A Love Letter to the Gentle People of the Internet: Please Don't Go
Dear Gentle People of the internet:
Gossips and harassers get us down. They always do. It's normal.
The thing is, we're all gossips, though, whether we do it out in the open or under the guise of just trying to keep up with friends and family. It's not unique to any particular place or group, but it is louder when it is done in certain places, like on the internet among groups of bloggers, for instance, because things on the internet tend to be so very public.
I'm not crazy about public gossip that turns mean and the people who perpetuate that gossip, whether it's in the form of celebrity magazines or criticism blogs, and I'm not crazy about harassment anywhere, but I'm also not crazy about it when people say The internet is mean, and so I quit. I really don't think closing up shop and walking away is the answer to this, especially when the cruel people are in the minority. I want the people who make this internet a kinder, more thoughtful, and more meaningful place to stick around and keep making it that way.
Don't get me wrong. I know that there are instances of abject bullying that happen, and I do not blame the individuals who have to leave or assume new identities to protect themselves, their families, and their livelihoods. This kind of thing makes me want to go out and burn shit down. It is a terrible injustice, and, while I love watching people come together to figure out how to deal with harassment and violence online, I wish we already had this figured out years ago.
Let's all pour a little out for each person who has had to walk away, because some of us have been put through the goddamned ringer.
It really bothers me, though, when a person leaves whose work or creativity fosters healthy communities, citing the existence of mean people. They have the right to do that, of course, because how fun is it to work out in the open where you feel your every move is scrutinized?
On the other hand, though, my hyper-committed, bootstrapping side wants to scream that this is life! This is walking down the street in the face of cat calls and lewd gestures. This is making it to the end of elementary school after watching mean kids whisper behind their hands for six years. This is working your ass off to get promoted out of that cubicle farm with the jerk who steals your Lean Cuisines. This is coming out to that friend who in turn tells you that he hopes Hell is warm enough for your liking, and then getting up and going to a different table to be queer at, because that table with the bigot commanding attention is not the only table at the pub.
This is my way of saying "I love you! Don't leave me!" Look, I'm holding your pantleg.
This is our space, too. We get to walk, run, and stomp through it. We get to carve it out. We get to be earnest and write loopy poetry and share pictures of our pets and bitch about family here. We get to do it even if some git we've never met says it's pathetic or boring or that it has all been done before, and we get to do it even if another git happens to agree with the first git. We get to forge friendships here even if someone thinks our open affection looks stupid. We get to share our selfies even if someone in a low moment declares them unattractive.
When the productive and constructive people go quiet, the unproductive and destructive people end up owning far too much real estate.
Even those of us who haven't been directly hit with deconstructive criticism feel the pains of it. We feel like we may be next, and we hurt for those we know who have been torn down. When I've been the object of aggression online, it's not just me who pulls back and needs to lick wounds. Friends of mine do, too. Fear is a virus.
We need to remember, though, in the words of Darth Vader: "The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force." Darth, knows, man.
We make our spaces, and the ones we don't make ourselves we work to define. We demand buttons to report abuse. We develop communities that foster creative engagement. We share information that builds up rather than tears down. We help each other recover from own missteps and become better as a community. We break our virtual bread together in the best ways we know how with those who want to commit.
The people who don't like the bread we break together? They have their own bread. It's not a bread competition.
If you're thinking about leaving the blogging community because there are some people out there who make things uncomfortable and even difficult at times, remember that the loudness of those who are destructive is not equal to the numbers of those who are constructive. There are more people that are for you than are against you. We're generally not as loud, but we're here, and there is room at our table.
You, yes even you with less than 50 readers a day and 25 Twitter followers, you are important here. Every blog post, every tweet, every Facebook update that does not tear down but builds up, creates laughter, and shores up connections stakes out a little more positive space, a little more love. If that's what you do here, don't let the haters* unkind people get you down. That's a blessed little bit of property you planted there. Believe in it.
Stay, because we can't let a vocal minority get us down.
* I have struck "the haters" out of the fourth from last sentence, because I intended not to use trolls, haters, or bullies in the above piece. The terms are overused and too often levelled at others with the aim to injure and malign, and often below the line of the original insult. They allow for little nuance in a discussion that is all grey areas.
This is not a broad Us vs. Them scenario, and it never was.