Thursday, March 19, 2015

When Good People Were Once Bad People

In the comics world, the big story yesterday (Wednesday, March 18thy) was not about Marvel's Secret Wars or DC's June re-launch. It was about a person who has done some writing for comics but is mostly known for writing about comics. 

I've been following Chris Sims online for many years now and I've found his posts about comic books, the comics industry and related media to be very insightful and pretty damn funny as well. Seriously, there have been posts that Sims has written that have left me gasping for air because I was laughing so hard. 

But this is not funny. 

From 2007 to 2010, Chris Sims engaged in the online harassment and bullying of Valerie D’Orazio, a comics writer and editor. Comics Alliance, the online forum where Sims' posts appear, has condemned these actions and make it clear that CA does not support or condone such behavior at all. 

But the Comics Alliance statement piece also makes it clear that they support Chris; while his past actions are reprehensible, Chris has learned from these actions and has become an advocate against cyberbullying himself.  

Perhaps striking a harsher tone was the post that appeared after the piece from Comics Alliance. That post was written by Chris Sims himself. Chris does not shy away from what he did and how wrong it was. In an age when people in the public eye try to spin things and parse their words carefully, to affect an apology without actually apologizing, Chris faces the issue head on with direct candor. 

Not that this makes what he did OK. But reading the various comments on this situation, I'm struck by how divisive this has become. 

There are those who think people have said and done worse than Chris Sims and Valerie D'Orazio should've had a thicker skin. This is wrong on so many levels. We can't excuse bad behavior but citing somebody else's worse behavior. "Sure, John killed two people but Randy killed ten people, And those two people shouldn't have been standing in the way of those bullets." Of course that's a bullshit argument. It is a relativistic judgement that's classic "blaming the victim" mode and should not enter this discussion. 

Then there are those who think what Chris Sims did was so completely reprehensible, they will no longer read or support Chris's work in anyway. This brings us to an age old question: when can we separate the art from the artist and when should we not let that happen? There's no clear line of demarcation on this topic. The levels at which people will provide acceptance and forgiveness for a person's wrong doing will not be the same from person to person. Even within the mind of one person, such judgements are not handled equally. I am prepared to condemn Person A for doing something that I forgave Person B. 

Forgiveness is a tricky subject. (For an earlier post on that subject, click here.) There are some winding narrow avenues to navigate in the act of asking for or granting forgiveness. 

For my part, I have a couple of perspectives on this matter. 
  • Through most of time in public school, I was bullied. And nothing makes me madder than to see anyone bullying another person
  • But I've too been in the bullseye of an accusation of having said or done something wrong, something I could not deny was wrong but have tried to learn from and make changes to my life accordingly. 
To Valerie D'Orazio, I've some understanding of your pain. I have been on the wrong end of negative comments and actions that continue to echo in the brain long after the offense has taken place. It is a lonely and terrible place to be. 

To Chris Sims, I've some understanding of your pain. There are few things harsher than the realization that you've hurt another person. No matter if others forgive you, can you forgive yourself? And the dread weight of knowing nothing at all can change what happened hangs heavy on the heart. 

Between the two extremes of justification on one side and the vilification on the other, it seems a lot of people deeply understand that Chris Sims was in the wrong in the past but accept Chris's apology at face value. The question then becomes one about the present, less so the past. What kind of person is he going forward?  Is he engaged in the same hateful rhetoric or do his words and actions suggest a fundamentally changed person?

I think that Chris Sims deserves his shot at some form of redemption for his flawed and stupid actions. Because if not, there's no hope for all of us flawed and stupid people, is there? 

Everyone, be especially good to one another. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

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