Resolving to Be More Compassionate

Shame. Embarrassment. Fear.

As I sat alone at a table in our college’s student union, hand propped unconsciously on my forehead to shield my face, I felt worthless. As a busy afternoon crowd streamed by, I felt completely isolated.

I was watching a 7-minute “music video” created by an anonymous blogger who took issue with the editorial stance of our campus paper, which I was in charge of at the time. The YouTube video had a simple purpose: to prove that I was a closeted homosexual man with a clear agenda to ruin the lives of straight, college-age men. His evidence? It was obvious: I listened to Lady Gaga and tweeted in support of LGBT causes.

What may seem like an insignificant attack made by a lunatic blogger with few followers was, at the time, a hugely emotional and scary event for me and the close friends who I shared this with. I had never in my life experienced such cruel and unwarranted hatred. I realize the privilege that lies in that statement, but experiencing “Internet shame” firsthand put an entire range of emotions into perspective for me.

Not to mention, the cause of this attack, which was an editorial we wrote about sexual assault on campus, presented the real risk of a “chilling effect” for future stances we would take as editors. I feared for the safety — emotional, if not physical—of myself and my fellow editors in the face of such intense Internet hatred, which was shared by a large sect of similar bloggers and conservative “pundits.”

At first, I kept this to myself and two other friends at the newspaper, but the next day—after the post and video were taken down by simple request to the blogger, who listed his email address—I decided to share what had happened with my parents. They suggested I take the matter to campus police, which I did. In a surprisingly curt and uneventful visit to the station, we realized there wasn’t much more that could be done about it. To me, that was a relief.

But while I think my parents were right and advising me to go to the police with my concern, it shook me up again. No matter how much I invalidated this guy, or how much I convinced myself he’s crazy, it still hurt like hell.

As I shared this with a few more people, I found it hard to negotiate how they were reacting. Some lent sympathy, others humor. But some completely missed the mark, offering rebukes rather than a listening ear. This process of emotion, sharing and reflecting caused me a visceral realization of how important it is to be compassionate, to love one another.

For the compassionate ones in my life, it was about making me feel valued again, building me up stronger and lending a listening ear.

But for others, it was about making light of a situation at a time when I was nowhere near ready to joke about it. I would make light of it on my own terms, I thought. I felt that statements such as, “I understand” or “you should laugh about it” simply fell flat in the face of the real experience.

As someone on the outside, you simply can’t understand. I know I personally have uttered the phrase, “I know, I understand,” to many a friend during hard times, but I never realized how meaningless those words can feel. To me, there was no way they could understand what it was like to put myself and my editorial board on the line for something I believe in, only to be publicly attacked and pillaged on the Internet for it. They didn’t know what it was like to have to hold that all in for the sake of protecting other editors, and for necessity of leading the newsroom every day of the week.

And because they didn’t know, I realized compassion wasn’t about telling others how to feel or how to react. Compassion is about listening. I didn’t need anyone telling me to “man up,” because we all have the right to process our emotions in our own way, and all we as compassionate friends have the right to do is listen.

As I reflect on 2015, and specifically on this moment of Internet shaming, I resolve to be more compassionate. To offer a listening ear rather than a hollow phrase when my friends are in need. To be a friend unconditionally, without foisting my views on their emotional process. And above all, to love one another.

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