Soapbox Saturday #4: To Ruin or Not to Ruin A Career – Reflections of Social Media Interaction, Lies, and “Bullying”

Hey guys, Rose here and I promised that my theme days would start back in the New Year, I just wasn’t sure when that would be given a crazy schedule and adjusting to the first few weeks of 2013.  I’m happy to say that I’ve found a flow and  I hope everyone’s had a new year so far and that you’re reaching whatever endeavors you’ve set out to accomplish.  I have a New Year’s Resolutions post coming next Friday for my first Fit Friday entry, so if you guys are interested in seeing what I’m up to this year, feel free to take a look at that.

All right, so considering I haven’t written a Soapbox Saturday entry since July 2012, it’s a little weird, I’ll admit, to be jumping from a topic I started in my very last entry after quite some time, but the matter in point – it’s getting worse.  I’m not going to be talking all that much about Stop the GR Bullies as much in this post (I think there are people who pretty much sum up everything about that site that I could possibly expound upon and then some ), maybe touching on them a bit because I think the conversation does include them being a major contributor to the problem, but there are other directions I want to take with this conversation, including more expansions on bullying, social media interactions, and a new dimension to this conversation – lies.

This is, for me, a discussion not stemming from just one incident, but several that’s happened in the past year and even just as recently as a few days ago (unfortunately to a fellow Goodreads and blogger friend who’s still trying to contend with this author twisting the situation around. She accounts the situation in her own words here.)

Let’s Talk about Bul-ly-ing, Let’s Talk About You and Me…

So the conversation ultimately comes back to talking about the definitions of what bullying is and how best to deal with it.  I’m actually shocked and appalled at some of the definitions that I’ve personally seen flying around on the web, but sadly, it’s a reality that reflects a larger part of perceptions that are more widespread in our society than we think.

Now, I want people to know something – I’m not going to be the kind of person that tries to put a label on what a person is hurt or offended by.  Words and actions hurt people, that’s a given, there are different levels of it that go around, just as much as there are people with different tolerance levels.  We also choose to fight back in our own ways against those matters which hurt us.  But how do you know what the right way to fight is, particularly to stop the matter in its tracks and to ensure that others aren’t hurt in the same ways along the line?  How do you deal with being a victim of bullying?

I’ve been bullied in multiple parts of my life.  I’ve been fortunate in the matter, even if in some cases, the bullying did eventually impact me in some ways and I’ve had to come to my own coming-to-terms in the aftermath of them.  For the most part, I’ve been fortunate to have a strong support group among my family and circles of friends in different stages to get me through that.  Most of the time, the people who bullied me were never in my direct social circles, so in many cases it was easier for me to distance myself from it – particularly the verbal bullying.  Not to say that it didn’t hurt like hell, but I’d walk away or push through it depending on the matter that came across.  I was bullied over the color of my skin, my weight, my height, the shape of my face (I’m still shaking my head over that nitpick in particular, because that was just a weird set of conversations), my given name (which some people confuse with an alcoholic beverage), my body in general (you would be surprised how many people will pick at armpit and leg hair, no matter how minuscule), or even for just perceptions of my being like my demeanor and goals.  And when I say bully – I’m not talking about one or two conversations or incidents – I’m talking about several encounters that just kept going on and on for quite some time – weeks, months.  The physical bullying encounters weren’t easy to walk away from, such as being shoved against lockers or having to help a loved one who got stabbed in the leg with a pencil.   Or even holding a friend back from hitting another person who took their attacks to more extremes in the verbal spectrum of things.  Those incidents I can speak from my personal experiences about, but there have been even more horrifying examples of bullying I’ve seen in the larger spectrum of things.

I don’t even know where to begin with trying to understand what makes people do those kinds of things to others, including the more extreme examples that have been seen in society with more tragic consequences – why people think it’s funny or necessary to videotape someone undressing in a locker room or kissing (or more intimate encounters) and then pick it apart on Youtube.   Why people feel the need to reveal personal details about other people on the web so that they can be stalked and harassed and even to the point where some have committed suicide.  When I think of bullying, i think of both the subtle and overt acts of things, in multiple encounters, in multiple incidences, with the intention of causing harm and ultimately as an assertion of power of that individual (or group of individuals) in the ability to harm.

