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Miss Understood Draws Fire

I can’t tell you how many times I have read about an actress, a politician or an athlete whining about how their comments or activities were “misconstrued,” and how shocked they were, and thought to myself “what did they expect?” Smugly and self-righteously I sat in my house and thought about how, if one is a public figure, subject to the opinions and attacks of every Tom, Dick and Harry populating this earth, one ought reasonably to anticipate that not everyone will love them, understand them or agree with them. It was, I thought, simply the trade-off they made for “fame and fortune and all that goes with it.”

Then it happened to me.

I have had skirmishes on this blog; I made myself unpopular with fans of King’s of Leon front man Caleb Followill when I lambasted him for making disparaging remarks about “mom jean” wearing women, and I had a regrettable disagreement with one friend over the comments on another post, and, in yet another, managed to offend someone else’s taste in music. When a piece I had written was published on Salon.com, ridiculous comments and arguments erupted over my jokey aside that I could refer to certain things as “Jew Food” but non-Jews didn’t enjoy the privilege. I didn’t enjoy any of those flare-ups, but I could dismiss the Followill fans on the basis of their illiterate nastiness, I could apologize to my friends and trust that they knew me well enough to cut me some slack, and I had no problem seeing that the Salon regulars were simply spoiling for a fight about something, to the point where they would draw swords over an irrelevant sentence in a recipe for noodles and fried cabbage.

Yesterday, on Open Salon where I also post, I ran a piece about bullying that I had posted here in the fall of 2009. The gist of it is that while schools need to take active steps to protect vulnerable kids from bullies, I see the “bullying rubric” in our District being applied to situations where no actual bullying is involved. I also see it being used by folks smart enough to know that invoking “bullying” leads to the punishment of the alleged bully, sometimes without a real examination of the facts and personalities involved. The piece was selected as an “Editor’s Pick,” meaning that it was on the “front page” of Open Salon for about 24 hours. This is a very prominent spot, there are 10,000 plus members of Open Salon, and so the piece was very, very public.

What followed was what can only be called a shit storm. (Sorry, mom). I anticipated the argument that bullying is so destructive and so odious that it’s okay if corrective measures are so strict that they catch some innocent kids in the crossfire. I don’t agree with that argument, but I saw it coming, and I got it in the comments. What I didn’t expect were the folks who interpreted into my writing all kinds of things that I never thought or wrote, all of them very ugly. I was criticized by more than one person who believed that I supported the bullying of children who behave oddly, including (by very tenuousย  extension) children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I explained in response, over and over and over again that I had not meant that, that I earn most of my income representing people with autism spectrum disorders before the Social Security Administration. I was told that I shouldn’t be doing that job because I clearly didn’t understand autism spectrum disorders or their symptoms. I said that I had, myself, been bullied from elementary school through high school, to no avail. I was accused of supporting bullying, wanting people to go after the weak and eccentric, being insensitive, and everything except actually being Hitler. No answer that I gave was effective; it was like yelling into a canyon. I felt misunderstood, and actually I started to wonder whether the cruel, bully-supporting person they saw was not, in fact…me.

Just when I was starting to feel okay about it all, to understand that if you bring up a controversial topic you risk controversy (and I do understand that) one of my most unhappy and acerbic commenters wrote a post of his own, characterizing my piece as an “apologia for bullying” and demanding that I apologize. I think he also wanted me to pull the post. He was also apparently obsessed with the fact that I am a lawyer, although I mentioned it only in the comments when I was trying to explain my professional reasons for understanding autism spectrum disorders.In fact, I am no longer a member of the bar, and practice law only on a consulting basis because I hated practicing law. How ironic to have that be the focus of his attack. If only, I kept thinking, if only I could just explain…..

It was surreal, reading this lengthy tirade about me as if I were the absolute, total, irredeemable scum of the earth. A puppy killer, an autistic child-hater, probably an eater of infants. The idea that someone was so angered by my words that he would do such a thing was more than a little scary, particularly since I had tried so very hard to explain myself and “fix things.” It made me discouraged, and sick and exhausted, and it made me think that no matter how careful I was, someone was going to pick apart everything I wrote and turn it into something completely different.

So it happened to me. I published something controversial in a public forum, and although I am no movie star, I have now had the experience of being judged and criticized and misconstrued, and quite possibly even hated by people who know nothing about the real me. There is no “fixing” it as if I were a small child with a boo boo; I could be revealed as the successor to Mother Theresa and they’d still hate me. Everybody doesn’t love me, and everybody won’t. If I push buttons, intentionally or not, the folks I have sent into orbit will not care that I am a nice girl, that I take bugs outside to avoid killing them, or that I’m good to my parents.

