How To Be an Upstander

I have taken pains to protect the identity of my saboteur [I’ll call her S] because—as will become evident when you read these exchanges—she appears to be suffering some sort of psychological crisis, and I don’t blame her but rather her mental illness. As such, I have substituted any terms that could be traced back to her posts and indicated these substitutions in brackets.

Although her betrayal and attempt to sabotage me hurt deeply, I still feel she is doing valuable work toward our shared goals of defeating tyranny and ending democide. She writes beautifully and is multitalented, and my hope is reading this will help her regain perspective and unlock her imaginary cage so she can be liberated to focus on her good work.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.

“An ‘upstander’ is someone who recognizes when something is wrong and acts to make it right. When an upstander sees or hears about someone being bullied, they speak up. Being an upstander is being a hero: we are standing up for what is right and doing our best to help support and protect someone who is being hurt. In many ways, this is another word for being socially responsible.”
—“Upstander” as defined by The Bully Project (from the makers of the documentary BULLY)

The Silent Treatment

A few months ago, someone I considered a friend and fellow truth warrior stopped communicating with me. This was in stark contrast to her previously warm responses and occurred so many times, it became plain it was deliberate, despite no apparent provocation.

Anyone who has suffered the “the awesome power of the blank” knows how painful it can be. It activates the same parts of the brain physical pain does—the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex—and triggers the release of mu-opioid, a natural painkiller.

Each rejection etched another wound into my heart, and I found myself losing sleep and tears over this behavior the longer it wore on. As someone who strives to practice Stoicism, I realized I needed to focus on the variables within my control and let go of those beyond it.

So I decided to write her the following email to see if I could get clarity about what had occurred:

“This may seem silly and hypersensitive, but have I done something to upset you?

“I noticed you haven’t liked or responded to my comments for quite a while now. I thought maybe it was just an oversight, but since it has been happening repeatedly and you like/engage with the other comments, it feels intentional.

“Normally, I’m not bothered by what others think of me—unless it’s someone I respect and care for, like you. So I started worrying I had said or done something to hurt you somehow.

“Back when Notes was first launched, I used ‘Covidian,’ and you took issue with that term, which actually gave me pause about using it as I understand and appreciate your compassion toward those who are at different points along their path of awakening. But CJ is the one who coined that term originally (I think) and continues to use it and you are still engaging with him, so it didn’t seem like that could be it.

“Plus, you’re not the type to stop talking to someone because you disagree with them. My impression is you are all about lovingly and respectfully discussing diverse viewpoints.

“So I am racking my memory to figure out what could have caused this perplexing response (or lack thereof) from you and then realized I should just ask you.

“I prefer to be direct, and I know you do, too, so that’s why I’m asking. I don’t have time/energy for drama and have no intention of stirring any up. My hope is it is a simple misunderstanding, and I welcome the opportunity to clear it up.”

When she didn’t respond, I had my answer—but I still didn’t understand why.

My brain could not make sense of what had occurred, so an underlying unease permeated my consciousness, chewing away at the mystery as I dealt with pressing matters.

I finally found a clue in a post from around the time she stopped talking to me, and it appeared she suspected me of being a spy. In a way, this was a relief, because as upsetting as that accusation was, it at least made some sort of logical sense and my brain could finally stop gnawing on the problem.

I decided to stop trying to engage with her as the silent treatment was too painful, and once someone comes to a conclusion like that about you, there is no way of responding without them interpreting everything you say and do as confirmation of their beliefs.

People tend to see others through the lens of their preconceived notions.

If they are paranoid, they see people as a threat, and any actions that appear to invalidate their distrust are rationalized away to support their cognitive preset.

If they are open-hearted, they are inclined to see people as decent … until proven otherwise.

The paranoid are understandably trying to protect themselves from being hurt, while the open-hearted are making themselves vulnerable to that hurt.

One is driven by fear, the other by love.

Unfortunately, paranoia can easily tornado of control, forging a path of wreckage that rips through both the targets and the targeter indiscriminately. Even bystanders can get sucked into the funnel cloud.

When the paranoid set their sights on a suspect, they trigger a domino detonation that demolishes the bridge beneath their feet.

The Whisper Campaign

Those engaging in gossip or whisper campaigns prove themselves untrustworthy to those they’ve whispered to:

“What A says about B says a lot about A and little about B.”
—Paul Watzlawick, The Situation Is Hopeless But Not Serious (The Pursuit of Unhappiness)

If they are willing to betray a friend or ally, what’s to stop them from betraying the whispered-to when the opportunity strikes? Once trust is damaged, it can rarely be restored.

