If you follow Sam Dylan Finch’s blog (and if you’re not, you should) you would have seen his response to a xoJane article from a woman talking about how glad she is for her friend’s suicide. The actual article has been since removed from the website, thank Christ, and replaced with an apology from the editor of the website. But, as this Jezebel article points out, there is a problem beyond one insensitive think piece somehow reaching a wide audience – it is the entire culture of the think piece, this assumption that within the bounds of a personal, I-centric essay, anything is permissible.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not read the original article. As someone who worked as a counsellor, as someone who blogs about mental health, as someone who lives with depressive episodes, I recognize my triggers when I see them, and I didn’t see the point of giving some narcissistic piece of click-bait more attention than it deserves. I did share Sam’s piece with my Facebook friends, however, because it illustrates the shocking lack of empathy and compassion that we have for people who go through a rough time.
Fact: You can never know everything that goes on in a person’s life. You cannot. Never, ever assume that you understand them perfectly, or that you know their motives, and never judge them.
But this post isn’t another response to Amanda Lauren. Rather, this is a post about the personal essay on the Internet.
They say that discretion is the better part of valor and while I may not agree with this entirely, (I believe valor is the better part of valor), there is something to be said about the value of discretion. Particularly in a world where any old argument can be called up and viewed, years after everyone involved parted ways, with just a few keystrokes, it’s worth thinking about long-term consequences before you post something.
Those of you who have read the Lenten stories on my blog might have noticed that I use my “I”s liberally and that I’m pretty reticent about details regarding other people. Particularly if something negative transpired between us. I can’t say I’m always successful at it – in fact, I probably was less successful than I thought – but I did try to protect the innocent where I could.
I was also careful about the angle I took with these essays – I focused less on analysing other people and more about myself, because… well, Lent is about self-examination, and also I have no business judging others.
There were some stories that I didn’t share, too.
Some stories were too raw to share.
Some were too new.
Some stories were not mine to discuss.
And in some, my story was too intertwined with that of others, so that it was impossible to tell it without dragging some along for the ride. And without their permission, I could not do that.
Obviously, my mileage varies from that of other people. Some of you may hear these stories and think they’re not that shocking or worth the secrecy. Some of you might think otherwise. It matters on what you believe is ethical to share, but also what your friends might think. Because some stories really aren’t ours to share without permission, no matter how much they lend themselves to tasty blogposts. There are even some stories that we can’t share with permission. I know there is at least one that, even with the person’s blessing, I cannot bring myself to write.
Bottom line is this: you decide where you sit on this debate, but please, please, please, be aware of the impact of your stories. The Internet, trite as it is, is forever. Some things cannot be taken back.