The Worst of Us, The Best of Us

“There’s a flicker in your eyes
Neither light or dark, gray or color
And I might strike you as unkind
When I shut my eyes, while you suffer

Will we all fall in line
When light has been lost
Casting shadows that lead our way

When everything comes to an end
We bow to you
The frail the bruised
Who start anew
When everything comes to an end
You play the fool
The painful truth
is told through you.”

“When Everything Comes to An End”, Plan Three

In April 2019, I was asked to join Aion Media, a burgeoning creators’ collective on Twitter. The ethos as set forth by the founder was “Master Yourself — Save The World”. We chased down and wrote about what it meant to be a better human: physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and ethically. In our private chat groups we laughed, learned, and bantered around big ideas that we felt would resonate with readers. Discussions about Nietzsche and Evola would turn into a dissection of Willink and Peterson.

From its beginning, Aion attracted notable personalities. They stood out for their unique voices and talents. We had the Philosopher, the Strategist, the Graybeard, the Jester, the Logistician, the Guru. It was a male-dominated creative space, and highly tribal. After a time, though, we were joined by the first female contributor, voted upon and duly invited after months of her contributions and support. The Cake stood out for her insights, wit, powerful story, and burning passion to help others. The team complete, we evolved our approach and began to formalize our content and platform. Offline discussions became recorded podcasts, tweets expanded into articles and an email list. Through it all, the Aion collective (both inner circle and second-order) grew closer as we explored the outer fringes of self-mastery.

As each of us grew and spread our wings in new intellectual directions though, one of us was healing. A victim of traumatic emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse at the hands of her spouse just months before she encountered Aion, the Cake had found a tribe of that felt more like family than mere friends. We rough, uncouth tribe of brilliant oddballs had become a refuge under which the raw wounds of abuse could knit themselves together. The email list kept growing, with Cake and our resident Graybeard leading on open rates and positive feedback. Encouraged, Aion began planning to build our biggest event yet — a multi-day, online conference dedicated to bringing together some of the biggest voices in our corner of Twitter to discuss all the domains of self-mastery. We were beyond excited.

About two weeks before launch, a former ally of Aion — a pseudonymous author whom the group had tirelessly plugged and supported — broadsided the group with an accusation that our own Cake was intending to “dox” him (i.e. reveal personally identifying information). The reasons remain murky. But, the gauntlet was thrown: Aion disassociates itself from Cake, or the author goes to “war”. What this meant, we did not know, but mere days from our biggest event, the Aion team panicked and froze.

The attack was right out of political warfare: pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

And…it worked. Cake was silenced by the group, fearing her speaking the truth would trigger more animus and gossip. Though the event launched as planned, it did so under the long shadow of whisper campaigns and internal dissention. Through it all, it was the wrongly-accused woman that had been weaponized against the group who silently kept her honor — because her friends, her family — had asked for it. She knew the truth and was hurt by the muzzling, but said nothing because we asked it of her, exactly the opposite of the accused behavior.

Understand that in conflict, cohesive silence is highly effective. Coercive silence is destructive. By not speaking for her, or allowing her to speak for herself, we chipped away at the internal bonds we’d built, and undermined our own message of self-mastery and pursuit of honor. Effective cohesive silence — weathering the storm — requires implicit, mutual trust within the tribe. Disbelief in the innocence of the accused, or bickering and frustration, leads to destruction. The citadel always falls when the men inside the gates throw them open in fear. We do not save ourselves by sacrificing the vulnerable or innocent on the demands of an adversary.

And now, a year later and after the dissolution of Aion, one can see that a good-hearted, talented individual who just wanted to master herself and save the world, was left alone by the ones she’d come to trust while she continued to be dragged through the mud over slanderous unchallenged attacks on her name. Understand, no one is perfect. We are all human, none saints. Some people more or less deserve what happens to them. All too often though, it is the good ones who end up taking more than their own fair share of the world’s cup of sorrows.

I’ve watched as a few callous people continue to make sport of the whole sorry episode. Some have moved on. Others have disappeared. But one continues to wrongly suffer. It’s easy to tell someone to “be tough”, or “ignore it.” But healing is not possible when others keep picking the scabs. And I suppose this is what people do in our social media age. We forget the essential humanity of even our enemies, let alone people we have never met or truly known. We disregard those people who show us that while the human spirit is resilient and flexible, it’s not unbreakable. And it is the worst of us who ignore, or amplify, that suffering. You see, most people can be led by the nose of their emotions to react impulsively in this age of vicious, arms-length social warfare. The politics of 2020 is evidence enough of that.

But we still must make choices, even if it’s only after the passion of anger cools. We of course see now that Cake, did not and would not have ever done such a thing. The Aion group never intended to harm anyone, either. Yet in our haste to defend the whole, we forgot that the strength of the pack is the individual wolf. We all caved to pressure and ultimately abandoned the one who needed the tribe the most, who relied on it in that season of life for shelter because she had no one else.

So now each day that she is wrongly reminded of or mocked for a thing she did not and would not do, the bystanders and participants alike regress more and more into the braindead drama addicts that burn down cities and cast off friends and family over political differences. We buy the lie and sell the soul. Cake — as are so many men and women like her — is a human being. Flawed and imperfect, but human in the most essential way. Her soul matters as much as any of ours. But unlike many of us, she appears to be holding onto as much of hers as possible in the best way she knows how. She lives as most of us only aspired to.

The walking wounded, who carry scars we’ll never understand because we’ve never trod the same steps in the same hell as they have, are the best of us. They understand what it means to be human, in its purest form of loss and love. They live what we in Aion once aspired to — to be teachers, creators, manifestors of beautiful and inspirational things that call humanity to a higher level. Cake continues to share her story and empower others, create art that resonates with many, and which my own pragmatic mind cannot conceive.

The microcosm is the macrocosm. The part contains the whole. And so, as we do to the most vulnerable of us, we do to all. These people that are defamed and dragged on social media or in your daily life are not just faceless avatars. They are your mother, your father, your siblings, your children, your loved ones. We cannot build the foundation of a better world on a mountain of unkindness to those who most need to feel the warmth of humanity.

My hope in writing this is that this might be one final lesson that Aion can teach the world — and perhaps, the most important lesson of all:

We become the worst of us, when we do not defend the best of us.

“When Everything Comes to An End” — Plan Three

Dum spiro spero,