A Public Apology to Landon Bryce

Yesterday I wrote a post about in-groups. I closed it with these two paragraphs:
I don't care what caused my kids' autism. Research, if I were allocating the dollars, would be to what mediations would help both my children and the larger community they live in to work together so that they have a place in the larger community, so that they were valued members of the community. Jobs, housing, supports: those things matter to me, to my kids. To all our kids. Will there be a place for them? Will there be support? Will they have good, meaningful, valued lives? Will they have friends, family, and community?
Look, that's my in-group: do you give a damn about making the world a better place for our kids, all of them? That's my final and only real line in the sand, the only one that really matters: do you work to make things better for you and yours and everyone else? The rest is window dressing.
 I've been thinking about that, this idea of the larger, inclusive in-group that accepts differing perspectives, like the autism blogs directory does, and my personal in-group, which people in the autism community I can accept as part of the larger in-group but choose not to have in my smaller in-group. And then, as it inevitably happens, I get a bit of a kick that makes me really dig in and consider whether I'm truly living that idea of an in-group. Last night it was seeing this on Thautcast's facebook page:

That's what I went to bed with last night, running through my head. Had I done that to him, was I evil? Landon and I have a long history of not getting along, not seeing eye to eye, and back in April 2011 with the wandering code hotly being contested, I wrote a series of posts that were inflammatory. I don't think I would write those posts today--not the one linked to, though--I'd still write that. But I would have not written the first post or the second, which accused ASAN of being purposefully hyperbolic.  My own experiences as a mother with kids who bolted, and with a very real near miss where Bobby bolted into traffic and was yanked back at the last possible moment by my vigilant husband before a car could hit my son has definitely impacted how I view the issue of wandering. Remembering that, an event from 1998, still puts me in a panic today. Anything that could help keep my kids safe, well, it's easy to see how fear, near-loss, and having kids who have wandered right out the front door can bias a person towards a certain perspective.

But still, leave that aside. Landon Bryce has skewered me several times over the years. I've ignored them, much like Kim Stagliano ignored my skewering of her. It's a defense mechanism and a way of sorting the in-group. I could maintain a moral high ground by leaving Thautcast in the directory but personally ignoring Landon, whom I've never had a pleasant encounter with (at least it feels that way). It's hard to feel personally open to communicating or acknowledging someone you find distasteful, and there are people in our community that almost everyone feels free to disregard or to publicly show their disdain for, like John Best.  Why is the latter okay? I mean, really? Why is calling the Age of Autism folks every name in the book okay? See, none of it is okay. Not really.

We like our in-groups, and name-calling and whipping up on a person we all find distasteful helps us maintain that superiority. It's not pretty, is it? And it's humbling to realize we all do it.

Last year, having had several opportunities to understand what it was like to be on the receiving end, I emailed Stagliano and apologized for my words and any harm they had caused her. There should have been a way to disagree without getting personal, without name-calling, without wounding another human being.

I've concluded that the same must be true with Landon Bryce.What matters cannot be what the other person's motives are in their publicly calling you out. As a matter of personal integrity, if someone says that your words hurt them, well, ruminating over whether you should feel badly that your words caused harm is a good activity to engage in. You probably should, just so you know. Golden rule and all.

So I went to bed last night, stewing on it and whether my personal feelings were getting in the way of doing the right thing. As I fell asleep, I couldn't see how to reconcile my own feelings of anger, hurt and disdain (yeah, it's really hard to feel positive about someone who's rarely had a nice thing to say to you and who you feel regularly misrepresents past statements) with Landon's obvious hurt--a person doesn't stew over something for nearly two years, getting increasingly angry and hurt if there wasn't an initial harm done.

By the time I was up this morning, I had a migraine, along with an epiphany. As long as you're angry at a person, you cannot empathize with them and where they are coming from. So for  nearly two years, Landon Bryce and I have been mutually antagonistic towards each other, although my way of dealing with it was to ignore him as I felt that would be the most effective way of showing him how little his words and opinions meant to me. Yeah, that's not a nice trait and I'm not proud of that.

So, if I'm serious about in-groups, and my concern for whether they want to make a difference for the better, than I have to set aside my hurt feelings and really look at Landon Bryce's contributions. His facebook page is filled with pictures of autistic individuals. He spends a lot of time working to bring attention to autism issues--to the need to treat autistic individuals with respect. To see them as wholly human, with all the attendant frailties and flaws and to cut them some slack and to work harder to understand them.

