"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Power of Kindness


In the last two to three years, I have witnessed beauty and acts of kindness that have made me believe in the power of the internet, online “community”, and the goodness of people. When Matt Logelin lost his wife the day after his daughter was born, people from all over the world reached out, offered help, and sent words of comfort so achingly beautiful, that my faith in people—strangers moved to do good things—grew exponentially.
Through the blogs I follow and writers I love, I have watched as total strangers have “circled the wagons” around families in need, rallying at warp speed to arrange fundraisers, support, supplies- and whatever is needed to help. I would read accounts like this late at night and go to sleep believing that despite everything else, the goodness of people outshines some of the dark headlines and random, horrible events that take place every day.
I still believe that, for the most part. But, I have seen the alternate power of the internet this past week—the power of words and anonymity that combine in cyberspace to do a deeper harm than it seems words should be capable of.
Part of the beauty of the world wide web and all pages we all stop and drop in on, is that the world is at our fingertips. We can “visit” cities that are a half a world away, we can learn about any topic under the sun in vivid detail, complete with photos, firsthand accounts, and historical data. We can read the words of prize-winning journalists mere seconds after they complete their keystrokes.
It is all incredibly powerful.
And while reality tv and that mindset have invaded our living rooms, we all feel it is our right to peer a little more closely into the lives of others, and with each breaking news story, we are offered details, photos, and minute by minute accounts in real time. We now expect it. Immediately. We demand it. It is almost surreal that as natural disasters happen around the world, we see the footage instantly, as it is happening, wherein the past we would have had to wait for the next day’s newspaper, or a news report on television at only 6pm or 11pm. This is nothing short of miraculous, even though it seems more commonplace than extraordinary as we have all grown accustomed to the technology that makes it happen, and our ability to access it.
We read articles on cnn.com or yahoo.com, or our own local newspaper or television websites, and not only can we process the words and form an opinion, we can also comment—share our views and beliefs in a forum where thousands and even millions will see it, our words just under those of the journalists who penned the articles. I have been moved in the past to make comments, especially in the early stages of the online availability to comment. But today, if you go to cnn.com and pick ANY article and scroll through the comments, you find very little substance, but plenty of hate, provocation, and a whole lot of nonsense meant to inflame, not to inform. It’s one thing when these idiots comment on a travel article and spew drivel about what a stupid place a certain area is to visit, etc. But it is another thing entirely when the story involves a death-the murder of someone’s child- and people belittle the loss as deserved or the fault of the parents. Especially on a local level, when one’s own neighbors and community members are the commenters, the words take on a new meaning. The power is immeasurable, the pain deep and brutal, and the ability for these people to remain anonymous in their viciousness only makes it easier to take the cruelty to another level.
I have watched this past week as Katie Granju has suffered because of the words of strangers. Katie lost her son last year, and amidst the pain and grief of losing her oldest child, she has had to fight to get authorities to conduct a proper investigation into his murder while being treated in such an appalling manner by so called “public servants” that I have been enraged and brought to tears more times than I can count. Her son battled addiction, and she has been open about his struggle, and her family’s struggle to help him with the battle he ultimately lost. Because her son Henry was an addict, heartless, uneducated people have told her such things as he “deserved” to die, and have said such other horrible things to her that I have found myself gasping reading the words, and doubting humanity.
I believe that everyone deserves to have an opinion. And maybe even readers of my blog who have linked to Katie’s blog and the other sites that detail Henry’s story and his case disagree with Katie, me, and her other supporters. That is fine, and while I am passionate in my beliefs, I respect that others may disagree. However, no one should have the right to say such wicked things that have no bearing on their opinion or the case at hand and have the comments released in a public forum alongside a news story or video. Maybe that sounds simple and ridiculous. And maybe it is. But I believe in kindness and compassion for a mother that has lost her son-- a mother that has never once portrayed herself, her son or anyone in her family to be without flaws, imperfections, or moments they wish they could take back.
In seeing this happening to Katie, I began to look at other news sites. I spent hours a few nights ago going to random news sites all over the country and clicking on articles featuring all kinds of stories, cases, crimes, and topics. And almost without fail, the comments sections made me nauseous. Maybe some of the comments had merit. Maybe some of these anonymous people knew a great deal about the families involved. But every subject of every story is someone’s son or daughter. Every person on this planet has parents and came from somewhere.
Katie and Henry taught me about my own perceptions of addiction, and educated me in ways I am so thankful for. And once again, because of Katie and Henry, I am learning a huge life lesson. I am a passionate person, and my opinions are rarely tempered. I believe that I am also compassionate and tone down my words in the right situations, but even moreso now, I understand the lasting power of my words, especially in cases and situations where I don’t know the whole story. While I don’t align myself with the people that have posted ridiculous rants about the outfit a grieving mother chooses to wear, or hate-filled sentences clearly meant to cause pain, I will always think before any comments in a public forum about the real people behind the story, and what those words will mean to them when they read them.
As powerful as all this access and technology is, kindness is more powerful. Kind words and acts in the face of deliberate hatred are breathtaking and inspiring. Thankfully, Katie and her family have also received a great deal of kindness and beautiful acts of love and support from friends and strangers the world over. I have watched through this last tough week as one day seemed more painful than the last, and the “army” of supporters rallied around her family on Facebook, her blog, and her other sites. I hope our words of kindness are ringing loud and clear, drowning out the other voices and hateful words.
I hope we are all learning the power we have-- the power of our words, the power of our love, the power of kindness.
The photo for this post is one of "Ben's Bells"--part of a project that Ben's family started in the face of tragedy to encourage kindness in their community. Learn more here. 

