The Importance of Integrity When You Build Your Brand on Mindfulness
Integrity isn’t something we can pick up and put back down when it’s easy for us. Integrity is a lifestyle, not a selling point. If we choose a mindful life, we’re committing to being held to a higher standard. While we may sometimes fall short of our own ideals, there’s a difference between making mistakes but then making amends and regularly engaging in abusive behavior that creates untold harm.
Several years ago, I emerged from my divorce silenced too long and with something to say. Words poured out of me, for the first time in years. They first found a home on a publication I followed and enjoyed as a reader for its emphasis on mindfulness, personal growth, spirituality, and equality. I was happy to write for them, and eventually, I was even paid in monthly “contests”. I connected with many writers who became trusted friends, and I had a warm relationship with the editorial staff.
But the underlying issues present at this journal began to surface. The publication owner reached out to me to question why I was writing for other online journals. I explained my freelance status and the fact that I also support my family with my full-time writing income. His ongoing messages to request justification felt combative, as if by opting to publish elsewhere — while still contributing to his magazine at the same rate as before — I was doing something wrong.
By this time, the stress of working for the publication greatly outweighed the benefits. My work wasn’t being valued, my contest winnings were inconsequential, and my outside work was being repeatedly questioned. As a single parent of two young children, my finances became the final factor in my decision. I chose to pursue paid writing work to support my family and did not continue to submit my work for publication there.
While his messages to me have had a sexist tone, his public shaming of another writer for a private post on her private page is a direct abuse of power. There is nothing mindful in these messages. Instead, they are harassing, unprofessional, and inappropriate.
But that might just be the real brand of his empire if writers leaving the organization are to be believed.
My story isn’t uncommon. The greater issue here is that the publication is built on the idea of a mindful approach to life, one that is meant to be beneficial to others. By setting the foundation of his work on these principles, he’s established an expectation for a certain level of treatment of both staff and writers that honors that brand.
Unfortunately, he has failed in every way to do this.
This week, on three separate occasions to date, the owner publicly shamed writers, former writers, and staff members for participating in a discussion on a private page about a post that many of us felt was ageist and misogynistic in nature due to the title, photo, and lead-in. His defensive responses were surprising from an owner of a mindfulness publication. He berated, bullied, and sought to intimidate every single person who commented on the post.
It didn’t end there. He has continued to use his platform through public social media posts and subscriber emails to bring negative attention to the writer who made the original post on her private social media page about the problematic title and image. While he didn’t address ageism or misogyny, he took issue with the idea that posts on the journal could qualify as clickbait.
He has continued to tell followers his version of events, one that bears no resemblance to what any of us saw that day. He’s also messaged writers who were involved in the discussion for private and group video chats, but he declined to speak to the one (female) writer he was planning to lambast in an email campaign the next day.
The problem isn’t a difference of opinion on a private page that he called out publicly. The problem is that one cannot run a “mindful” publication and expect to be above integrity or accountability. The article in question was presented in a way that felt ageist and misogynistic to multiple writers, many of whom still work with the journal. There was concern that the article would not be read because the title and image attached were so inflammatory — and misrepresented the work.
Beyond this issue, we should certainly consider the ramifications of a “mindful” publication’s owner engaging in a blatant abuse of power.
The message was clear. This journal’s mission alone entitles it to an unimpeachable reputation, which is not to be criticized or questioned by anyone. The issues of clickbait, ageism, and misogyny were swept aside by his attempts to silence anyone who disagreed with any facet of the publication. The assertion seemed to be that writers should feel fortunate to write for the publication because of its mission, community, and “small business” ownership.
Over the years, many writers have shared their experiences of why they left this online journal. Many left because they no longer felt their work was valued, but the number one complaint was the toxic culture. I heard whispers of white spiritualism, spiritual bypassing, cultural appropriation, verbal abuse, public and private shaming, and a continued lack of professionalism. Like many other writers, my personal integrity and ethics wouldn’t allow me to continue writing for a publication that I knew was not representing their values.
The experience of writers for this publication matters. To build a brand on spiritual concepts requires self-awareness and integrity, neither of which seem to be represented by the actions of the owner. While I once loved the publication and remain friends with many of its writers, this behavior has spoiled the entire experience — not just for me but for many writers who trusted that they and their work would be treated with respect because of the brand of the magazine.
The message being advocated by this publication is in direct contrast to how it treats actual people who have contributed to it. You can’t preach kindness and benefiting others when you are actively harmful — and then expect to never be called out on it. The few who have called him out have been publicly shamed, derided, humiliated, and intimidated for daring to question his practices.
Make no mistake, these actions are absolutely harmful.
This feels familiar. As someone who has been the victim of emotional abuse, I understand the cycle. It is common for abusers to gaslight victims into thinking that they should apologize or offer restitution. The refusal to ever be held accountable is also a staple of abusive relationships. If relationship-speak is his preference when speaking to women writers, it makes sense that he behaves like the toxic ex when confronting conflict rather than addressing it professionally.
Integrity matters. How we represent ourselves matters. It’s not enough to build a business and say that you want to give something back to the world. Not when the direct actions of the owner belie that intent. Writers deserve better. Readers deserve better.
While I cannot control how anyone else behaves, I can do this one thing: I can speak the truth about my experience.
I can share it with former writers, so that they know they are not alone.
I can share it with future writers, so they have an inkling of what a relationship with that publication might look like.
I can share it with current staff members to acknowledge that a work environment that involves these sorts of power plays and petty grievances is toxic and hostile — to them as well as to writers.
I can share it with readers to say that if the writers you loved left the publication, you can probably find them speaking their truth and doing what they love somewhere else where they are treated with courtesy and respect.
And I can share it for myself — to say that this is my lived experience.
The owner’s problematic history with writers matters. If you want to build a brand on mindfulness, you have to be willing to be confronted with uncomfortable truths. You have to be open to being challenged, whether or not you agree. You have to be able to shut up and listen to feedback without defensiveness and to change when change is necessary. Sometimes, that change requires issuing personal apologies and making amends for harm caused by past behavior.
You can’t advocate spirituality and social justice in public and then berate, shame, bully, and harass behind closed doors and expect to maintain your brand. This behavior isn’t just harmful; it’s abusive, and it causes real trauma to those who have been targeted by it.
No one who called attention to the ageist, misogynistic title and image should have been treated to intimidation by the publication’s owner who never even addressed the concern and instead continued to expound on how his company is far superior to “Big Tech” publications. This is what should have happened that day. We should have seen a professional response to a post expressing our concern:
“Hey, thanks for the feedback. I had no idea that this article would be so offensive to so many. I’ll get with the editorial team and see if we can find an image and title that are more representative of this writer’s work. While we certainly didn’t intend to cause harm, I apologize for how it was presented and will make sure we are considering these issues when publishing in future. Thanks to everyone who brought this to our attention so that we can continue to learn and grow.”
A response like this includes ownership of the problem, personal accountability, respect for those with dissenting opinions, a willingness to address harm done with direct action, and an appreciation for the many voices of writers and readers who spoke up about what they were seeing.
But this isn’t what happened.
Instead, we saw that the brand of the journal is only as good as the integrity of its owner. From this and the many other reported interactions, it may be time for this “mindfulness” publication to find a new brand — or to accept that the current one requires real accountability.
For more insight into this story, read my friend Christy Williams gentle and thought-provoking piece:
I was Accused of ‘Publicly Flaming’ a Mindful Publication — Here’s What Actually Happened
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