Recently there was a story that broke in the indie publishing world about a cover artist who was accused of stealing art for her work. The upshot is that an online group of people sent private messages to this cover artist, called her awful swear words and suggested that she kill herself. Which she then tried to do.
I don’t know any of the players involved in this drama, except tangentially through friends of friends that are in my writer’s groups. I do know how insidious bullying is and for that I am appalled at the group of people who thought it was appropriate to go onto a stranger’s private messaging and suggest such foul things.
The Internet is a big, anonymous place where it seems as if there are no consequences for “speaking your mind.” People far more erudite than I have talked about the anonymity of the keyboard and how we are all powerful behind our screen—at least in our own minds. What I do know is the horrible power of bullying and the ripple effect it has throughout our lives.
When I was in grade school my brother and I became the favorite target of a group of bullies at school. It happened fairly quickly and there were many reasons, I suppose, none of them good. It progressed and progressed and progressed to the point where my parents had to pick us up from school or we would get chased and assaulted on the walk home (about two or three blocks if memory serves).
The administrators were ineffective and my parents did what they could, but the bullying continued. Eventually we moved to get away from the daily assaults. By the time we went back to the high school, things had calmed down. For the most part. A few tried and continued through high school but their voices were muted by the other seven grade schools that fed into the larger high school. There were still terrible things that happened, like when my dog disappeared from our back yard and I was told later that one of the worst of my grade school bullies took her. I still shudder at that memory.
A few years ago, I was at my high school reunion. I don’t know what it was about that particular event, but several people came up to me that night and discussed the horrors of our time in grade school. Apparently, my brother and I were not the only ones, but we got it the worst. Those people apologized for not doing something, not stopping it, not acting. That was a balm to my soul all those years later. But what stands out for me the most is who didn’t acknowledge the events at all and that was one of the worst bullies at that time, and one who continued through high school. He just smirked at me and said “hi Claire” as if nothing had happened. I still remember him spitting in my hair for an entire class and the teacher doing nothing to stop it. It is seared in my memory even from this distant point in time.
If my bullying dances across my memory decades later I cannot imagine what it’s like in this connected world. We may sit here from behind our keyboards and feel justified in attacking someone because of something they are accused of doing, but it is not warranted. If someone has done something wrong, that is for legal channels, not for an Internet mob. It’s easy to do, I know that. When the story first broke I found myself wanting to know who these people were and publicly out them or shame them. Many people felt, and feel, that way. But what would that serve. If we bully the bullies aren’t we doing the same thing in pursuit of what we believe is right? There is no purpose to acting on a mob mentality if those people are brought to light. They have to live with their actions. Just as those kids who have a conscience about our time at school have to live with what they did.
I wish nothing but the best for this cover artist and hope that she comes through this ordeal and is stronger for it. To be strong and succeed is the only way to defeat bullies. Otherwise, they win. I never want that to be the case. Not for her and not for me. As I said last week, we should always remember to be kind to one another.