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18 comments:

Betsy Tant July 24, 2011 at 1:58 PM  

Absolutely one of the most beautiful things I've ever read!! Thank you, Kim!

Jamie July 24, 2011 at 2:39 PM  

Great words to read by Kim! Kindness Love and Hope are cousins and we we need to always shine light on them. You did just that here, BRAVO for You today!

misbehaving100 July 24, 2011 at 4:17 PM  

You have to understand the mentally of someone who spend their time posting comments on news forums...these aren't the normal individuals you encounter in your day to day life (unless they are hiding their true selves from others)

These are individuals who feel society has wrong them in some manner. They hate everything there is about life...their own life mostly and use this vehicle to cause pain to others.

The saying about some attention even if it is bad or negative is better than none fits them. Their comments are all they have to make them feel alive. They simply have nothing else in life. They are the outcast of society. They never had a mother like Katie to love them or the courage to be like Henry to follow his own path even if it ended badly. (Yes it took courage to walk Henry's path!)

Instead they hide behind a computer screen and type out their hatred for everything but mostly for themselves.

Please do not let these people receive another thought because they aren't worth it.

Cetta July 24, 2011 at 4:56 PM  

Beautifully said. I've been horrified at the heartless and cruel things said to and about Katie and Henry. If only people put themselves in others' shoes before speaking...

Kim July 24, 2011 at 5:07 PM  

Misbehaving100- I agree that most of these commenters probably have sad lives and these comments make them feel worthy or alive. I place most of my blame on the sites that even allow open commenting, especially with little or no moderation.
There is no reason for it. My hope is that all of these sites will soon cut off the commenting capability. There are always ways for readers to contact the journalists or editors if they feel strongly enough to express an opinion. But, I am quite sure that when it isn't posted publicly, commenting would lose its luster for most of these folks, and the problem would be solved.

Eva Gallant July 24, 2011 at 5:15 PM  

I agree. There is no reason to make cruel comments to or about people who are suffering pain and loss. And maybe such news should remove the comment capability.

kyouell July 25, 2011 at 3:03 AM  

I've known for a long time that I cannot read anything on an "official" news site whether it be cnn.com or a newspaper or a local tv station because the commenters there tend to be the worst kind of internet trolls. It's just too painful to read a story, empathize with the family's pain or revel in the family's joy, and then read those horrid comments.