That’s not to say, however, that I think some bullies aren’t victims in themselves.  It’s a vicious cycle.  There are some bullies who have been bullied and abused themselves and think the only way to fight back is to use the same words, same actions, same kind of behavior that was forced upon their persons and hurt them.  It’s not an easy thing to put a label to because every incident of bullying that we see (or don’t see) the dimensions to has its own considerations, and those need to be addressed individually.

I think the one thing we can all agree on is that bullying of any sort is not an issue to be ignored.  It should be discussed and dealt with so that the cycle doesn’t continue, that more people aren’t hurt and that we know and continue to promote respect towards others.  Just as well, however, we can’t simply throw around the “bully” term so casually that it becomes a buzzword for every disagreement we may have, because it shortchanges the struggles of people who are bullied in and of their person.  Disagreements, it seems, tend to be running around pretty rampant as of late, particularly where there’s a distinct divide in opinions on certain matters at hand.  I’ve seen that a lot around the web in discussions as of late and it boils my blood, because there are some people who think criticizing someone’s work is equal to come of the actions I’ve mentioned above.  There are some people who think that saying someone is “unprofessional” by the course of actions they take and the words that they say is equal to some of the incidents I mentioned above.  That, to me, is completely missing the mark on so many levels.

Let’s make this clear, right here right now – A negative opinion of  a book or work of media,  disapproval of a person’s actions or behavior,  or an expressed disapproval on a matter being discussed is NOT bullying.

I really appreciated hearing the stories in Bazelon’s “Sticks and Stones” – it gave a close eye to the conflicts of the students being bullied in a number of different dimensions and the responses on a familial, school, and community level, as well as offered insights and resources for people to peruse. “Sticks and Stones” will be released in February 2013.

A while back, I had the pleasure of reading an ARC copy of an upcoming non-fiction book called “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy” by Emily Bazelon. It talks specifically on several case studies surrounding children whose lives were changed with respect to the bullying they endured while at school, and the parties that were involved surrounding those incidents – some of it was in-person bullying, some cyberbullying/stalking.  It was an eye opening read, one that I’ll be sharing a review on as the release date approaches, but it expressed so many dimensions of those particular incidents and the parties involved that I applauded what Bazelon did with the matter, and the way she presented it.  I think it’s a book that not only every parent should read in consideration with their child, but every adult who wants to look into the eye of what bullying is and how we should deal with it.

First, we have to realize that bullying is a prevalent matter and we have to educate against it – have people understand its root and knock it down.  The root isn’t simply at the level of one person or group of people, but a mentality that needs to be addressed.  We also have to understand that we can’t equate bullying to what our society can term our “critical culture”, where we speak out on the matters we observe in our society and juxtapose it to our moral senses, our experiences, our thoughts and ideas.  They’re two totally separate matters, and people seem to think that somehow if we are expressing critical ideas or thoughts that somehow that leans into “bullying” or “moving to ruin one’s career,” the latter in consideration with expressing disapproval when it comes to an author or someone a part of the media spectrum.  NO.  Absolutely not, you can’t make that kind of comparison.  There’s a distinct difference between attacking someone’s person pervasively and the expression of critical speech.

This is kind of where I move a little into the discussion of Stop the GR Bullies in general because they’re using “bullying” as a buzzword – a trigger for contentions, not as a point of construction.  If anything, I think what they’re doing to the definition of and presentation of dealing with “bullying” is a harmful practice, and ultimately it has not only led to more of an antagonistic culture and perception surrounding the discussions of bullying, but it’s also upsetting on a number of other different levels when it comes to the portrayal of free speech online, of what “libel” actually is and its legal terms, and the portrayal of social media interactions at large and the nature of understanding and dealing with them.

Bullying is the kind of topic we can’t afford to divide ourselves upon into temples of  “…I’m right and you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”  (If you recognized that line from the movie version of “Matilda” – with Danny Devito speaking them, you are my hero/heroine.  I loved that movie adaptation.)  We have to open up the discussion platform and educate people on the dimensions of it are and how to deal with it.  Which means not twisting its definition around to individuals who don’t want to take responsibility to the things they say and do – more on that in a little while).  Taking sides, labeling people without taking into consideration the measure of personal responsibility for actions, words, and the like isn’t going to cut it.

Words and Taking Responsibility – Coming to Terms vs. “Crying Wolf”

Here’s a scenario for you:  and this is a general one that led me to the reason for writing this post this week because I’ve not seen one, not two, but at least ten different times this scenario has happened in the past year and it always drives me up the wall.   Not just because it misrepresents the entire situation, but ultimately it’s a cycle that typically does not end well.