He even apologizes when he thinks he's done wrong. He attempts to make amends. Yes, he reacts hotly and often from a place of anger. So, yeah, it is and can be distinctly uncomfortable to be on the other side of that anger. Still not an excuse for failing to consider whether his underlying message has something relevant to say about one's own behavior.

I woke up this morning no longer angry at being the recipient of so many angry words from Landon. He's been like a bear with a thorn in his paw that gets infected. Sure, he's lashed out, and lashed out hard, and at any time in the last 21 months, I could have pulled that thorn out. I'm a wee-bit stubborn, if you hadn't noticed.

No longer angry, I could try to see it from Landon's perspective: 21 months of being ignored, rendered invisible.  That's not right. So, even though he blocked me awhile back, I sent the following message to his Thautcast page. I don't know if he can see it, but I know he does read Countering. Here's what I sent him:
I have no idea if you can see this since you have me blocked, but I wanted to apologize. If my words from nearly two years ago can fester within you and continue to make you feel that angry and hurt, to the point of suggesting I'm evil, obviously my words were hurtful and I am sorry for the pain or distress I caused you. I will also publicly apologize on my blog today. 
To Landon Bryce,

I screwed up and I was unkind. I let my own personal emotions get in the way of listening to you. My words obviously wounded you, and it was irresponsible and unkind not to feel badly about that. Even worse, trying to out-stubborn you only allowed your feelings of hurt to grow. I apologize for the damage that my words and then my lack of words caused you.

We're not all going to get along in this autism community. We're not all going to agree. We're not all going to be friends. None of that is an excuse for bad behavior. I behaved disrespectfully because my dander was up. I felt threatened, and this clouded my ability to even want to see things from Landon's perspective.

So where the rubber meets the road, the right thing to do is to own that and make amends. Landon Bryce tries, in his own way, to reduce bigotry, to stand up for the disenfranchised. He doesn't always do it in a way I can agree with, but it doesn't mean he deserves to be ignored.

That doesn't mean I expect that Landon will accept my apology. There's been a fair amount of rancor on both our sides, and it's played out in different ways. Where he has usually been very vocal and upfront, I have in the past dealt with my frustration and anger in what I have to admit is passive aggressive behavior that was designed to poke the stick at him just a little more. After all, if he was going to be mean to me, I could do him one better. And I did.

I'm sorry for that, too.

Shit. I really am. I didn't know last night when I went to bed if I could truly write a piece directly addressing Landon and be sincerely sorry for hurt I had caused him. I was too angry. Ah...I really was. And now I'm really not. I had to stop and think about my kiddos and how they process things, how long Bobby can hold onto a hurt and how it festers for him, how I ache when I can't make it better. And then I had to be able to consider that Landon was and does process similarly and remains fixated, that wound just getting ever deeper.

And then I had to realize I do the same thing--fixate, ruminate, turn it over every possible way, write about it, sometimes through fiction, and I could see that Landon and I might just process somethings in the same way.

And it is humbling. And it should be.

I teach my kids to own it when they make a mistake. I try to model that. On this, with Landon, I failed to own my mistakes. I got my dander up. And I kept it up. I was wrong, and I apologize for the harm I did.

In the end, if I really meant this: "That's my final and only real line in the sand, the only one that really matters: do you work to make things better for you and yours and everyone else? The rest is window dressing," then I have to conclude that Landon and I are on the same side and to fail to address the rancor and the harm means I would continue to be a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

I'm sorry for hurting you and not making it right when I should have.

And while I'm owning it, I apologize to Ari Ne'eman and Meg Evans for failing to reach out to y'all first before writing in anger regarding the wandering code. Your concerns for how it might be misused were legitimate and understandable.


Liz Ditz said...

I am moved and impressed. I will use your example to try to do better myself.

Landon Bryce said...

Thank you. I accept your apology. I will also reflect on my actions toward you. I know that I have always considered us to be on the same side.

K Wombles said...

Thank you, Landon.

Amanda Knapp said...

I have never visited this blog before and I have no clue who Landon is. That being said I had to take the time to tell you both that I am deeply moved by your apology. I am also left with a feeling of hope for people to still be accountable for their actions. In today's world so many people are never accountable and it is something that I have always either admired in a person or despised in a person; depending on whether or not they are willing to be accountable for their actions. When we wrong someone and then we realize and make amends we are doing more for ourselves than we are for the person we harmed. You no longer have to hold in those negative feelings and I am sure that you both feel so much lighter today than you did yesterday. >:D<

Erin Brandeberry said...

I'm an autistic woman who is a regular reader of ThAutcast, and I think I've visited your blog once or twice in the past.