Thank you for your wise words, and thoughtful reply in the comments. You said the other part of what I wanted to add: moderation is imperative. I've run across some news sites lately that do not automatically display comments, you have to click to display them. So much more pleasant! Even that simple step makes their site more of a positive contribution to the internet instead of just a troll pond.

perilsofdivorcedpauline.com July 25, 2011 at 10:10 AM  

I couldn't agree more. I think there is something about the anonymity that emboldens mean-spirited people to spew venom at writers. That happened to me when a piece I wrote ran on Salon. Many of the commenters obviously hadn't read the piece carefully, then made all kinds of assumptions about my character, ripping me to shreds. I personally don't understand that kind of vitriol. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If I read something I disagree with, I either leave a respectful comment saying why, or I don't comment at all. But, yes, the internet commenter forum is definitely in need of Miss Manners.

Suzanne July 25, 2011 at 11:06 AM  

Why read the comments at all, or if you must, why give them standing? They only have the power that you give to them.
I think you need a thick skin if you're going to put yourself out there in any public way. Expect the comments. Some people ARE mean, why expect them to be anything else? Isn't there something a little bit masochistic about reading comments that you know will be upsetting to you? (And someone will probably feel that I'm being mean in this comment... Everyone's perception is different.)

Allie, Jenn, Hadley, Riley, and Quinn July 25, 2011 at 11:49 AM  

Thank you for putting into words what I have been thinking for the last couple of months. I have just recently found Katie's blog and been reading what she and her family are going through. I could not find the words to appropriately describe what I was feeling, although I tried every night while explaining the horror to my husband. You have hit the nail on the head here!

Catherine July 25, 2011 at 2:32 PM  

I agree with you that there are people who are just downright mean with their comments. Some are trolls, some are trouble makers. But I will tell you that it seems to me that there is a lot of meanness out here among the supporters of a cause too.

I have commented on Katie's blogs. As a mom of young adults and teens, my heart goes out for the Granjus and what happened with Henry. This sort of thing is very much one of my fears in raising our children. I have no sympathy for drug dealers.

But having read every word about the case that Katie has written, I don't see a criminal case against the two people that she feels killed her son. I disagree with her. And that is taking her evidence and her arguments with very little from the other side, just knowing how the law works and what ones rights are in the this country. Whether I am correct in my beliefs or not,it is my opinion and my right to voice it. The meanness that her supporters who are ever so sweet in joining the choir of support is really jarring. How can they expect any better treatment when they are so quick to make off the wall accusations when someone disagrees with them? The pendulum swings both ways here.

When there is a public forum on something, one should expect disagreement. That is not the same as meanness or nastiness. In fact, the person disagreeing may well be the person who is in the right.

Kim July 25, 2011 at 3:41 PM  

Suzanne-
I understand what you are saying and I believe that the more attention (negative or positive) commenters like that get- the more they feed off of it.
But, as far as reading the comments that you know will be upsetting, it is easy to say "don't read them" or to ask "why would you read them?" from where we are sitting right now. But, if someone told you there was an article online from a local news source about one of your family members, in particular about a family member you had lost, I can imagine it would be hard not to read every word--even the comments, and even though you knew it might hurt, just not be able to stop yourself.
Grief is different for every person, and I believe that losing a child has to be one of the most painful losses imaginable. I can't judge anyone for how they process their grief, or the things they do in defending their child from the hateful words of strangers.