Let’s say we have a reader who’s on a book community like Goodreads, Shelfari or Librarything.  Surprisingly, I’ve only heard of one incident like this happening on LT, but I never saw what happened or what became of it.  I think it’s happened the most on GR not only for the size of the community, but just the kind of attention that shelf-names tend to get over there.  So said reader keeps a record over all the books they plan to read, have read, have reviewed, have not finished, or just simply will not read, among other matters.  And that’s perfectly fine.  They’re keeping their shelves named the way they want as they have a right to.  One person out of maybe more than 10 million people, even if there are several “to-read” and read with reviews going across the board from 1 to 5 stars.

One scenario has an author of the said book shelved in a way they do not like (whether they have written the book or were a part of writing the book).  They approach the reader/reviewer and say “I don’t like the way you shelved my book – why did you shelve my book that way?!”  Reader responds  “That’s my right,” and sometimes expands upon it being about one matter or the other.  Author gets into argument not just with the person they engaged initially, but also the group of friends who see this conversation going on in their feeds.  A bunch of people jump in to offer their opinions and tell the author (some very constructively, some a little more impassioned) that they’re wrong.  Some people who side with the author jump into the fray and it starts an even larger argument.  The whole thread leaves the author feeling frazzled and mass deleting every comment they ever made in an attempt to backtrack, but the comments keep coming because of the initial reaction (or even more offensive commentary that followed) that “ignited the spark” so to speak.

The author leaves the conversation, goes on another social media platform that’s more “privatized” (not really) like Facebook or Twitter, and proceeds to say “Help!  I’m being bullied!  Some nasty reviewer said something bad about me and all these people are attacking me and my books now!”

And my response is side-eyeing that author,  because they’re sharing false information on their social media platform.

Look, it’s a given that no author is going to like the way their book is shelved, reviewed, or what have you.  It’s even a given that an author may not like the things that are said about them in a public spectrum.  They have the right to defend themselves, but I think a key element of going into any conversation is owning up to what you say and taking responsibility for that – that commands more respect than the whole denial and “pretend it never happened” or “blame whomever” mentality.  Your opinion is your opinion, you have a right to that, just as much as other people have the right to agree or disagree with you.  But when you come into a conversation antagonizing another person, then get alarmed when other people start saying you’re wrong, then you mass delete your comments and completely twist the situation on another social media network thinking that no one else is going to find out what you said – it’s appalling to say the least.  It’s puerile behavior.  It’s crying wolf.   Rule of thumb: don’t say anything in a social media spectrum you’re not going to own up to or answer for in the longer spectrum of things. It would be the same way if you were in person and making the same kinds of statements, you have to take responsibility either way.  It’s fine if your opinion changes – we all change over time and with exposure and our respective experiences and that’s fine.  If you do end up saying something in the past or present states that you don’t feel the same way about- address it.  Don’t hide it.  If you don’t feel the same way now, own up to it.  If you offended people, and you really mean it – apologize.  Why try to bury it?  Or even further, why would you try to twist the situation around and lie about it?

Sense that does not make.

There are some people who do this because they don’t want to admit they were wrong.  That they think they need support in a scenario where they don’t think they were wrong.  I don’t really know what goes into the level of denial that some carry with that, but seriously?  You don’t really fool anyone but yourself in that spectrum.  I know there’s the saying that goes that the internet never forgets, and that’s…actually true.  Because while it’s not like some of us watch what’s going on with the web 24/7 (we don’t have time for that), there’s always someone on some plane that sees something you say, and thinks “Wait a minute, what is going on?” And then it becomes a record for all to see regardless of how you try to shape the situation afterwards.

There have been incidents where the roles have been reversed where a reviewer or blogger has actually attacked an author in this same kind of situation, but the point of the matter isn’t whether it’s an author vs. reviewer debacle or whatever one might try to tag it as, it’s more or less taking responsibility for the words you say and nurturing the relationships you build in your web/social media presence.  No matter who you are.

Here’s another thing – mass comment conversations are kind of a common theme in social media networks.  If something controversial occurs or if its a hot button topic or if there’s a sense of perceived antagonism towards a subject or object, there are going to be  MANY people coming out of the woodwork to offer their two cents on the matter going down if they observe it.  THAT DOES NOT MEAN IT’S A BULLYING SCENARIO.  Let me be clear on this and say it again: just because you have a conversation that explodes with multiple people joining in to add their two cents does not mean that it’s a bullying conversation.

