A little more than a year ago, I was a member of an online group created by author Jon Katz, an man whose books and blog I have followed faithfully for years. I contributed there, received and gave encouragement there, and basically felt like I was a small part of something special in the online world.
That lasted until the day I voiced disagreement with one of the admins. She believed I had created a post that ventured into political territory. As the topic was, broadly speaking, one of the same topics that Jon himself had written and posted about, I respectfully—albeit firmly—disagreed with her. Long story short, she got her panties in a bunch and whined to Jon, who summarily banned me from the group. No discussion, no appeal, no explanations. Finite. Done.
The encounter reminded me, actually, of a blog post that Jon had published some months earlier. He reported on an incident when the barnyard rooster had attacked his wife. His solution, despite knowing that he would report it to a world that was already suspicious of his decisions regarding when and how to put down animals, was to summarily kill the rooster. Essentially his stance was that thoughtfully considered action plans and philosophical discussions regarding animal rights were all well and good right up to the point that someone he loved was endangered. At that point, there was no need to deliberate further; human safety trumps an animal’s rights in Jon’s view—especially when the human in question is someone he loves.
Personally, I have no problem with the logic of that line of reasoning. In fact, I think there are too many groups out there who have prioritized the rights of animals over the rights of humans—even the right to safety. It shows a perverted sense of priorities when people believe that animals deserve better treatment, easier lives, and more compassion than our fellow human beings. This, in fact, has been a theme in Jon’s recent work, and I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly.
However, in this situation I felt I was not attacking anyone. I was not disrespecting anyone. I was not a bully of a barnyard rooster but a long-term supporter of Jon’s work, reader of his blog, and participant in his online community. To be treated as if I merited no more consideration than an expendable animal that had outlived its welcome, to be dismissed due to a kneejerk reaction to an imagined attack—well, it felt insulting as well as unfair. And, frankly, it pissed me off.
So I decided to get even.
The first thing I did was to go online at Amazon.com and write a review of his (then) most recent book: Saving Simon. I had been intending to do this anyway. Jon had expressed disappointment, maybe even dismay, that his publisher had “orphaned” this book, providing no marketing or public relations support for it whatsoever. Although there was nothing I could do about that, I could, I decided, go online and publish the most glowing review possible for the book. And I did. Because it was an excellent book, one that included Jon’s attempt to empathize with the farmer who had so horrifically neglected Simon, almost to the point of the donkey’s death. Since empathy for humans accused of violating animals’ rights is almost non-existent in the modern world, I felt this was a unique and important element of the book that deserved to be highlighted. I’ve written a dozen or more reviews on Amazon, but I’ve never spent more time crafting a review. I love that book. Anyone considering purchasing the book on Amazon can now read why.
Part two of my vengeance plan happened a few months later when a Facebook group sprung to life around the absurd idea that Jon should be barred from owning animals. I reviewed the group—its mission and content—and then researched Facebook’s guidelines for inappropriate materials. My conclusion was that the group fell within Facebook’s definition of harassment, and I reported it as such. Soon, Facebook responded that they had reviewed the matter (which I really kind of doubt) and found that it did not, in fact, violate their guidelines. More time passed. More posts appeared. I again reviewed Facebook’s guidelines and felt even more firmly that the group was in violation. I again reported it as harassment. This time, to my surprise, Facebook responded that they agreed and had taken the group down. Now, I am surely not the only person to have reported this particular group—there’s no doubt that its removal resulted from the efforts of several individuals—but I was certainly pleased, in this case, to be part of the solution. Vengeance was sweet indeed that day!
I continued to follow Jon’s blog and he continued to inadvertently give me opportunities to further my revenge. One day he posted a lament about the thin and inaccurate information that appeared on his author page in Wikipedia. His online followers voiced a great deal of sympathy, but none went online to edit the page themselves. Was it possible that none of them understood that anyone can edit a Wikipedia page? Or did they perhaps assume that the editing process was beyond their computer skills? They must have been intimidated in some way because the page remained unchanged even several days later. Myself, I update web pages for a living, so I decided I could certainly take on the task of updating this particular author page. I added new sections about Jon’s blog, his photography, his more recent books, and even a few simple lines about his personal life (and, yes, I corrected the long-standing misspelling of his name). I am not comfortable removing material contributed by earlier editors (although I did a wee bit of updating to that material), but other Wikipedians did not feel the same compunction; anonymous editors refused to allow me to write more than the barest, essential facts about Jon’s work on behalf of the New York carriage horses or even to mention his joint photography show with a prominent photographer. Some of my material was deleted, some permitted, by these anonymous editors. Such is the weird world of Wikipedia. I continue to monitor the page, hoping that it will continue to reflect at least the essential facts of Jon’s evolving work.
Some people say that living well is the best revenge. I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think that loving well is the best revenge; that we can continue to love, admire, and respect those people whose thoughts and ideas align with our own—even if they choose to not treat us in ways we think we deserve—especially when they continue to give us the opportunity to focus on our shared vision, dreams, and hope for the future, rather than the slights and disappointments that punctuate our daily lives. Today is Thanksgiving, and I am thankful for so many things. But I want to pause to reflect on the year that’s passed and on how I’ve spent my days and efforts. And I am thankful that I’ve been able to experience a few small lessons in how I can choose to respond to personal disappointments and the urge to get even—that I don’t have to use those urges to make life uglier for anyone. That even such small, awful urges can be the catalysts for better choices, and, ultimately, an even slightly better world–even for those who, probably unintentionally, might have disappointed us.
I love well; I hope that you do too.