The Writing Life

Friday, May 27, 2005

Compassion

I've recently been faced with a difficult situation. An individual burst onto several online sites in rapid succession and immediately began to make trouble, start fights, and paint the forums with drama and fits of rage. Each site deals with this sort of individual differently. But there is usually a consenus reached by the moderators that the new poster's presence is not right for the site. I'm not a moderator on any of the sites. In fact, I don't even belong to one of the sites. But for a reason I've yet to figure out, the difficult individual picked me as his personal arch-nemesis. He blames me for every bad thing he caused, for every negative reaction he has stirred, and for every consequence of his actions.

At first I was angry, because I didn't understand what was going on or why he was doing this. He would accuse me of terrible things that I didn't do. He would claim to have proof that I knew people that I'd never heard of. He would fly off the handle at statements I never made. He would call me evil and cruel when I tried to help him. It was an incredibly confusing and frustrating experience.

He turned his website into a tirade against me and then signed up for half a dozen blogs, all of which are dedicated to crucifying my character. He even assigned me "minions", i.e. people he thought I somehow controlled, even if I barely knew them or had never even heard of them.

I began to fear for my safety, as it was all so out of control and over the top. And still, I kept searching for the reason why.

The other day, I decided to do some research. I went back to the very first posts this man made (most of which I hadn't seen). Then I read the very first interaction between us. There was a contest on the site in question and the individual had read the rules incorrectly. He was arguing with everyone based on this incorrect reading, so I chimed in, politely pointing out that he had made an error in reading the rules. He exploded.

At the time, I hadn't any idea that this would begin a single-minded campaign of bitter back-stabbing and character assassination. I wish I knew then what I know now.

As I re-read all those old messages a bizarre but indisputable truth broke like water through a dam. There was one constant in all the online fights and arguments in which he took place. He always misread the notes that 'set him off'. Just as he misread the contest rules, every single time he erupted, he was arguing about something that wasn't written there!

An exaggerated example would be if I posted, "There's a lovely blue sky today", he would respond by screaming at me for hating trees. One does not lead to the other. His responses were to statements that only he could see. When I realized that this was the basic problem, it became achingly clear to me that the individual was not sane. Whether it's a chemical imbalance, or some crossed wires, he doesn't see the world in the same way most of us do. He does not follow the logic that the sane know and follow. He has a completely different kind of "logic" in his head. It's not one you or I would recognize, but to him, it's very real.

With this realization, I began to get an inkling as to why he was in such pain all the time. His suffering was almost palpable and finally, finally, I understood. I also realized that no matter what I said or didn't say; no matter what I did or didn't do, it simply wouldn't matter. There is no way to stop the juggernaut of his insanity. There is no way to defend my character against the ravings of a mad man. There is nothing I can ever do or say that will stop him!

So I had a choice. I could continue feeling angry and frustrated, or I could put those feelings aside and instead feel compassion for his pain. And suddenly, I knew that there was only one choice. That ultimately, compassion is the one, true choice in a situation like this.

It is not the easiest road. It is natural to react in hurt, anger, and frustration when seeing one's name sullied, dragged through the muck and mire, and called every imaginable name, assigned every base motivation, and accused of countless unspeakable acts -- none of which are true. I will not go into his accusations here -- you can read his blogs for that -- but there is very little truth in any of it. He, of course, thinks it all happened, just as he read words and ideas in posts that were never there.

Another great truth came to me as I struggled with this. To get past this, and to embrace compassion for the pain of another, I first had to have compassion for myself. I had to face those things that I had done, and forgive myself for them. I didn't get him kicked off any websites, but in my heart, I had wanted him gone. I did report some of his grosser transgressions to the moderators, but there was never any response other than "Ignore him". Everyone kept telling me to "ignore him." I tried that, but it didn't work. In fact, it appeared to inflame him further. He didn't stop; he just got louder.

So I had to forgive myself for wanting to feel safe and wanting the attacks to stop. I had to forgive myself for wishing him gone. And when he had pushed and pushed and pushed, and told lie after lie after lie, I had to forgive myself for having unkind thoughts about him.

And when I found compassion for myself, I was able to find compassion for him. He is in so much pain. He suffers so much. Even his soul seems to weep and I find myself praying that he can find surcease from his sorrow. I pray that he finds his way to a doctor and gets the medicine he needs to balance the chemicals or fix those faulty wires. I pray that he can find somewhere where he feels loved and needed and necessary. Where he can develop himself into the vision he has of his future. I pray that his suffering is replaced by joy.

I pray also that he is not a danger to himself or to me. I don't know if he is. I am not a fool, and therefore I will do what is necessary to protect myself. But I'm praying that he never does anything that could cause either of us harm.

I don't know that anyone will ever read this message. And unless I put his name in here, I doubt he will ever find it. I don't want to name him, because I fear that could be harmful to him. I will not do what he has done to me. No one deserves what he has done to me. Not even him.

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