that it has the potential to influence their behavior in a positive manner. If you hold the social power, you should use that power to be kind to others, rather than to be unkind because you never know what kind of a battle someone is fighting or what effect your actions could have on them. Yet I have serious concerns about the effect this story could have on a depressed, tormented, socially rejected adolescent. Those are the people who feel powerless and this story presents suicide as a way to gain power.

Another criticism I’ve seen of Thirteen Reasons Why is that it portrays suicide as a revenge tactic and that stigmatizes people who commit suicide. There was certainly an element of revenge to Hannah’s suicide but I did not get the impression that was her sole or even her primary motivation for ending her life. Her suicide scene was graphic and maybe if I hadn’t heard about it beforehand I would have been shocked and horrified by it but I’d heard so much criticism of it beforehand that it ended up not being as graphic as I was expecting it to be.

I had a lot of sympathy for Hannah but I did not find her to be an entirely likable character. However, I do not see Hannah’s flaws as a flaw in the story. I don’t think someone needs to be a perfect angel in order for their suicide to be a tragedy or for us to mourn the loss of them. The truth is that if someone is suicidal or suffering from mental illness, there’s a good chance they will behave badly, that they’ll do things that others find hurtful and off- putting. That does not mean the suicidal person is a bad person.

It is often said that suicide is selfish. I don’t think that’s a fair criticism because while it’s true that suicide is devastating to the surviving loved ones, the mind of a severely depressed person can convince them that they are so horrible and such a burden to everyone around them, that they are doing their loved ones a favor by killing themselves.

I can personally relate to this story on multiple levels. I’ve never attempted suicide and I’m not sure that I’ve ever been truly suicidal but I have been severely depressed and had thoughts of wanting to die. I wasn’t bullied or ostracized by my peer group much as a child or an adolescent but I was as an adult.  The bullying did not make me suicidal but it did damage me emotionally. I’m not sure that the people who bullied me realized how badly they were hurting me or that they thought of what they were doing to me as bullying.

I’d like to say that I’ve never bullied or been cruel to anyone but that would be a lie. The truth is that when I was in high school my friends and I played a cruel prank on a girl who was emotionally vulnerable. Our prank did not result in the girl’s suicide but I know that it could have. In fact when the teachers found out about our prank we were required to write a play to show that we learned our lesson and I proved that by writing a play about our prank that did result in a suicide attempt. A few years later there was a news story about an adult who played the same kind of prank on a teenage girl and it resulted in her suicide.

The prank I participated in was not something I ever would have done on my own but people tend to be influenced by their peers and to do cruel things in groups that they wouldn’t do individually.  This was an extensive prank that went on for months and there were times when I did feel guilty about my participation in it but I always brushed that guilt aside. I told myself it was just a silly prank so it wasn’t really bullying and surely it wouldn’t hurt her that badly and if it did she deserved it because she”d been mean to me and she wasn’t a very nice person and….we can always think of ways to try to justify cruel, bullying behavior but at the end of the day there really is no justification for it.

As I said before, you never know the kind of effect your actions will have on someone else, whether they be acts of kindness or acts of cruelty. Something that seems insignificant to you could have a profound impact on someone else. At the end of the day, unless you’re a psychopath, you don’t want someone else’s blood on your hands so play it safe and don’t be an ass.  If you see someone being an ass to someone else stand up to them and reach out to the victim.

As Thirteen Reasons Why proves, cruelty and indifference to cruelty can have devastating consequences. I can only hope that the predominant consequence of Thirteen Reasons Why will be a decrease in cruelty in the real world, rather than an increase in suicide.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent

Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Now I’m going to say that if you have given someone your consent to make you feel inferior, do not be afraid to withdraw your consent and do not be afraid to let that person know that you have withdrawn your consent.

People who bully you and personally attack you want to have power over you. Refuse to let them have power over you.

You can try to reason with the bullies. You can try to show them how wrong what they’re doing to you is. You can try to reason with the higher ups, try to convince them how wrong what the bullies are doing to you is, try to bring the bullies to justice.

Unfortunately that is often a lost cause though. It is often a complete waste of your time and energy. Often times the bullies will never admit that what they’re doing to you is wrong because they are incapable of doing so or are unwilling to do so. Sometimes they realize that what they’re doing is wrong but they just don’t care. Sometimes no matter how well reasoned the argument you make is or how convincing it seems, the bullies will just find a way to dismiss it, mock it and turn your words against you. Sometimes the higher ups will do the same thing and refuse to intervene on your behalf because for whatever reason they are invested in protecting the bullies, not in protecting you.

Once you realize the bullies are never going to change their behavior or the way they view you, you need to work on changing your own behavior and the way you view yourself.

Bullies will pick on you for your supposed flaws and defects.You do have flaws that other people may find bothersome but so do the people who are picking on you.They are picking on your flaws because they are insecure about their own flaws. They may be projecting their own flaws on to you. They may be jealous of you for some reason. For example they may accuse you of lying and being deceitful because they realize that you are honest and genuine in a way that they are not.