Kim July 25, 2011 at 4:07 PM  

Catherine-

As I said in my post, I also believe that everyone has a right to their opinion, and to express it. And yes, these news sites are public forums, and that is one of my issues. I believe these public forum commenting sections have become nothing but a sideshow of trolls trying to outdo one another, each being more cruel than the last. If the news sites can't moderate these sections, they should be cut altogether.
I am NOT saying that the people who intelligently disagree are the trolls or the ones I have issue with. It is one thing to express that you have a hard time understanding the evidence and how it adds up and quite another to say that Henry deserved to die because he was an addict and because of Katie's poor parenting. (all these things --and worse--have been said repeatedly in these forums). This adds nothing to the value of anything, it is said to be cruel, judgmental, and for no other reason.
In addtion, I think what Katie's family and the majority of her supporters are most upset about is the TREATMENT she has received from day one from the sheriff's office and the DA's office. She has been told to her face and via email that Henry is an "unattractive victim", and the lack of pursuit of a case and the attitude towards it has been biased by the fact that these folks viewed him as an addict, a junkie, and not worth the time to really dig into the case.
But, let's throw all that out for a moment. Let's say what you are suggesting is true-and there is not enough evidence. I have read about and watched the progress of countless cases where there wasn't enough evidence to pursue a case, but the authorities shared the family's grief and apologized and treated them with respect, genuinely apologizing for being unable to help more. And with almost every case I have ever read about or know about, the detectives and police kept in contact with the family during their investigations, updating them on the progress--good or bad. Katie's family has never been given these courtesies. Katie held back for almost a year before sharing the words sent to her via email from the DA's office that are horrible under any circumstances.
While I do believe that there is enough evidence to look into the activities of those surrounding Henry at the time of his death, and I do believe that they should be held responsible for not seeking help for him and for the other activities I believe they were and probably are involved in; most of all I believe that every family of a victim should be treated with respect, compassion an kindness. And in that line of work, if you can't muster the ability to do that, you need to find another career.
Anyone, but especially those living in Knoxville, should want to make sure those involved in this case are thoroughly investigated. The sad reality is, before too long, these same people will kill or harm someone else, and everyone will be asking the questions Katie's family is asking now- and it will be too late for someone else's child.

laura linger July 26, 2011 at 3:09 AM  

I think it is the very definition of unkindness to think so little of someone that you refuse to tell them the truth. "Kindness" is not synonymous with "delusion," at least it shouldn't be, and those who truly care about someone do not feed into a continued and futile madness with words or deeds, especially when the sufferer is in so much obvious pain as a result of the maelstrom. You can't just stand by on the shore when someone is drowning. Can you?

Katie might be surprised to learn how often I have thought of her since Henry died, and how often I pray to God to give her the strength to endure. Because I do, and I will continue to do so, regardless.

Catherine July 26, 2011 at 11:25 AM  

I absolutely agree that the way the Granjus have been treated by the authorities is appalling. Though not a Knox county resident, or even a Tennessee resident, I have sent missives to those parties expressing my opinions of how this case has been handled, even as I do agree that the case was not prosecutable.

What I am saying is that Katie's supporters have come up with very mean spirited remarks to those who respectfully disagree with things that are truly an opinion. And when they do so, they are just as guilty as being a nasty, ill mannered poster as those who are disagreeing in deliberately hurtful ways. Unfortunately, disagreeing, itself is going to hurt, since this is a highly personal and essential issue to Katie, friends and family. But I have seen the rudeness fly both ways. I have been accused of being all kinds of things and people with no facts or reason other than my opinion on the crux of the matter is different (and happens to be the prevailing opinion by the law as exercised).

It's really not so much my opinion that I am discussing, as the reaction to it and the irrational meanness that supporters crying out about how nasty remarks are that disagree with Katie, have exhibited when someone is rationally disagreeing with their stance.

Sue in Tenn July 26, 2011 at 2:58 PM  

I have personally written to the editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and asked him to find more effective ways to monitor the mean-spirited comments section that they allow to thrive as part of their online news. I got no response. I think that newspapers allow this type of drivel to flourish because it drives their advertising and increases readership. It will take a great deal of public input to get them to change, but demanding common decency in our public forums is something worth fighting for, IMO.

Sol Dirt October 25, 2011 at 10:23 PM  

I wish to reply to this article by written correspondence.

Please provide a mailing address where I can respond to this issue.

Thank you.

Amanda Whyte-Ownlea
South Elroy, YN

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