The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 07 Jan 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

An open letter to Matt Haig

Hello Matt.

You don’t know me, but we have some things in common. We both come from the same region, we’re both writers and we both suffer from depression. There the similarities end because while you’re very successful by any metric you care to apply, I’m not and my mental illness has made me make some decisions and do things I might not have done if I was well. And I’m also very stubborn, as well.

The reason why I’m writing this is that I saw you being traduced on social media earlier today and I saw you getting hurt by that, too. It’s upsetting to see someone whose work you like and consider to be important being attacked by people who perhaps not might realise that ‘Matt Haig’ is an actual person and not just a brand who they can shout at with impunity. You feel pain, anger and the full range of emotions.

What I want you to realise is this. Twitter might look like the real world and can sometimes be a useful platform for activism – Black Lives Matter comes to mind – but it’s an abstraction. It’s easy to find yourself articulating things that you’d never, ever say to someone’s face and maintaining positions that you don’t believe in purely because you’re having a bad day or you’re too proud to admit your error.

And unlike real, human interaction, apology is disincentivised. You can’t see that you’ve hurt someone or upset them, so you carry on, often falling in love with what it suits you to believe is your own lacerating wit as you occupy what you believe is the moral high ground. I’m guilty of this. I have been in the past and despite my stated aim that I’ll block rather than argue, I know that I’ll be so again.

One of the things I do is volunteer as a Street Pastor. The job is about helping people who have drugged or drunk to excess, reaching out to the homeless and generally trying to make people’s lives an easier, more caring place for the duration that you’re on the streets. While I’ve been doing this, and often while someone is being sick over my shoes, I’ve been called a cunt, had people laugh at me openly and mock me.

At first, this hurt. I was trying to help and I didn’t deserve that reaction from anyone. But in time, it ceased to matter. It takes about half a second to call someone a cunt, which isn’t much to me at all, but the person who referred to me in those terms has to go on being them for the rest of their lives and I don’t know about you, but that isn’t a place I’d like to be. Equally, the people we help are glad of us, as I know because they’ve said ‘thanks’ weeks later, and that’s much more enduring than a shouted expletive.

Posting a picture of me on Twitter wearing a ‘No More Page Three’ t-shirt got me called a ‘mangina’ a ‘femtard’ and all manner of other things. Describing myself as a feminist ally has similarly wound people up to distraction. No matter. For each person who hates me, there’s another who agrees, and I’ve met some of the finest people in the world by being honest about who I am and what I think. The ones who hate me simply don’t matter and carry no weight. They can’t. Living a life that they would have me live would mean being mean-spirited, fearful and perpetually afraid.

What I’m trying to say is that some people will always hate you, no matter who you are and what you do, because Twitter and modern life make hate an easy default. And it doesn’t matter in the slightest. You will wake tomorrow and have tea and toast, look at the sea and perhaps do some writing or something else that you love. The people so consumed by hate that they had to abuse you will wake up trapped in their own bodies and have to make the best of it. I know who I’d rather be.

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