Late Night Thoughts On Power And Potential

more than words on a page

In the spring of 2005, I made the decision to start a personal blog, one that I maintained until the end of 2012. Looking back on that decision, it’s obvious to me that entering into that online adventure came with a benefit often arriving in the most serendipitous form.

If, in 2005, you had told me that one of the things I would likely gain from that experience would be a number of close, personal, mutually supportive relationships with people I had never actually met, friends for lack of a better word, I would have told you (and often did) that you were insane.

Eleven years later, I will say with assurance I was completely off base with that assessment. During that time I have made a number of friendships with people who have become central and meaningful in my life; part of that inner circle. Sometimes though, it’s the people you connect with for brief, even singular periods, that will, in the most eloquent form, teach you something you had yet to learn, or move you in a way others have failed at. And once every so often, they might just assure you that you are, in fact, doing the right thing.

Sharing these types of events and moments from our lives will always carry with it the risk of being seen as looking for self-publicity, stroking our own egos — the price of our cynical nature, I suppose. I’m sure in some cases that such an assessment may be true. But what I find more accurate, is that sharing these events allows us all to feel a little more connected, a little more heard, and for some, maybe a little less alone. That’s why I’m writing about it here.

When I began writing online I had a lengthy chat with myself regarding the things I would, and would not do. Given the context and power of the internet, two things were central for me.

One, I would not needlessly kick the underdog. My own sense of self-worth is not predicated on my ability to socially eviscerate a likely suspect. I’m sure you will agree, in cyberland, the role of gate keeper and bully is played out all too often, in cruel, humanity-reducing ways.

Telling someone who is dealing with substance issues, going through a breakup, or making a serious change in any range of life situations, that “maybe Darwin was right, that it’s all a matter of will power, that addiction is bullshit, that blah, blah, blah,” will likely garner temporary credence among the obnoxiously vapid set, the assholes who reach Nirvana via wagging a finger from behind cover of a computer screen. Get a thicker skin, you may say. Sure, it helps. But skin is tender, unique, and can sometimes tear easily. It’s in those people we find the damage; a carry over causing what is an oftenan unseen, silent kind of damage.

No, not because you have hurt someones feelings needlessly and for sport; but because you may have silenced a voice. One that belongs to a person for whom you have no way of knowing how long or what it may have taken for them to get to even consider making a comment. The point at which, without so much as a thought beyond your own public perception, you cut them off at their knees. But hey, it no doubt got a laugh, and your attempt at sarcasm may have fooled a few into perceiving you as witty. Thanks, but I’ll pass. And whenever the chance presents itself, I’ll relish in calling you out on your oh-so-brave admonishments.

There was another issue that for me was equally important. If I was to put my thoughts, ideas, and any other form of synaptic firings out there into the ether, there was a very real, and far-beyond-likely fact: someone, somewhere, will be reading them. Does that somehow imply the writer’s eternal responsibility for personal reaction to our words? No, it doesn’t. What it does, is remind us that our words, can, do, and always will have power.

Even if the majority of our brilliantly constructed, hopelessly relevant, yet arcane and rambling utterances fall on no one but some seventeen year old surfer kid in Newport beach, stoned off his bong, who responds with a flat and vapid “kewl” — someone, somewhere, will always hear us. And, given the law of averages, someone, at some time in the future, may actually need to hear what we are saying. I don’t care who you are, how many followers you have, or what you write about, that is heady stuff. It should, and does, humble.

When I began blogging I decided to include a page in my links entitled Support. A small list of links to organizations that specialize in dealing with people in some form of crisis; those who may be at rock bottom, the end of their rope, or maybe have just given up. Because if we are being honest, at various times and for various reasons, that experience is one I am confident we can all relate to.

The following brief paragraph appeared at the top of the page before the links:

If you are currently in crisis, or feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, please keep reading. It may not seem like it now, but you do have options. All of the organizations that are listed below have someone on the other end of the phone 24 hrs / day. They will help you, or they will put you in touch with someone who can. Please let them.

Simple and straight forward, writing that paragraph and putting together what I felt were relevant links, took me twenty minutes at most. Just a little more than seven years later, and a year after I had effectively closed the blog, I was reminded just how thankful I was that I took those twenty minutes.

The email pinged just as I was shutting down my computer for the night. The English was awkward and halting, but the description of the night she left her life and husband behind was none the less potent. An abused woman, living in poverty, her story is a dime a dozen. For the drama chasers among you, sorry, there was no water shed event, no final bone-shattering beating. Simply, this random woman, someone who most of us would give passing glance to on the street, had finally decided she had enough.

For whatever reason, and through that odd combination of luck, fate, and circumstance, her resolve found its way to a helpline linked on the pages of my blog. Twenty minutes later, and with a lone bag, her daughter, the family cat, and the phone number and address of a shelter they would spend the night at, she walked out of her house, doing what had to be one of the most difficult things she had ever done; venturing into the world with a very uncertain future, alone, and at great risk.

Ten months later, it proved to be the right decision. She was finally at a place where she felt she could tell me, a virtual stranger, what finding that link meant to her. I accepted her gratitude, openly offering my own for taking the time to share her story with me. In a grand world scheme, a non-event to be sure; however, in her life and mine, it was profound.

Often we forget the inherent potential in sharing our stories and perspectives. Beyond making someone feel a little less alone, the things we say may occasionally be nothing less than transformative for both reader and writer. That is a potential we should all try to never forget.