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OPINION: Reaching out is better than a Web-site boycott

Jamie Tworkowski is the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms (www.twloha.com), a nonprofit movement for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

 

My heart is heavy for the friends and family of Alexis Pilkington. Though I didn't know her, my experience with people suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts gives me a glimpse into what those who loved her are feeling. They are not alone in facing questions that have no answers.

Many articles about Alexis mention the Web site Formspring - a social networking site where people can ask and answer questions of other users. It's sort of like an ongoing interview. The site is growing in popularity right now, especially among young people. Hurtful words about Alexis have surfaced there, and in response, some people are boycotting the site.

We live in a world where people say terrible things, where people forget the weight of their words and the consequences of their actions. But I don't believe that boycotting this site will prevent other suicides. The same problems exist on Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and countless other sites. And, of course, hatred and pain have been around much longer than the Internet.

There's a bigger picture and better solutions to consider. Those who want to do something that brings honor to Alexis' life - who want to learn to fight for the lives and health of the people around them - will find that doing so won't have much to do with strangers on the Internet. It will happen in the context of real relationships.

It will happen at lunch and over coffee, in overdue conversations that begin with "How are you?" It will happen when we're honest with the people around us, when we invite people into our questions, our struggles, fears and dreams. It will happen when we get the help we need and invite others to do the same.

When it comes to depression, suicide and problems of pain, the people who struggle feel alone. I also battle with depression, and I know this feeling of solitude. But perhaps we weren't meant to live life alone. Perhaps we were meant to live life with other people. Beyond relationships and community, the good news is that depression is treatable and that professional help exists. The hardest step to take is the first one. It isn't easy, but it's worth it.

The thing I like about Formspring is that, when used as it was intended, it suggests that someone's story matters - that there is value in their answers and ideas. Users are invited to ask questions, too.

What if we turned off our computers and lived that way?

What if we fought to place value on the lives of the people we love, to meet them in their questions and their answers, and to confess to them our own. We'd see something stronger and brighter than any boycott. We'd be reminded that love is stronger than hate, and that friendship might be the greatest miracle that happens on this planet.

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