There’s a distinct difference between having a conversation on a matter of controversy or a thematic that might have strong opinions in measures and ostracizing a person for the sake of ostracizing.  That’s not to say that a conversation may not eventually devolve into attacks, but you do have to look at what the situation entails to really put a finger on the pulse as to how to deal with it.  It may be overwhelming to see a lot of people responding to a certain discussion, especially one that might seem personal at first.  No one size fits all when it comes to dealing with a scenario that might bring to the table some contentious discussions.  If it becomes a point where you think it’s going to become an attack conversation, you have the right to walk away from it.  However, know that if you go into a conversation with the intention to antagonize, it’s likely not going to end the way you think it will, and you may end up having to nurse not only your wounded pride, but also do damage control, especially if it’s a conversation that ties in directly with a part of your profession.  Which for many authors who start to engage their readers in a way that tries to control their opinions and the expression of them – it kinda does.

Which leads me into my next topic.

To Ruin or Not To Ruin a Career, That is…An Odd Question

It is true that social media platforms have a lot of jumping points to start a career – or make them if you will.  And there are a lot of people who would say what you do in the ins and outs of social media can also break it just as well.  I think there’s been a lot of discussion, considering this centers on authors/writers and readers as well, that if a ton of people shelve your book a certain way, it mean your career is ruined, that no one will read your books, that you’ll be living out of a cardboard box and surviving on pancakes and syrup for the rest of eternity in the middle of the woods with a squirrel that looks like Rocky as your companion.  (Actually I have no idea where the latter scenario came from.  But bear with me.)

That kind of all or nothing thinking is not true.  Couldn’t be further from the truth.  The fact of the matter is that you’re more likely to shoot yourself in the foot by your own words and actions, really.  By treating the people around you, whether they’ve read or haven’t read your work if you’re an author- whether they praise or totally give you the nth degree criticizing your work – like they’re anything less than people.  And behind the many names, avatars, profiles, there are people, believe it or not.  If you have critics of your work, you’re better off just leaving them be, and if you can’t take the criticism, get out of the…uh…forest (take the pancakes and Rocky if you want) and focus on your craft.

So can we retire the whole bully term in the spectrum of shelving books or giving critical perspectives via reviews or talking about the nature of one’s actions and behaviors we don’t agree with?  People can say those things, you don’t have to agree with them, but you can’t hold out the bully card everytime someone doesn’t agree with you or sees things the way you do.  If someone makes you feel like less than you are for your person, and pervasively does so to the point where you can’t function and live your life to the fullest or feel safe, then I think you have a stronger argument there (which is usually what bullying entails).

Bullying is not a buzz term meant to suppress critical discussion, expression, or thought in moral discussions, critical measures regarding a work, or even to alienate/rob people of their personhood by applying the term.

936full-touching-spirit-bear-coverOne last point I want to make before I leave this discussion. I read a YA book a while back called “Touching Spirit Bear.” This book is actually about a bully in the truest sense of the term, a boy who beats another boy nearly to the point of death.  The 15-year old bully suffers under the hands of an abusive father and is angry in his life and circumstances, which leads him to lash out at other people to the point where he goes too far in one horrible incident.  He’s sentenced under court orders to undergo a special rehabilitation program in Alaska to learn from his ways (or else be punished more severely).  The boy has a near death experience with an encounter in the wild with a bear, learns from the point of near death to embrace life more fully, and in a series of activities after his recovery, he learns the root of his anger, and comes to terms with the things he did wrong, even when the other boy – the victim – is nearly suicidal from the point of sadness and depression that the bully left him in following the attack.  What makes the book really hit home is how the boys cope with each other past the point of the attack itself, and come to terms with each other, even if it’s not an easy journey to do so.

I think all of us can learn to come to terms with our differences, and learn that we can’t afford a culture of intolerance, miscommunications, and lack of understanding context. We certainly can’t build it on lies either.  We have to learn what bullying really entails, and not use it as a weapon to stifle expression or critique in our society.  We have to also own up to the things that we say and do, and if we are to communicate in any spectrum, whether in social media, whether in person, or of any dimension, we have to know what it means to recognize criticism in our society, and how to move forward from it.




One comment

  1. Very well written post 🙂 I am lucky to be able to say that I have never been bullied. Sure, I have been insulted but never bullied. I agree with you that people need to learn the difference between criticism and bullying. Again, great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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