This is why I guard my integrity and the sacred trust in my relationships with my life—and why I was alarmed when a prominent figure (I’ll call her B) who had previously expressed admiration for my work unsubscribed. I reached out to understand why, writing:

“I noticed there was an unsubscribe notice for you, but since it is a comp rather than a paid subscription, I wanted to make sure it was intentional and not a mistake. I would be more than happy to reapply the comp but didn’t want to do it without your permission.…

“I have also had a completely perplexing experience with someone I have long considered a friend but who suddenly stopped liking/engaging with my comments over the past couple of months. When I emailed her to see if I may have done or said something to upset her, she never replied. While I don’t much care what propagandists or trolls say about me, it is incredibly painful to be blanked by someone I care for without any apparent provocation or opportunity to discuss the cause.

“It honestly has affected my sleep as I keep racking my brain trying to figure out what could have happened, and I am crying as I write this. I have to wonder if there is some sort of whisper campaign or something going on behind the scenes that is poisoning this and potentially other relationships with people in the MFM.

“If it were overt, I’d at least know what’s going on and would be able to defend against it. As it is, I feel like I’m being paranoid even bringing it up, but I cannot deny the anguish I have experienced as a result and want to make sure it’s not indicative of something more insidious (hence my alarm when I noticed your unsubscribe and why I wanted to reach out to you).

“I apologize for the lengthy and emotional email. I have absolutely no desire for drama and thus have chosen not to name this person as I am still hoping it is a simple misunderstanding that will be cleared up. Meanwhile, it is taking an emotional and psychological toll, and I just wish I could communicate with her to find out the impetus for her behavior.”

I never heard back from B but chalked it up to her being busy and tried not to take it personally, all the while starting to worry the rot extended beyond S.

Then, in an email exchange with Mickey Z. after my interview, he casually mentioned that same person had unsubscribed from him around a month prior—exactly the same time as she’d unsubbed from me.

That actually greatly relieved me because I thought it meant she was just winnowing down her reading list due to Substack overload (which I completely relate to, being around 30,000 articles behind with no hopes of catching up).

When I told Mickey about my experience with B and S (again, not naming her as I had no concrete proof), Mickey guessed the identity of S, which shocked me.

I wrote:

“You are so intuitive, Mickey! I was trying not to name [S] because I know you are friends, and I didn’t want to do anything to damage your relationship with her. I try to never say things privately that I wouldn’t say to a person’s face, but since all of my attempts to communicate with her since April have failed, I don’t even have that ability. And perhaps you have some insights that will help me understand what happened.…

“The only thing I could figure is she seemed to get upset at my use of ‘Covidian’ when describing the pro-vaxxers I had been engaging with on Notes, but she knows CJ coined that term and still talks to him. It’s like she is trying so hard to be loving and compassionate toward pro-vaxxers that she hurts those who share her values because they are critical of those who fail to use critical thinking, if that makes sense

“After I sent her that email, I took a look at her Substack from around the time she stopped talking to me, and I found this post.… I didn’t think twice about it when she first published it, but in retrospect, I wondered if that was about me given the timing and her dramatic shift from being very warm and loving to completely cold.

“My best guess is she took issue with my use of ‘Covidian,’ thought my engaging with them was stirring up division and anger, and jumped to the conclusion that I must be [a spy](!). It sounds far-fetched, but it’s the best I can figure given the puzzle pieces I’m working with.

“If she would tell me to my face what the issue is, I would at least be able to respond, although if she does suspect I’m [a spy], that is just like the kafkatrapping labels we were discussing in our interview—there’s no way to counter an accusation based on emotion rather than evidence because whatever you do will be interpreted through layers of contortions used to justify their original suspicion.

“Thank you again for your willingness to listen and weigh in (please take your time, no pressure). I didn’t want to drag you into this because I know you are as tired of this kind of drama as I am. All I want to do is just focus on my work, and I don’t have time to deal with this silliness, and I’m sure you don’t, either.”

Mickey explained how he’d guessed the identity, promising a more detailed explanation later:

“While I do see myself as intuitive, in this instance, it’s not the case. I heard it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. You’re not dragging me into anything. [S] already did her best to make that happen.”

When he let me know he’d written a description of what he’d experienced and would send it when I was ready, I told him:

“Wow, this is worse than I imagined, but at least it confirms my suspicions, so it is reassuring to some degree.

“It is experiences like this that make it clear who are not only your true friends but people of integrity and discernment. I don’t have the words to express how much your trust and kindness mean to me, Mickey.

“Please do email me what you’ve written as soon as you are able. I am eager to resolve this mystery while also trying to understand the extent of the damage and whether she has attempted to poison the well with others (e.g., [B]).

“So here I’ve been going to great lengths to protect her reputation and relationships in case it was a simple misunderstanding when it sounds like she was doing the opposite to me, despite her brand of love and forgiveness. I don’t understand how anyone in the MFM has the time, energy, and desire to focus on hurting others when we’ve got enough genuine threats to address. Very sad.”

The next day, Mickey sent me an astounding account that not only confirmed my intuition about S blanking me and a whisper campaign but went far, far beyond anything I’d envisioned. And that was just the beginning.

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