We are Not Alone

Yesterday, I got a wonderful email. It was from the author of a book I reviewed a while ago, one that I had really enjoyed but about which I had a couple of small criticisms; the author wanted to let me know they had read and enjoyed the review. They thanked me also for my ‘wise’ reading of the book and my response to it, and complimented me on my own writing style.

Image: publicdomainarchive.com

Image: publicdomainarchive.com

I was so extraordinarily pleased, and surprised, that I may have clapped my hands in glee. (All right, so I did clap my hands in glee. There’s no shame in it. Right?)

It was extremely kind of this author – who is, I have no doubt, a very busy person indeed – to take the time to write to me, and also to tell me that they had enjoyed reading other posts on my blog. After the joy had faded a bit, however, I did a quick sweep of the posts they’d mentioned, to check for typos and infelicitous phrasing and the like; I also re-read the book review and winced a bit at some of my harsher sentences. I hope, on balance, that the author knew I loved their work. (I did, you know. Just in case you ever come back again and see this, dear author-person). Receiving the email was also a reminder to me that, even though writing a blog can feel a lot like screaming into the void at times, actually it isn’t; you’re making your words and thoughts as public as can be, and they are visible to readers all over the world.

So, yes. Simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. Much like publishing a book would feel, I should imagine.

It also reminded me of the importance of moderating what I say. It’s vital to remember that when you mention an actual, real-life human being on a public forum that they have every chance of finding your words, and of reading them, and if you’ve been cruel or hurtful, they will have every reason to be upset. Of course I try to never be cruel or hurtful to anyone, and unless absolutely necessary I don’t name names on this blog, but still. The principle remains. There are plenty of public events about which I’d love to comment, but about which I maintain silence because I either don’t trust myself to remain reasonable or they’re not relevant to the overall scope of this blog; that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion, or that I don’t care, but I’m aware there’s a time and place for everything.

Having the freedom to keep a blog, and to live in a country where my thought processes and ability to express myself (within reason) are uncensored, is a luxury I do not take for granted. I have had access to education, and I have always been encouraged to think for myself; I value that more than I can express. I’m also aware that, while putting my words on a blog makes them public, nobody is required to read them; the fact that I have readers at all is a privilege. Because of the fact that, to me, my blog is just me in my office with my computer, it’s easy to forget that there are people out there reading what I say. It’s frighteningly easy to forget that what I say here can affect others.

But what is most terrifying of all is the thought that the concerns which govern my online behaviour – moderated content, careful phrasing, avoidance of personal attack – are not shared by a lot of people who spend their time commenting on the endless stream of information that is the internet.

Image: unsplash.com

Image: unsplash.com

I’ve recently read a book – of which more later in the week – which made mention of cyberbullying; characters in this story are shown leaving vicious messages for someone on a social media site, breaking her down with every word, forcing her to believe that she is worthless. In the news over the past few days there have been stories of mindless vandalism which almost had fatal consequences, and it makes me so angry that people can do these irresponsible things without thinking of how they might affect others – or, more frighteningly, knowing exactly how they might affect others, and not caring. The choices I make about how I maintain my blog will have zero effect on things like this, of course; whether I live my life with empathy, or not, has nothing to do with someone who feels they have the right to throw rocks onto a train track, just for kicks. It makes me feel a little better, though, about the state of the world, to know that this little corner of the web is a place which strives to do no harm.

That, I suppose, is the best that I can do.


4 thoughts on “We are Not Alone

  1. susanlanigan

    “Having the freedom to keep a blog, and to live in a country where my thought processes and ability to express myself (within reason) are uncensored,”

    Heh, you know I disagree with you on this one. I believe Ireland is still a highly moderated and censored environment, where the minute wrong is done, an army of yes-men pour out to say “let’s not be emotional about the fact that we’re hurting you, let’s be clear-eyed and rational instead” but you have heard that rant from me so often it is trotting off for its bus pass at this stage, so… 🙂

    I certainly agree that my attitude towards reviews has changed since I started becoming an author, or author in waiting. Because I know exactly how much effort and pain goes into writing, crafting and completing a novel, the hell I’m going to dump all over somebody else’s work, because I know too well now what it meant to them. Also there are two other considerations (1) burning bridges is very unwise, being practical about it and (2) constantly criticising everything in an inappropriately negative fashion makes the critic looks like a jealous failure, or a “hurler in the ditch”.

    So if I really can’t finish a book, I just don’t trouble to review it 🙂

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      I suppose when I said ‘within reason’ I was thinking in terms of the law – as in, if you libel someone, then you will be pursued for it. But I do feel (perhaps because I haven’t been through the realities you have) that my opinion is free for me to hold and express. I just choose the venue and medium in which I express it quite carefully! Maybe that’s self-censorship; I’d rather think of it as prudence.

      I’m with you on the book review comments. I think the author who contacted me was pleased that I’d had so many good things to say about the book in question, and my criticisms weren’t petty, but thoughtful. I, too, don’t review a book if I really hate it – I might rant about how much I hated it, but I won’t mention it or its author by name. So, I’m still expressing myself but not hurting anyone. Win win! 🙂

  2. Harliqueen

    Book reviews are tricky, I never post a review if I really dislike a book- I’d rather contact the author personally and let them know about any criticisms.

    But as an author, I am always willing to take criticism in reviews, that’s the only way to improve, right? 😀

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Yes – me too. I don’t like slating another person’s work (not in public, at least!) and if I do give criticism I hope it’s taken in the most positive way possible. Thanks for commenting. 🙂


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