I can write that, I can “get” it, but it’s going to take some time for me to accept it as an ordinary part of life. I am, and have always been conflict avoidant, and my natural response to any argument that can’t be worked out with a little patience and compassion is to stick my fingers in my ears and chant “lalalalalalala.” Then, of course, I’m hurt, and then, of course, I whine and cry. This is the whining, by the way.

I drew that fire, and I’ll draw it again if I keep pushing for a bigger audience. I get that. I’ve learned a lot of things in the past 24 hours, about people, and arguments, and discourse, civil and otherwise. In the final analysis I think I’ll grow from this, thicker skinned and more realistic, if nothing else. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

41 responses »

  1. Sounds like some days on the school board. Fortunately we can split the flak 7 ways.

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  2. Too many people would fail the “Reading and Comprehension” portion of the SATs. Either they skim over the article in question or read a selected paragraph or two and extrapolate what they “think” are the article’s points and conclusions. It is nothing more than sheer intellectual laziness.

    I encounter this daily on posts on social networks and blogs. It seems that every other post starts with “I didn’t say that, what I said was…”.

    Of course you can always be comforted by the maxim that “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”

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    • Ah, you’re right about the intellectual laxity (I like to think they are “skimming for buzzwords”) but I’m not quite at the point of being comforted by the publicity. That’s a goal, though!

      Reply
  3. Vox populi, and all of that . . . .

    Seriously, sis, you post to the world, a few malcontented idiots will pop up. Libertarius (pomposius americanus?) strikes me as what P.J. O’Rourke aptly describes as the “perpetually indignant.” He obviously utterly missed the point of your piece in his headlong rush to be the most concerned voice in the room. Feh.

    I am reminded of a letter Robert Heinlein wrote, circa 1968, in a state of exasperation to a fan of “Stranger in a Strange Land.” He was horrified that legions of readers would model their lives around his “teachings.” His response was that as a writer he prompted people to THINK. For themselves.

    You rightly tweaked the tail of the knee-jerk “won’t someone please think of the children” dragon. If our answer to them is to stifle any and all expression, and remove any duty to discern actual threat from whiffenpoof, we deserve to live in the Orwellian hell that mindset encourages.

    Stick to your guns. Besides, your brother is bigger, meaner, and loves you.

    – PTG

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  4. Watching this all unfold was like living in the twilight zone. These people didn’t really care about the content of the piece. They have their own narrow minded agendas, and baby killer Ann gave them the platform to spout off and show off their evolved-ness…..with a touch of nastiness thrown in. So Ann, everyone knows you don’t eat babies, so keep going. Those OS’ers who can’t get their own stuff published will continue to prey on those who can.

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    • The last nasty comment was my favorite; it accused me of being a right-wing persecutor of Jews and fat kids. If that person only knew…..

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      • Altho I did read something recently about an Italian chef who posted a recipe for “cat casserole”, maybe you could try that.

    • Rob has it exactly right–you gave some a-holes a little platform to push their narrow-minded agendas and whatever they said, very little of it was truly directed at you. Probably the ugliest feature of the Web 2.0 is the hideous crap that gets posted in the comments sections of all kinds of great articles and blog posts. It does seem predatory and it must be their way of working out some weird demons that we, thankfully, never have to understand.

      Interesting that in this article about bullying (and actions wrongly understood as bullying), few of the antagonistic responders would have characterized their comments as verbal bullying, yet it appears you feel bullied somewhat. (I realize you didn’t say that and might not characterize your feelings in that way, I’m just going on your reported reaction). I totally LOVED your original piece and am sure that occasionally perfectly honest, rational expressions are inaccurately and unfairly interpreted as bullying. (I can easily see what happened to Sam happening to me.) At the same time, how ironic that these defenders of swift justice for bulliers (who–at least in some cases–probably felt they were just honestly expressing their opinions) in fact made their target feel bullied.

      Reply
      • Thanks, Amy. I learned a lot here, and while I don’t apologize for what I wrote, I do see that certain issues really set people off. I thought I was pretty moderate, but i think, as others have said, that if someone has real pain, or bitterness, or anxiety or guilt in connection with some issue, they can’t be balanced and rational. On the other hand: not my fault. I am hoping that I can get to the point where I feel compassion for people like my attackers; I think it must be really, really hard to live life (as Forsetti says in his comment, below) at DEFCON 2. Maybe a little Valium in the water isn’t such a bad idea….

  5. Ann,

    Ok, now you know first-hand there are crazies and narrow-minded people and people who will always be diametrically opposed to anything you write. Done.

    Now, don’t you dare soft pedal or pull any punches, girl. You must write with your full voice. I won’t stand for any bullying trying to get you to shut up. Your eloquent writing and thought-provoking ideas merit front page exposure–which is why your posts have been picked again and again.

