Tuesday 23 December 2008

Getting Through the Crisis of Faith in Myself

I just wanted to share my thoughts with you all on my recent seeming reaching of an all time low and where I seem to have come with it.
I will be round to visit again soon.

I suppose a lot of it has to do with this blog. My love/hate relationship with it.
Because it is a love/hate relationship, no doubting that.

I don't know quite when it happened, it's difficult to put a finger on the exact moment, but at some point during the summer of last year it became clear to me that in a real sense, the future of my own life was inextricably bound up with this blog. That in it was the chance to do something positive.
Make a difference.

I realised that I had kind of found what it was I wanted to actually do with my life and this was it.
And of course, in a real sense, it means a whole lifestyle change doing that.

It basically means adopting a cause. You can't compare it to a job, because a job for most people is something that simply pays you. Most people, in fact, take the view that 'You work to live, not live to work'.
And I think in itself, that says a lot about how pointless most of the work most of us do is. We don't feel it is of any value, we don't feel WE are of any value to us. Our jobs are merely something we do, not something we ARE.

And I guess a lot of people aren't cause driven people. I always have been, in the sense I've always WANTED something in my life that filled it totally. Something that you ARE. Something about which you truly felt 'You live to work, not work to live'.

A Bank Manager tends to see himself as a Bank Manager. But he's a husband and father first. He does his job to support his family. He sees himself primarily as a husband and father. A soldier on the other hand, is a soldier first. That's what he IS. His wife or girlfriend is always aware- indeed WAS aware when she took him on- that Queen and Country come first. That she is accepting that that is what he IS, he's a soldier.

So I was aware that in adopting in full the demands of blogging, I was taking on- for life- something life altering, for me.
Because blogging is very time consuming. And since it doesn't pay, you still have to do your own job. But essentially, you are taking on between ten and twenty extra hours of work a week.
And of course, it's only fair that, once you've made this decision, you are up front about it with members of the opposite sex. That you are a blogger. You have a blog to which you need to devote time. Significant amounts of time. And that this will affect any sort of relationship you have. That your priority of an evening after getting in from work, is to write posts, answer comments and then visit other blogs. And that these tasks must get done. Furthermore, that all this in itself leads to people mailing you and setting up relations with you as a blogger, discussing ideas, etc, etc, all of which is part of blogging, indeed is part of the POINT of it all, so yes, a large portion of the time she might want to be spending with you, you will be spending talking to anonymous avatars across the globe.

And yes, I was aware that the vast majority of women wouldn't accept that. I am aware of that. But I realised when I made the decision to take blogging seriously, that that was what it meant.

That blogging was a commitment.

Now making a decision like that wasn't hard, in theory. I'd been searching all my life for something like that. When I was much younger I wanted to be a priest, then later, before life took a funny turn, I wanted to go into politics. I spent hours trudging the streets, leaflets in hand knocking doors.
And my then girlfriend would say 'If you stand for Council, I'll get even less time with you'.
And I'd say 'And if it goes all the way, you'll hardly ever see me at all'.

Because she wouldn't have done. Had I ever got to Westminster, there wouldn't have been time to waste. Brutal as it may be, an MP who is a good husband and father, is a bad MP. Because a good MP is in that House of Commons speaking on behalf of his constituents as often as he can, and when he's not doing that, he's finding out the needs of his constituents.

And of course, it's still possible to have a social life. Essential in fact. Spending time with real people, in real places is vital. And in fact, it's a good thing for a blogger to do. Because the conversations and observations lead to better posts. Everything can be source material ultimately.

On the face of it, it seems easy, once you've made the commitment.

And of course, you're motivated by all the lofty ideals you have. You believe you can do it. The ideas you want to put across are worth putting across, the discussion forum is worth discussing it in, it's worth the sacrifice you make, in terms of probably rejecting anything other than the most casual of relationships.

And you have clear guidelines of how you're going to interact. Always engage in discussion, avoid getting personal and nasty, try set an example in the way you behave. Show your commitment to blogging, because some of these people still want to be bloggers second, or even third.

And all this seems very easy before it gets put to the test.

It's very easy to be virtuous, when everyone else is being nice to you.

The thing is, when people DON'T behave ethically towards you; how do you respond?
Because that really is the test of strength. Because you're living in a dream world if you think it will all be plain sailing.

