Integrity is something that is very important to me; standing up for what I believe in, standing up for what is right and true, standing up for my family, my friends, my colleagues, my students, my animals…you get the idea. I am an extremely non-confrontational woman by nature, raised by a truly genteel Southern lady with a backbone of steel, and I can quickly become a momma bear when my protect mode kicks into gear. I much prefer open discussion to vitriol, and do my best not to engage in arguments or drama, trying to turn the other cheek if at all possible. As we say in my profession, “Keep the drama on the stage”. Such good advice.
Sadly, there are those who thrive on drama and will do anything they can to drag people into that ill-fated arena, one in which nobody wins. Ever. People who immediately shut down any sort of civil discourse by either slinging mud or engaging in outright lies, self-righteousness, and character assassination. Social media is full of these cyber bullies, as it is so easy to be cruel sitting at a computer, not having to look into the eyes of the people you are attacking. It is such cowardice to mask the truth and lash out at innocent people, not caring about the collateral damage that piles around you or the suffering you inflict on others. Goliaths going after Davids. Well, we all know how that story went.
Chihuly sculpture at the University of Iowa School of Music.
The worst offenders are those in the public eye who use their larger platform to defame others and to gain attention when those ‘others’ can’t reply in kind to set the record straight and defend themselves. It is an uneven battleground, its atrocities committed without the blink of an eye. The next worst offenders are those who condone this behavior by either their open support- or their silence. Being silent in the face of bullying is supporting it, empowering the bully. This is especially true when you have a relationship with the one being bullied. You can’t have it both ways- you can either support the bully through action or inaction, or stand up against that bully and take away their power to hurt you and those you care about.
A wonderful group that I belong to on Facebook has dealt with a cyber bully who continues to spread untruths on a large platform for over two years now because we chose to leave his group once we truly saw him for what he was, most recently falsely accusing us of driving someone to the brink of suicide. Suicide. Think about that for a moment, think of the implications. It is mind-boggling to me that people can commit defamation of character on such a large scale on the internet and nothing happens. People who don’t know us from Adam read these lies and believe them. The saddest part? Several people who knew better, good people who knew the truth, sat idly by or even supported the lies by liking the post that blatantly and cruelly attacked us. One of those moments where you think, “Et tu, Brutus?”
For over two years we- to a person- have turned the other cheek, completely ignoring the bully, no matter how cruel his attack. We chose the high road and worked hard at putting positive and uplifting things out into the ether, building a strong, supportive, and empathetic community. However, this latest accusation of driving someone to the brink of suicide was the last straw. We came together to openly discuss what had happened, to ask those people who were our friends and still supported this bully to look in their hearts and see the truth. To think about how those cruel and completely false accusations made us feel. To stand up if they felt so moved. There were no ultimatums, no threats- only open dialogue focused on understanding each other and working through the issue. We can’t change the bully, but we can set boundaries about what we will and will not accept for those who interact closely with us on social media.
It was incredibly heartwarming to find that almost to a person those who had been conflicted before saw the truth and vowed to stop being supportive of the behavior. How amazing to find a large group of people coming together to discuss a difficult topic without it dissolving into the usual social media circus of barbs and condemnation. What if we could do that all of the time in all aspects of life? Instead of jumping to defense mode, truly opening our hearts and minds and listening to what others have to say?
I have such hope after this experience. Peace is the best path always, but you can work for peace by standing up to those Goliaths who have nothing better to do than seek drama and chaos. You can stand up in kindness and compassion; it doesn’t have to be a battlefield strewn with wounded hearts and souls. And you know what? One of the most precious gifts of this whole experience was hearing, “I’m so sorry that I hurt you. I will change.” What courage it takes to look inside and realize that you were wrong and do your best to work to make things right. I truly hope that I will be just as courageous if the need ever arises.
Amish community in Iowa…
Here’s to integrity, to compassion, to friendship, here’s to the truth, and here’s to the people who live those ideals and don’t just give them lip service. The people who do the tough work of listening and placing themselves in the other person’s shoes for a moment. The truth will always come out, somehow someway, and bullies will never win the day when we stand up against them, united.
**Photos are from my recital tour of the Mid-West.