    We love you and we love reading you. Go get ’em tiger.

    E

    Reply
    • Okay, well, I’ll keep doing it but I can’t guarantee that I will not require reassembly like the Tin Man and the Straw Man when they first arrive in Oz…..

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      • An apt simile–but remember, the Wizard merely pointed out to them that they were already complete as they were before they set out to seek his aid, and as Glinda said to Dorothy “she had to learn it for herself-she never would have believed me before”. Also, being made of straw and tin, they couldn’t really be killed-so, I like that comparison a lot. And as for the lion, he wasn’t really cowardly, he just cared a lot. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Eric, you said it well. These people are bullies.

      Reply
    • or is it “soft peddle”, both kind of make sense but I get confused with “deep seeded” or “deep seated” too

      Reply
  6. goodness, in the time it took me to write my comment, all these other people chimed in ahead of me. Guess we got your back, dearest Ann.

    Reply
  7. There are always people out there who are trying to pick a fight (see: “jew food” angry people) and the best thing to do is to ignore them. Don’t feed the trolls, that’s exactly what they want. Willful ignorance is all over the internet…

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  8. Hey Ann, I just reread your piece and read a good deal of the comments. (thanks for the shout out, you were talking about us right?) We are not the norm for how we have handled Daniel’s autism. I think kids with Aspergers get teased more. I of course don’t think you deserved the lashing, but try to understand you don’t know what some of those people have gone through, if they have Aspergers themselves, or have family members who do and have possibly lived with a lot of pain. I try to take the side that unless you’ve walked in their shoes you don’t totally know where they are coming from. I have not been advocating for long but in the time that I have I have quickly determined that EL overall does a really really good job. We also don’t have a lot of undiagnosed kids running around as one commenter made a suggestion about. They do a really good job diagnosing. Take it with a grain of salt, because as that teacher said, you can’t make everyone happy.

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    • Of course it was you.

      i do know, from reading billions and billions of school files and IEPs and even documents from lawsuits against schools, that things are much tougher in lots of districts.

      You are right that I don’t know what those people have been through, absolutely right. I do think, though, that if you want to open peoples’ eyes and change things, bitterness and passing on the crap that was dealt to you is no way to do it. It’s human, I get it, but it if people choose to take that path, I don’t think they advance their cause.

      One last thing – I think that the teachers we’ve dealt with have mostly done a fantastic job administering the bullying rules fairly and reasonably. We did have one principal who couldn’t even sort regular discipline out from bullying rules, and I still think the District is inconsistent in how and when the bullying rubric is administered across all the schools. Pretty much, I love and respect our teachers.

      Reply
      • I agree. I honestly think that *mostly* our rubric is a good thing. It’s that you get the one principal who doesn’t understand or have the capacity to administer it and you have a big ol mess. You know what I’m talking about ๐Ÿ™‚ Luckily for us, that problem is no longer. .. .

        I also agree that it is inconsistent across the schools which can be confusing for our kids. The Special Ed org that I am a part of has brought this to administration many times. Those of in special ed who REALLY know how to use the system (me) can work it into our behavior plans etc. but not everyone can or does do that. I specifically put strategies in ours to get around the things you are speaking about such as the kid who *may* set off Daniel on purpose then say “he hit me and bullied me” and Daniel would not have the ability to speak for himself. That scares the crap out of me….

  9. Ann,

    The extremely broad definitions of bullying in the ELPS rubric are terrifying, especially when you happen to be the unfortunate parent on the receiving end of said rubric in a principal’s office. One would think that at least 40 kids a day would wind up accused of some level of bullying.

    I thought you were pretty clear in your post on OS. And although I’m sure it pained you to no end to see your piece completely misconstrued by a few, I think it really did get people thinking about their perceptions of “bullying”, and what constitutes a responsible approach by a school to both the bully-ee and the bully-er (oh … that was fun). Mission accomplished.

    Please don’t start filtering!

    T

    Reply
    • Tess,

      (Do I know you?! in real life?) When Sam was at Glencairn, there were literally lines of kids in the office waiting to be written up for various bullying-related offenses. I know all kinds of unlikely kids who have run afoul of those rules, and I fear that it really dilutes their understanding of how serious REAL bullying is.

      Thanks for saying I was clear. The “few” were pretty fierce and persistent, and for a “pleaser” like me, that’s rough. Clearly, you “got” it…so it was possible to understand it….

      I will not filter, but I may take a little break from controversy. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  10. Dear Ann:

    Let me add my voice to those who request that you do not filter or compromise your writing. The fact that we live in a time and place where nuance and subtlety are lost on many of the populi is unfortunate, but not surprising. Great writing has never required that one actually have walked in anyone’s foorwear, only that one convinceingly articulate what it might be like. The human condition has remained relatively constant from what I can see for a good ten thousand years.

