It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo…or insanity) on November 30th, I haven’t felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I’ll send them something at a later date and ask if they’re interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I’ve been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don’t write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I’d take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn’t really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we’re told we just have to suck it up and move on. It’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn’t even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I’ve been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I’ve had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you’re stupid you don’t respond to the reviews on Amazon. It’s bad form, for one thing. For another, it’s a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you’re a jerk. For that reason I’m not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven’t bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can’t imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don’t think that’s entirely the issue. I think it’s simply a change in how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. There’s an expression I like that applies to this.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

We’ve all seen what’s been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they’ll be shot by ‘responsible gun owners.’ If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We’re all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it’s the parents’ accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn’t bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they’re the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I’m scared of what we’re turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I’m a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, “I’d like to see you do better!” If they can’t do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That’s the real test, though, isn’t it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” and said he didn’t think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can’t teach something if you don’t know how to do it. He said those who couldn’t would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I’m still very worried about society. There’s a damn good reason I don’t leave the house much. When people think it’s okay to issue threats over books or articles, there’s a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won’t send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that’s entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don’t toughen up, but I also won’t lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence – and that’s what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They’re taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don’t believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don’t really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I’ve made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I’m done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don’t care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I’m done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it’s not socially acceptable to do what they’re doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It’s like those people who like to gossip. I can’t understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don’t have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. I’m more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what’s going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I’ve had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I’ve worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can’t resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways – like this blog post.

I don’t want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don’t want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I’ve distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don’t know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I’ve examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn’t mean they’re right.

Arguing With Myself About Hobby Lobby, Hypocrisy and MRAs

As opinionated and vocal as I am about certain topics, I’m sure many people think I ‘shoot from the lip’ as it were, and don’t really take the time to think about what I say or believe. Most especially after I’ve written something about it already. That’s entirely untrue, however, as I have continued to examine my beliefs throughout my life, wondering where a belief came from, and why it is so entrenched in me. I do want to know those things, because I don’t want my beliefs coming from indoctrination of any kind. I want them based on real facts, too.

Having said that, you will maybe understand why I choose to write more about SCOTUS and Hobby Lobby. Just so you know, though, I have not kept up with the latest developments, other than what I discussed in the comment section of my last blog posting about it. There may have been other developments, but I’m not able to discuss them knowledgeably at the moment. That’s not what this is about. It’s about the types of hypocrisy we see from the opposite end of the spectrum, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Every time a company acts out of ‘religious interests’ we need to ask ourselves this:

Would I hold the same opinion I do now, if this was a different religion (or lack of religion) being represented?

Would you hold the same belief if it was a Muslim company, as you do if it’s a Christian company? Would you think differently if it was a Buddhist company, rather than a Sikh company? How much of what we believe is true about the Hobby Lobby decision from SCOTUS, would still hold true if they were practicing Muslims who were in favour of imposing Sharia Law?

Religious prejudice does still hold sway in Canada, much to my disappointment, and I have seen it at work in my career. In fact, the last company I worked for would not give corporate shares to one of their executives because he did not attend ‘their’ church, and even though this practice is completely illegal here, and falls under discrimination laws, it still happens. Just not as often as it does in the U.S. We face it with the Catholic School Boards when it comes to their hiring practices, and the debate is very, very sticky. Anti-discrimination versus religious freedom. Do we tell people they have to share a religion in their personal life in order to be employed by an organization based on a religion? Especially when it’s not a for-profit enterprise.

The reverse is also an issue to ponder; non-religious companies telling their employees to keep their religions out of the workplace. I do honestly believe that there’s no way Hobby Lobby would have received the same court decision had they been Muslims. Not when there were 5 practicing Catholics in SCOTUS. My personal belief has always been, and will always be, that corporations have no business practicing religion of any sort. They’re nothing but a business enterprise with no beliefs of any kind. They’re there to make money, and they have court protection only because they took a step back from the personal beliefs of the owners. However, that swings back to me, too.