Do not work on changing your supposed flaws and defects in order to please the bullies.There is no pleasing bullies.If your flaws and defects are pointed out in a mean spirited or condescending way that makes you feel bad by people who never point out your strengths and never make you feel good about yourself, then those people are not trying to help you. They are trying to hurt you and humiliate you.

Do not think that if you work on changing what they’re supposedly bothered  by or give in to their demands they will stop picking on you. The bullies do not want to stop picking on you. If you work on fixing one of your supposed flaws and giving in to one of their demands they will find a new flaw to pick on you for and make new demands.

Work on changing your actual flaws and defects for the sake of yourself and the people who care about you. If the people who care about you, the people who often make you feel good and point out your strengths, point out flaws that you have the power to change and they do so in a constructive manner, then it’s worth taking what they say in to consideration. Doing so will help them and it will help you.

You probably will be hurt by the the mean things people say and do.If you’re human it’s pretty hard not to be hurt by insults, personal attacks and nasty rumor spreading. It’s pretty hard not to feel hurt by social rejection and alienation.However, for all the hurtful comments that are made about you and all the hurtful things that are done to you, keep saying to yourself “Those comments and those actions are a reflection on those people, not a reflection on me.”

When people try to make you feel inferior with their hurtful words and actions, let their words have the opposite effect. Realize that you are kinder, smarter and more self aware than those people will ever be.

The common wisdom given is to just ignore the bullies, not engage with them, don’t give them the attention they crave. That’s good advice but I know that it’s a lot easier said than done. Sometimes you cannot avoid the bullies because you have to be where they are. Sometimes you want to be where they are because you also have friends, loved ones or people you like there. Sometimes you’re able to ignore them for a while but they just keep poking and prodding at you until eventually you snap.

Even if you are able to completely ignore the bullies, even if you are able to cut them out of your life, even if you no longer interact with them at all, even if you no longer read or listen to their hurtful comments, the bullies may still try to exert power over you. Once they realize you no longer care what they think of you, they may try to manipulate the image other people have of you. They may try to convince the people who like you and think well of you that they are wrong about you, that they need to realize just how awful you are. They may directly or indirectly exert pressure on your friends to stop being friends with you. They may directly or indirectly exert pressure on your friends to betray you and reveal information that you shared with them in confidence.

If a friend ditches you or betrays you because of the bullies, this can hurt more than anything the bullies ever said or did to you themselves. Once again you have to realize that what those friends did to you is a reflection of who they are, not a reflection of who you are. As much as you’re going to miss those friends, if they’re the kind of people who would do something like that to you, you’re better off without them in your life.

The problem is that while bullying makes you desperately in need a network of people who will support you and encourage you, it also makes it very hard for you to create and maintain such a support network. Bullying takes a huge toll on your self esteem. It makes you feel helpless,hopeless, worthless, depressed, ashamed and fearful. As much as you try to tell yourself otherwise, you can’t help but suspect that the bullies might be right about you, that you deserved to be treated the way you were.

Being bullied by one person is hard enough, being bullied by a large group of people is overwhelming. Unfortunately bullies do tend to draw their strength in numbers. If that’s the way so many people feel about you and treat you, you can’t help but wonder if that’s the way everyone feels about you and that’s the way everyone’s going to treat you.

Reaching out to people after you’ve been bullied can be a terrifying prospect. It can feel pointless and it can feel dangerous. What if you’re judged for what happened to you? What if when you talk about what happened, the bullies decide to retaliate against you? Even if people do befriend you, what if they decide to ditch you and betray you, either because they’re influenced by the bullies or because they’ve discovered all the flaws in you that the bullies discovered?  What if you’re only setting yourself up for further hurt?

Reaching out to people after you’ve been bullied and reaching out to people in general is always a risk. There’s always a chance that the people you reach out to will reject you, betray, judge you, be unkind to you. They might even end up bullying you.It’s a risk worth taking though.

The way the bullies feel about you and the way they treated you is not the way everyone feels about you and it’s not the way everyone’s going to treat you. It’s probably not even the way most people or the world in general feels about you or is going to treat you.

If you look hard enough you will find people who accept you and appreciate you for who you are. You will find people who are true friends, the kind of friends who will support you and encourage you, the kind of friends who will stand by your side through the good times and the bad times, who will not allow themselves to be influenced by the nasty things other people say about you or the pressure other people exert on them.

Some people deal with the pain they feel and experience by causing other people pain. Do not become of one of those people. Do not be like the people who bullied you. Create something positive out of your negative experience by using it to become a better, more compassionate person.

Reach out to other people who have been bullied. Stand up for people you see being bullied. Recognize and reflect on the tactics that were used to bully you and make you feel alienated. Make sure you do not behave in a way that could contribute to someone else being bullied and alienated, even if it will win you favor with other people. Choose being kind over being popular.

