I caught up recently with one of my very old friends who I rafted together with in Uganda on the White Nile 20 years ago. One of the things that we discussed was the fear that we had before certain rapids. For my friend it was the Bad Place, the last rapid of the day and which required a take-out and portage just before it due to the size of the lead up rapid. With his feet on the ground but ready to step back into the raft, paddle around a little corner and straight into that 18 foot hole of oblivion, he always had that dull and awful fear.
For me it was sitting in a large eddy behind a boulder in the river above Total Gunga rapid. I only ever had two bad swims on the Nile and I had them there. Our video kayaker way downstream would raise his paddle high into the air, the signal to pull out into the strong current and begin the 400 meter long class 5 express train to the G Spot, the infamous wall of water that was hard to locate and hit but you needed to get there.
I always had the fear sitting in that eddy.
Everyone is afraid but courage is merely the knowing and acceptance of your fear. You admit that you are afraid and then you put it aside and you move through it. What made the White Nile such a challenge is that you would do that successfully but then the very next day you found yourself back in the same place and the same situation, and having to go through it all over again. It never got easier; it simply stayed as it was.
Last week I posted an article about why living in fear of social media was self-defeating. It got a few comments here and there including a long one from Steve at the Pub. I know Steve from Catallaxy Files blog and he has said much in the past with which I agree. Here is a snippet of his comment:
It is not always possible to be in a position to not care.
It is not always even possible to know there’s an online lynch mob after you.
Trip Advisor & other review sites, Facebook pages you don’t know exist, & so on.
I’ve seen such online lynchings almost ruin people’s lives, without the target even knowing what was happening until it was over.
There is no such thing as something so stupid, so barking mad, so ridiculous & totally out of character for you, that someone you know won’t believe it – just because they read it online.
This includes, but is not limited to: You bank manager (starts talking about calling your business loan) Spouse (allegations of infidelity, no matter how baseless, once made online create a lasting suspicion) customers (online allegations of unethical & immoral business practices, no matter how stupid, used to be believed) Magistrates (“Well, more than one person has been saying this – so it must be true – thus I have to give sufficient weight & gravity to these public comments”)
I’ve seen all of these happen to people who were owner-drivers of their own business and believed nothing the mob said mattered to them. Some did not even have a Facebook profile.
Three years ago a business very near me reduced staff by half-a-dozen people, purely in response to a boycott caused by an evidence-free Facebook pile-on on a local gossip page)
Three years now, & no sign of those jobs coming back. The business owner has survived – but that’s the key word, survived. He’s managed to hang on – so far.
Anyone who is inoculated from the mob is fortunate indeed – very fortunate.
Nothing that Steve wrote is wrong, although I will say that just about nobody is inoculated from the mob, myself included. I have had threats sent to my workplace. The latest came in an anonymous letter with an Australian stamp. In it was a single sheet of paper with my photo sourced from this website, a list of my “sins”, (you know the ones), and then the address of this website. Somehow I got the feeling that whoever had taken the trouble to send that letter meant me ill will.
Anyone who does not have a smidgen of fear of having their livelihood destroyed by the sort of mob which Steve describes is indeed a fool. But the difference with me is that I will not give in to my fear. I acknowledge its existence and then move through it. I will not live a fearful life. I will not shirk from my self-imposed duty of writing about that which I observe. For a man who lives his life beholden to his fears is not the sort of man that I want to be.
There are no guarantees in this life. I might become as mighty as Ozymandias or I might be squashed like a bug. Hopefully it’s something in between. But the type of guttersnipe who sent that letter depends on fear winning the day for his nefarious plans to succeed. So excuse me for not kowtowing to my enemies, afraid for what they may or may not do to me. If anything my goal is to make them afraid of me, afraid that my all-seeing eye will come to rest upon them and expose their lies and hatred to the unyielding glare of truth.
That is the basis from which I operate. Seen in that light, I hope that my indifference to social media mobs is now more understandable for everyone. A bunch of cellar dwellers madly pounding away on their filthy keyboards with lies and threats do not quite cut it for a guy who sat above Total Gunga day after day with the fear hard in his stomach like a cross of iron. I know what it takes to get through that fear. I only hope that more of you have what it takes as well.