    As one who was both teased and bullied in elementary school for being different, dressing strangely, and speaking oddly I can only say that the damage if any was slight and that my tormentors for the most part were 100 percent accurate. Fortunately, I had parents as did you who instilled in us a sense of self-worth and value that negated most remarks and actions. I believe that this still holds true for you to this day.

    Well it’s time for dinner and a quick re-reading of Addison’s “A Modest Proposal”.

    Reply
    • Will, thank you – I’ll whine more often if it elicits such thoughtful and beautifully written comments.

      I am glad that you are enjoying some light reading. Saving energy for your first major designing gig, no doubt. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  11. As the parent of a special needs child I have seen a lot of different behaviors towards these kids. There are clear, easily distinguishable difference between misunderstanding, being uncomfortable and bullying. To lump these under one category of behavior does a huge disservice to everyone, especially the person whose behavior is in question. If you treat an action as bullying when it isn’t, you miss out on a valuable teaching opportunity. Bullies usually are not very teachable but people who don’t know better or don’t know how to act around someone who is different than they are often are more open to life lessons.

    Too often parents of these children are overly protective and hypersensitive when it comes to their kids. They come into any situation already at DEFCON 2 and their emotional state doesn’t allow for different viewpoints or rational thought. When these types read an article like yours they automatically go into bunker mode.

    The “problem” lies with them and no matter how hard they rant and rave it is not and should not become yours. Keep up the honest analysis.

    Reply
    • Wow – this is honestly the best reasoned response to these specific people that I’ve seen. Although they still wouldn’t listen. On OS, the father of a child with Asperger’s commented that he understood when kids took a little time to get used to his son’s behavior, and that it was okay, and that he tries to work constantly with his son to improve his ability to see and respond to social cues. My #1 antagonist replied by telling this guy that he clearly wasn’t a good father. There is no winning.

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      • Some parents of special needs kids carry around a lot of self-imposed guilt about their child’s “condition”. This guilt often makes them deflect their own frustrations and anger onto others. From the sounds of it, I’ll bet your #1 antagonist is in this category.

      • not to butt in, but I am, I agree Forsetti, that is what I think was going on for this #1 antagonistic guy…

  12. Ann,

    I find that if you turn the target 15 degrees to one side and apply a small amont of lubricant to the face, even the good shots will strike a glancing blow.

    Drag it back from the fray by 20 yards or so and hell, the most frenzied of the assailants wont even be able to hit it at all.

    I fancy you catching projectiles with your teeth before this is all over, just to show your detracters an utter lack of fear……

    Reply
    • From your computer to God’s ears…you will be able (conveniently) to call me “Annie Oakley” Nichols.

      May take a while, though…..

      Reply
  13. I remember reading your Bully post a while back and was not once offended or pissed. And I own a bully child (step daughter from previous marraige) but still mine. I try to teach her the right way to handle situations and people, while her dad (a bully in his own “short man syndrome” right) tells her to beat them up!
    I enjoy every thing you write.
    I am always amazed at the a-holes that show up in comment threads on most articles. I think you just have to remember that too many people out there are crazy. Some more than others. They just want the attention and want to wind people up.

    Reply
    • Ah, some day we should talk stepdaughters, although mine was certainly no bully. Sounds like if we mixed our up, yours would be sweeter and mine would be tougher.

      Thanks for your kindness; I guess I deluded myself that I came across as such a kind, wonderful (modest) person that no one could believe that I deserved a dressing down; lesson learned. Besides, I can always come here where far fewer people are looking for a fight.

      Reply
  14. People are assholes. I think that a lot of these folks don’t have a lot of power in real life so they troll internet boards and pick fights with people just to feel like they have some power (they don’t). Why, just a few weeks ago I pissed off some guy and that whiny ass bitch had his WIFE email me to tell me what a horrible person I am. That was kinda awesome, in a way, because it humored me.
    I teach special education and see my kids get bullied all the time but, sadly, by the other teachers. I have never been bullied a day in my life and I’ll be damned in my kiddos are gonna be. But it goes back to the power issues…some of these teachers have no power in life and so they take it out on kids. Sick, sad, disgusting. I’m glad I’m not them.
    (sorry for profanity but if you’ve read my posts on the lady food bloggers, then you know :))

    Reply
    • I think you’re right. I am still trying to get my mind around having your spouse fight your battles for you…my husband would, but i wouldn’t let him.

      I would love to read your posts; you’ve definitely piqued my curiosity, but when I click on the link i see no posts. Am I doing something wrong?

      Reply
  15. No, it links to the wrong blog….sorry about that. I don’t know how to fix it!
    It’s:
    http://palateofpatti.wordpress.com

    Reply

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