Bullies pick on people in an attempt to feel better about themselves but that is not going to make them truly happy. As Robert Green Ingersoll said “The way to be happy is to make others so.”

On the surface bullies seem brave and bold but deep down bullies are really cowards. If you stand up to them and your friends stand up to them they might back down. If these bullies are people you have to interact with than a direct approach might be best but if you don’t have to interact with them they’re not even worth addressing directly. Take away the power they have over you by ignoring the nasty things they say about you and not letting them get to you. Their opinion of you really doesn’t matter. The people in your life who do matter know the truth about you.

Bullies will come up with all kinds of justifications as to why they’re bullying you. They may claim they’re treating you that way because you’re annoying, rude, crazy, ugly, stupid etc, but none of those reasons are the real reason they are treating you like that. The real reason they are treating you badly is because they perceive you as being vulnerable. Show those people that while you may be vulnerable, you are not defenseless.

 

National Bullying Prevention Month

I must apologize to all my loyal readers. It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. I’ve been working on a piece of writing that has been taking me a long time to complete. In the meantime, October arrived and it came to my attention that October is national bullying prevention month. Therefore I decided to write a Facebook status about bullying.

I realized that the people who bullied me would not read that status because I have blocked them on Facebook. However, I know that those people are reading my blog. On Facebook I sent friend requests to some people who did not bully me but who were associated with the bullies. Some of those people accepted my friend requests but some of those people misinterpreted the intent of my friend requests and blocked me because they believed the things the bullies said about me. It is truly their loss, not mine but maybe those people are reading this blog too.

However, it is not just for their benefit or the benefit of the people who bullied me that I am posting my Facebook status here. It is for the benefit of anyone who has ever been a victim of bullying, anyone who has ever been a perpetrator of bullying and anyone who is interested in hearing my thoughts about bullying:

It has come to my attention that it is national bullying prevention month. People are being encouraged to come forward with their stories of bullying. I know that some people will be hesitant to come forward with their stories because they will question whether what was done to them was truly bullying. When stories of bullying are put forth, some other people will question whether what was done to them was truly bullying.

They might say things like “What was done to you was rude, insensitive, mean, and maybe it was even cruel but it wasn’t truly bullying. Those people said mean things and called you names but they didn’t hurt you or threaten you. Let’s reserve the term bullying for incidences where people are seriously injured or threatened.”

Words, whether they are spoken, written or typed are powerful. They are used by bullies to harm, humiliate and intimidate their victims. They are used to alienate their victims and make them feel inferior. Those bullies may not be threatening your physical well being but they are threatening your emotional well being.

There are a lot of bullshit excuses and justifications given for bullying and if I went in to all of them I’d use up all of the bandwidth on Facebook but some of the most common ones are 1.You deserve to be treated this way because of something you did to annoy me or because you’re not conforming to my standards! 2. The things I’m saying about you are true! 3. You’re just overreacting! What I said to you wasn’t that bad!

1. Being annoyed by someone not conforming to your standards is not a valid reason to treat someone badly. There really is no valid reason to treat someone badly.

2. Just because someone thinks something is true, doesn’t mean it is true. Just because a lot of people think something is true, doesn’t mean it’s true. Even if what those people are saying about you is true that doesn’t mean it’s okay for them to say it. If it’s not kind and it’s not necessary it should not be said

3a. It’s usually best to trust your instincts. Sometimes someone will inadvertently say something that hurts your feelings, apologize for what they said and not say anything like that ever again. If you are still holding on to petty grudges or butthurt over something like that, then you need to build a bridge and get over it.

3b .However, if someone repeatedly calls you names and repeatedly makes abusive remarks about your character or your life circumstances, you are absolutely being bullied. If they are sharing those comments with other people, trying to convince other people to perceive you in that way, trying to convince other people to gang up on you and make similar comments to you, then you are absolutely being bullied. If you feel unable to stand up to those people, unable to prevent them from saying those things to you, unable to prevent their comments from affecting your life because those people have some kind of power over you, wherever that power may come from, then you are absolutely being bullied.

When people are invited to share their personal experiences with bullying, there will inevitably be some people who will share experiences that are not truly bullying. However, I am far more concerned about the people who truly experienced bullying but who will not come forward with their stories because the people who were supposed to protect them from bullying denied the validity of their experiences and their perceptions of those experiences, thus making excuses for the bullying and perpetuating the bullying. I am far more concerned about the people who will come forward with their experiences of bullying and will then have the validity of their experiences and the perceptions of those experiences denied by people who are supposed to be supportive of them, thus making excuses for bullying and perpetuating further bullying.

If we can’t accept that repeated name calling and abusive remarks made by people with some sort of power to someone who is in some way vulnerable is truly bullying, then can we please have a cruelty and insensitivity prevention month?