I never thought everybody would agree with everything I wrote, I didn't. But I didn't realise how nasty they could get.
And I really never thought that personal information about me would ever be leaked out- or worse, people blatantly lie about me.

I never thought I would have to deal with people leaving PERSONAL comments in my comments section, true OR false.

I really wasn't prepared for any of that.

But one looks how many blogs disappear over time. It does get too much for some people when they suffer endless tirades of abuse.

And I suppose the crisis of faith I've been going through recently was in how I handled all of this. How I handled this criticism- some of it very nasty- and worse, in some cases.

At some points it has almost driven me to the edge, it has. I have allowed myself to get really worked up by it all, no two ways about it. I haven't really slept properly for well over a year. Whilst I had moderation off, I still had to get up periodically at night to check the comments section.

Now it was someone quite close to me in Real Life laid it straight, shortly after I'd published this post in fact. He pointed out that if I really was to be taking this seriously, then I'd just have to accept that I would always have to put up with two sets of problems. One was that if what I was saying was in any way interesting or challenging, in other words, if the blog was any good, (and actually I was quite pleased they thought it was in general, even though they found it quite shocking in many ways), then by definition, some people would REALLY hate it. That I couldn't expect to have it both ways. That part of the price of my blog doing what I wanted it to be doing, was me putting up with hatemail and whole blogs being devoted to how evil my blog was.
The second problem was, that for anyone who knows important this is to me and doesn't have much ethics, knowing my URL and blogging identity is the perfect solution for vengeance. People- especially women- with a grudge will use the fact they can damage your blogging identity by disseminating information about you, whether or true or false knowing that it is the worst thing they can do to you. People can and will attack your blog for purely personal reasons of spite. Because it's easy.

And both these groups will ally with eachother somehow. They have common aims.

What he was basically reminding me of, was that I'd set myself up as in some sense a citizen journalist, by setting up a blog I'd in a sense made myself a public figure. And I'd have to put up with that.

And he re-iterated to me what I already knew. That I'd handled these problems in the wrong way from the beginning. That I should have always accepted that they would inevitably turn up. That if they HADN'T turned up, then that would be because the blog was crap.

Where I had gone wrong was in responding at all. And I knew that. It had always been my rules never to allow personal matters to interfere with blogging. But when people are attacking you on a personal level, you forget that. You end up defending yourself. When people start leaking things about you, you find yourself drawn in. And then of course, you step down from the moral highground.

You make things worse in the long run, because all people see is two bloggers bickering. And they can't distinguish between you.

I should never have forgotten that if someone is publicly making personal allegations about you, no matter what they are, no matter what 'evidence' they apparently offer, refuting them isn't the answer. Even if you can. No comment. No comment, no matter how much you feel compelled to.
If people comment at your blog and the comment is either rude or personal, just delete. Don't respond.
Why? Because by responding at all you're actually giving them a level of validity. Even by refuting them, you're acknowledging that you should respond. You're actually suggesting that the truth or otherwise of their personal allegations is relevant to blogging. When you actually need to demonstrate, is that it isn't worth an answer.

And the same, in a sense, goes for bloggers who devote blog posts designed to attack you. They do it for a response, mainly. Well, you have to take the view that the best place for them to debate your views is in the comments section of your blog. In a civilised manner. If they can't- or won't- do that, then why read their posts?

Why respond to them?
Nothing to be gained from it. By responding, you make it look like a blogwar. The only thing to do is make it clear their criticisms aren't worth responding to by you wasting posts on them. If they do a post on you a day, and you never do one on them, you have the moral highground. And always will.

So it has been reinforced to me the rules one must follow if one is to take it seriously. Accept you'll get hatemail, but do not answer. Put up comments moderation, but unless it's one of your trolls, just let the comments through without reading them. And do not post on other bloggers in retaliation. Only respond to serious posts by serious bloggers.
And if a troll follows you to blogs commenting on your comments to provoke you, do not respond.

All this of course, is easier said then done. Because I haven't managed this up to now, not at all. I allowed myself to sink down to the gutter level. And yes, I've put these rules in place now, and I've been following them myself, but yes, now I've got them in place, it did bring about a crisis of faith.

Because now I'm accepting all this, I'm looking back at how I let myself be dragged down by all of this.
And I'm realising that I didn't show myself to be STRONG.
I acted in ways that were weak.
I found myself in challenging situations and failed to show moral fibre.