You see, I have a registered business, which you will already know if you read my prior post on Hobby Lobby. I have very strong beliefs about non-involvement in people’s personal lives, and think people should be able to do what they like in their own lives. But…is that really what I think deep down? How would I feel if I found out my employee was doing something I completely disapproved of, that wasn’t really any of my business? What if they were abusing animals in their spare time? Perhaps that’s not the best example, since animal abuse is actually illegal and opens up other options, but what about things that are a little more esoteric?

How would I react if my employee was attending MRA meetings? (Men’s Rights Activists – believe me that’s not as benign as it sounds, as they have a tendency to threaten women and have been known to promote violence toward them.) If the employee has done nothing illegal within the scope of his own beliefs, would I be able to get past it in the workplace? Knowing the content of some of these meetings, and having met a few of the trolls online, I would definitely have an issue with a person like that working within my organization. I’d be very worried about it, actually. I have to fear the potential for violence against female employees, the discomfort the others might feel in their presence, and the simple knowledge that the employee would think less of me as a human being because I’m female. As long as the employee does not bring those opinions into the workplace, do I have any grounds whatsoever to let him go?

Well, from a legal perspective he could not be fired for this specific reason. It’s discrimination. He is legally entitled to his own opinion. If he insults female employees, harasses them, is belligerent toward his female employer, or a number of other behaviours that are discriminatory on his part, then I absolutely have the right to fire him for it. I can not fire him for what he thinks, or what he does in his personal life. I can let him go because I don’t personally like him, of course. That’s always been legal. I just have to give him termination pay, and possibly severance pay (depending on the duration of his employment in the area where he’s employed). But is it the right thing to do, believing what I believe about business being separate from the personal?

My business isn’t incorporated so I have more personal leeway with respect to that sort of thing, and I’ll get back to that later, but what about corporations? Take a look at the big employers, like Google and Facebook. Look at their investments, and where they donate their money. Liberal companies, basically. Sure, they can choose to donate where they like, considering it’s a tax write-off and good for PR and the bottom line, but is it really something that corporations should be doing? They are, in fact, expressing an opinion about moral and/or political issues.

Hiring practices deal with the same issue. You try to find people who ‘fit the corporate culture,’ but what is a corporate culture if not an enforced moral compass for the employees? Sure, it might be an easy one to follow, like wearing blue jeans to work, but if one employee is more comfortable in his or her job wearing a suit to work they will not fit in. The position itself might even require a suit and tie because they’re meeting outside clients who will be more traditional in their mode of dress. That big, colourful slide at Google’s offices might look like fun to a lot of people, but some – possibly even me – would be a little taken aback by it. Some of us like a more traditional office where we aren’t distracted by such things. That doesn’t mean we’re incapable of doing the creative work required of a company such as Google. I spent most of my time being creative, and I work in bed half the time (and my pajamas all the time), so I have an arguably relaxed environment, but do I really want a ball pit to play in? Nope. Knowing me I’d probably break a bone, or would get beaned by an employee.

If companies donate to Planned Parenthood, aren’t they guilty of the same thing as Hobby Lobby in a sense? They’re taking the company profits, given to them through the hard work of their employees, and sinking them into something the employees might very well disagree with wholeheartedly. Sure, it’s the company’s money by that point, but those of us who are angered by the Hobby Lobby decision don’t believe a company should be able to tell employees what to do, either. Admittedly a very large part of that anger comes from the fact that they’re still funding vasectomies and Viagra, so they seem to think men should have unencumbered sex, but not women. I’m not going to get into all that again, because the hypocrisy of the company is not the issue right now. It’s the hypocrisy of those who think ‘liberal’ companies should have the freedom to do what they want, and be able impose those beliefs on their employees.