I'm not entirely aware of the history of antagonism between you and Landon, but I am familiar with similar relationships within our community (and outside of it). As someone who grew up in a "peace church" and has worked hard on learning to communicate constructively with others, I sometimes flinch at the angry, divisive way Landon (not uniquely among autistic people or humans in general) expresses himself. I still appreciate the community he's created for autistic people like me to discuss issues related to our experiences and the information he helps make available to us.

I so appreciate your honesty and grace in sharing your perspective here. There is nothing wrong with admitting when we have been responsible for a breakdown in communication—especially when we are not the only ones who have messed up. Fessing up to our mistakes helps reopen a dialogue and promotes healthier conversations, which is something I am all for.

If nothing else, know that you have gained my respect for what you did here. Well done.

K Wombles said...

To Liz, Amanda and Erin,

Thank you for your kind words.

In the end, my bottom line is simple: I really don't want to be the source of another person's pain. Life is hard enough as it is without making it harder for other people.

Blogging and interacting with a larger community of people where one's words are there in perpetuity allows a person to see the impact of one's words over time. The least I can do, any of us can, is when we realize we blew it, is to say we're sorry and resolve to do better. It took far too long for me to do that with Landon. Grudges don't serve anybody well.

Jim W. said...

This feels like a better written version of some sort of personal deja vu.

Me said...

You're a good woman Kim Wombles.

Megan Spark said...

I wonder if he thought I was you... or if he has a history with many moms? He accused me yesterday of being "aggressive" and "domineering conversations" -- I've never exchanged two words with him before. I was concerned by his editing/deleting comments, left his group after a couple weeks membership, and have since cautioned people to be careful trusting him, because to me, that sort of manipulation of information could be deceptive. Unfortunately the exchange ended before any understanding or resolution could occur, because a mutual friend took my words in the wrong way...cautioning friends is what *friends* do...there was no mothering going on in this... ugh... seems to me that defensiveness is dooming many people to deny openness to really good people who are trying to work together. I'm done with it, there aren't enough hours in the day. Preconceived notions are such a killer of potential. I hope you will allow my comment so others who have similar experiences in the autistic community will know that this is just the way things are sometimes, and to just select another place to share and support and go with it! Blessings and thanks.

K Wombles said...

I had a very long comment I thought posted. It didn't.

I'll be brief.

I think you raise good points, but I'd also ask that you consider that he heard about the cautioning you were doing and found that aggressive.

While I don't like deleting people's comments just for disagreeing, it is his page to do with what he wants. Just like I have the right to delete, too.

The spoons analogy is valid here. There's only so much a single person can be expected to deal with, and when that limit is exceeded, sometimes deleting is the way to deal with it.

Yes, defensiveness does destroy opportunities to work together for the common good, but when people have been kicked enough, defensiveness is a survival mechanism.

Miscommunication and hurt feelings are all too common in the autism community. That sucks--we all have full plates and when we're kicked online, it adds to our already full plate.

It appears that this happened to both of you.

Megan Spark said...

You offer a different angle and I thank you for it. My only intent is to have this information online so if another parent goes through a similar instance, they can do a search and see this is a common practice with the page owner. I leave each person to draw their own conclusions. Many thanks for your time and attention, Happy Easter to you and your family!

K Wombles said...

Thanks, Megan. You too. :) Feel free to look me up on facebook and friend me--we can all use more support and more friends, and I hope you'll consider it. Facebook friends I've "met" through blogging have became some of my closest friends. My facebook page isn't open to the public, but my profile is searchable. :)

Landon Bryce said...

I do not delete comments because I disagree with them. I do delete comments that threaten to derail the conversation. This includes people who make self-pitying or critical comments on pictures of other people. It includes people who make anti-gay or racist comments. It includes people who talk about vaccine injury. It includes people who are openly rude to me or other users. I don't know why Megan, or anyone else, feels she has the right to unmoderated posting or why she feels the need to keep attacking in me in every avenue she can think of because I deleted her precious words. I do know that I keep several thousand people engaged in an ongoing conversation on my Facebook page, and I am able to do this because I don't let people with an axe to grind take over. Moderation is work. It's also emotionally exhausting because people act like this.

Megan Spark said...

I don't desire anything, I merely want to share my experience. I have no standing in the autism community, and desire none, I am a parent of a teen with autism, who shares with other people when I can. My only concern, that led me to share this, is that new parents who are vulnerable will know that these things happen, and to simply try other forums if you feel lost. Don't give up until you find the right fit for you. Everyone has their own style of communicating, and unique ways of seeing the world. Thank you Kim, and I will look you up after the holiday. ~