I allowed myself to get eaten up by all this, to worry what other people were scurrying around saying about me, to spend every day at work worrying what people were writing about me, periodically checking my comments section to ensure it hadn't been trolled.

Whereas I should have accepted it all, and ignored it.

And it's that that has made it hard to look in the mirror recently. The sense that when it came to it, I was weak. Not the man I should have been.
Because ultimately, if this blog goes where I want to go, there's going to be way more of this crap to come. And every further bit of crap, is actually further proof of this blog succeeding.

And I suppose the last week or so, acknowledging all this, realising it's not a game, it's my life here, and this is what it's going to be, I really was questioning whether could take it.
It was realising that it's going to be like this forever, the way the last year has been. The hatemail, the blogs devoted to proving you are Satan, the use of personal information against you, the spreading of downright lies. Your friends and family will be dragged into it, attempts will be made to rake through your past, it will be a factor in any personal relationship you have. And you will have unprintable trolling comments every day on your dashboard. And you will be followed by trolls. These things are things you will have to endure every day of your life for the next thirty years maybe.

And you can never once respond, no matter what the provocation. You MUST turn the other cheek. Always.

And I really found myself struggling with whether I could face this. This is the consequences of the choice I made last year. I've learned what that decision meant.

And I'm full of grave self doubts about my strength to do this.

But I also know this. That I could not live with myself if I didn't.
That I could never look myself in the eye in the mirror if I walked away from this.

I have to say to all those O'Briens; I will not betray my Julia.

Bring on the rats.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear. There's a lot to be said about these things. Don't know where to begin.

(1) It's not like I brook no criticism. I do. One has to expect it if one goes against convention. That doesn't mean I'm automatically right, or automatically wrong. The point is always that I see something different, I owe it to my fellows to alert them to what I see so that we can avoid the five blind wise men and elephant scenario.

(2) The nature of blogging is such that it really requires a bit of time and commitment. For someone to be veement in contesting your views is one thing, but I think one rarely needs to be personal, and that's in response to the personal.

(3) Merry Christmas if I don't get hold of you before then.

Anonymous said...

I can't give this the full attention that it needs and deserves but will come back to it later.

Anyways ...

Happy Christmas

(If you can't do the faith, go through the motions - that's what most people do anyway)

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Joe! Hope all is well...

Anonymous said...

Wasn't able to read this whole post but wanted to wish you a Merry Xmess. Take care, hope things turn around for you in the NY.

Anonymous said...

Troll prevention, heh. Firstly your prose style is not good enough yet to do the kind of gonzo journalism you want to do. If it is citizen journalism, and listen to me to here I used to sell and write for The Socialist Voice, there is no need for all the personal relationships, or confession. You have fessed up to doing your fair time for the drug thing twice. Next time you write about the issue write about the the issue. A magazine journalism blog thing is no place in which to conduct personal relationships. All blogs are fictions in some sense. Develop a prose style. Have a merry day thingy, chill out, get drunk.

Anonymous said...

Well, you are being honest and thinking out loud and putting it down on your blog. I like it. Sometimes I think you are very black and white in your thinking (I am as well) and it can be restrictive and limiting.

I agree about not responding to haters..just delete them and move on. That's what that magic button is there for :)

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic but...

Merry Christmas Crushed!

Anonymous said...

X-dell- There's criticism and criticism. Criticism is fair enough.
But some people are just jerks, no two ways about it.

There really isn't any need to be personal or nasty, no.

E-K- I went to Mass Xmas Eve night. I had to stand, I got there late.

Bud- Yes, I think so.

I guess we all go through these periods. :)

Reeny- I'm hoping so, yes. I hope 2009 brings great things.

Gingatao- I agre, there shouldn't be personal relationships within blogging. The two should be separate. From time to time though, I think it illuminates perspective by showing some of the working.

Kate- I can be quite black and white in my thinking sometimes, I guess.

There isn't much point in responding to the haters, no. It doesn't seem to stop them hating.

It IS lovely not having to worry about them any more.

Moggs- You too! And may I say, you were a VERY sexy Santa Claus...

Anonymous said...

Why thank you Crushed. *Grins* I think Santa's helper is more like what I was aiming for.