Should companies be forcing any moral standpoint on any employee? That’s the real question. I’ve heard myself say no a million times, but deep inside I need to be sure I’m expressing that for all sides of the equation, and not just my own personal belief system. Do I like the idea of donating lots of money to animal protection groups, and organizations that help women who have been raped? Sure I do. Do I think it should be a part of my corporate culture? If I responded emotionally, I’d say yes, but there I’d be trapped by my own logic about business. As a business, I really have no business doing anything from an emotional standpoint.

Getting back to the MRA, I think I’d be one of the hypocrites if I said I would even hire him in the first place if I knew about his activities, but maybe not. I can justify the action by saying he would most likely not fit in, and would make the other employees uncomfortable. I’d be acting like I can predict the future, of course, because I can’t honestly say with any certainty that what I think will happen will in fact occur. The odds are on my side, but odds aren’t facts. Would it be right for me to base a decision on that? Well, yes and no. As an employer I have an obligation to hire people that I don’t think are a risk to their fellow employees. MRAs represent a risk to not only the female employees (including myself), but also to the male employees who don’t feel that way about women. They will likely be placed in untenable situations where they see things they don’t like, and have to decide whether or not to speak up against them, possibly placing themselves outside their peer group’s approval.

An employee such as that is very likely to poison morale, and as an employer I have to consider that very seriously. I want all of my employees to be able to come to work and know that it’s a safe environment for them. If I’m going to be completely honest with myself, though, I have to admit that my gut decision would be not to hire him for very personal reasons. It would be my very first emotional reaction to a man like that. My distaste would be quite pronounced, in fact. Still, knowing myself as I do, I also know that I would force myself to think about it very seriously and continue to regard him as an individual human being. I’d have to determine within the scope of an interview if I really believed he was part of that fringe group where violence against women is not only condoned but encouraged.

Of course, maybe the point would be moot. Maybe all I’d have to do is ask him about it – simply tell him I know about his outside activities, and ask how he proposes to reconcile that with the fact that he will not only be working with women, and for a woman, but also working for a woman who is in fact a feminist. Any sort of negative reaction to that would be more than enough to tell me he would be a problem, and not worth hiring. If there’s no reaction at all, I have to let the issue go and judge solely on his skills and experience, as well as his personality as a human being. I mean, bosses will never hire someone they think is a jerk, unless that’s the personality they’re looking for – which does happen for certain positions. Sometimes you need an employee like that.

If he’s already an employee? Well, it boils down to this: I can’t legitimately fire him, even if I can do so legally, if he has never done anything wrong to justify the firing. I might have to grit my teeth for a while, every time I’m in his presence. What he does in his free time is none of my damn business. It never was. How he behaves at work is entirely within my province as his employer. Case closed. I may not like it, but I’ll not go down in history as a hypocrite if I can help it. There may be times I do it where I’m unaware of it, but hopefully it will be pointed out to me by one of my very intelligent friends.

There are plenty of employers out there right now who are showing off their ‘good deeds’ with expensive PR campaigns. Starbucks is one that’s always doing that, and I’ve lost track of the stuff they promote about themselves. One minute one group loves them, and then the next it’s a different group who loves them and the original group is ticked off. JC Penney riled people with an ad about a lesbian couple that were parents, and when there was an outcry they responded by showing an ad with two dads – another gay couple. Emotionally I can cheer that, because I believe wholeheartedly in marriage equality, and I’m proud that my country has had it for about 9 years now. Logically, I’d like to know why companies are even making stances like this. It may advance a cause, but it creates a dangerous precedent, much like the Hobby Lobby ruling. One company is allowed to do it, and is in fact encouraged, but then people get angry when a company does something they disagree with.

I find myself again stating that people can’t, or shouldn’t, have things both ways. Companies can’t have separation from risk without separating from having personal rights. They stop being people and become nothing but a business. The same needs to hold true for the public when they view these companies. If we’re going to get angry about companies taking these moral stances, we can’t be cheering others on when they do the same thing just because we happen to hold the same opinions. We are personalizing bricks and mortar, and not seeing them for the non-sentient entities that they are supposed to be. By all means, cheer on a fellow human being for taking a moral stance you approve of, but not a corporation.