News, Updates, Musings
All too often we assume that there's nothing wrong, or inherently harmful, in not interfering in matters that don't directly involve us. We may even consider it healthy to abstain from doing so. In recovery, after all, we're taught that it's better to keep the focus on ourselves, rather than taking other people's inventory.
Of course there other reasons. If speaking out or intervening would cause unwanted attention or fallout, we'd likely rather just avoid it all together.
When it comes to online bullying, however, I believe that there is a clear moral obligation we have to defuse the situation, most especially if the person being bullied struggles with mental illness. Although I would argue that even a person without mental illness is at risk for potential self harm when being bullied, no matter their age, it is especially urgent that when people with mental illness are being bullied, we intervene to diffuse the situation and make sure the person being bullied is ok.
Our silence is not innocent, it causes real potential harm. It allows a situation to build and build, and the further isolated the person being targeted becomes, the more likely the situation is to possibly take a tragic turn.
In my 6 + years as an editor in the poetry community I have watched, time and again, as a group of very vocal and toxic editors and poets, have engaged in highly unethical and violent mob attacks on often vulnerable individuals who have a history of mental health issues, and my first and only concern has always been for the safety of that individual, irregardless of what their offense may have been. I've made it a point to reach out privately to people who are being bullied online to make sure they are ok and so they know they are not alone. I do this because I myself have been a victim of online bullying within the poetry community that almost tragically ended in suicide, and I don't ever want anyone to feel so alone that they might actually end up leaving this one and only sweet world.
And here's why that's not enough. Because our public silence only allows this problem to perpetuate itself ad infinitum, and eventually it becomes the norm. Would we sit and do nothing to try and help someone if we saw them in immediate danger in daily life? Many do, but we do not consider this the best of our humanity. We're not talking grand heroism here, we're only talking about saying when something is wrong, directly, to the one's doing the wrong. We're talking about making good faith efforts to diffuse and problem solve a situation before it gets out of hand.
But that's not at all what I have witnessed in my time as an editor in the literary community. I've witnessed people not just not intervene when they should, but send very mixed messages about their own ethical priorities by actively supporting the abusive members in our community and, most egregiously, passively and actively participating in the group shunning of vulnerable individuals.
I don't know what it will take for people to be brave and true, but I am exhausted trying to speak to this in the wilderness. My soul is sick and heavy. I have talked with and accompanied people as they were being mentally and emotionally lit on fire by internet mobs, and you know what they say that stays with me most is how alone they feel. And I know exactly what they mean. In fact I ended up not only close to taking my own life when I was being bullied 2 years ago, but also close to relapsing, and that's another huge risk for recovering addicts' who are bullied within our community. As I recently watched a newly recovering addict being bullied online my first prayer was that they not relapse, my second, that they not die.
I am tired of this. I am tired of good people doing nothing. Good people sending mixed messages about their ethical priorities. What do you value? Human life? Mental Health? Recovery? Safety? Human dignity?
My main goal has always been to just try very hard to do the good work I can. To reach out when I can. Offer advice when I can. But most of all, to say when something is wrong, even if it might cost me something to do so. People need to begin prioritizing the safety of others before prioritizing the opportunity to be published in a literary journal run by ruthless bullies.
I almost did not survive what I went through. That should never need to be said by anyone in our community. But I am not geared towards defeat or self pity. This isn't about me, it's about service. I learned it in early recovery: carry the message to the still suffering. You don't ask if someone is deserving of that carrying, you just carry. And if you don't, you are pushing a precious someone down so low that they might not ever get back up again.
I will not be silent. I will not prioritize anyone's comfort over speaking up for victims of bullying. And publishing my poems means absolutely nothing to me if it means not carrying others. Carrying is what we do because to not carry is to crush, is to harm. Are you helping, or are you hurting?
So long as I can provide safe space as the editor of a publication that prioritizes healing, generosity, kindness, repair and recovery, I will continue to do just that. But my career as a poet, I must admit, is over. I'm not interested in publishing poems while people are being beat down every day by people whose voices only get louder and meaner and smaller by way of the soul. There's no place for me in that anymore. My work is in community, in the garden, the tending of wounds, the carrying of messages of hope and care and hospitality, which is always offered to the one whose name and story you cannot know beforehand. That's the risk and nature of the gift. But what you do know is that that knock heard on your door in the dead of night is a query for empathy, for understanding, for a drink of water, a safe place to come in from out of the storm. My God, we only get this one life, why must we insist on getting so much of it so very wrong.
Break the cycle. Be brave. Be true. Unmix your messages, open up your heart, be a warrior for peace and resolution, not a warrior of viral retweets and emotional sharp shooting. Health isn't remaining silent when you see forests of wrong burning all around you, it's rushing in and pulling out those who are on fire. It's bringing water to the burning, a human who is so all alone in it.
Silence is harm. Sound the alarm. Let's do this good work. Because carrying each other is our only 'why.' The only thing worth a goddamn is what you did when no one else around you would. Water the wood, diffuse the fire, bring solutions to the table and plenty of chairs. Circle up, say it true but say it kind. Everything else is a waste of our time.
Speak to it. Speak to it. Just speak.