Calling someone crazy because they’re different is wrong. Mental illness deserves compassion, not ridicule.
That’s what’s been on my mind this week. Since Tuesday, we, the ultimate community, have been far too insensitive toward someone who thinks and acts differently.
I don’t know Frank Huguenard personally. We’ve had some discussions over the phone and via email over the years. I know he’s got some unusual ideas and ways of presenting them, and that he’s done and said some outlandish and maybe even offensive things. I’m not looking to speculate on who Frank really is.
But to label him crazy? To vilify and mock him? To suggest that he suffers from a mental illness and then ostracize him? That’s what we’re doing: ridiculing someone’s potential mental illness because we find it entertaining. I’m disappointed with how quickly many in the ultimate community have responded judgmentally to his thoughts.
As Skyd’s Editor in Chief, it’s important for me to stay informed on what’s being discussed and what’s trending in ultimate. Forums like r/ultimate and Ultiworld have blossomed into strong outlets for discussion that grows ultimate and brings our community together.
Generally, I like to keep pretty quiet and let the voices of our community shine. But something I saw this week got me rather disappointed in the ultimate community. In general, we’ve been treating Frank in a very harmful and insensitive way.
I can’t say whether Frank suffers from any mental illness or if he’s just a guy who is frustrated with the way he’s been treated over the years. What I can say is that he told us, flat out, that being called crazy is “harsh” and “painful.” Let me write that again. When people call Frank crazy, it’s “painful” to him.
I don’t think this is how the ultimate community wants to treat people.
Disagreements with someone’s point of view, when presented and discussed in a civil and meaningful way, are something that everyone should welcome. But by and large, that’s not what’s happening right now on Ultiworld, on r/ultimate, or on Twitter and Facebook.
Alluding that someone is mentally ill shouldn’t be a putdown in the first place, and using mental illness as a putdown can be actually dangerous. If someone is acting out, it’s often a tell-tale sign that they don’t feel good about themselves. We should allow for the possibility that it comes from a darker place, and we should consider that our jokes or dismissals can be more harmful than we realize.
In the wake of the Robin Williams tragedy, there was a popular and extremely articulate article about how media and the internet at large had been treating actress Amanda Bynes. The article focused on celebrity and the public’s open mocking of Bynes’ potential mental state and devaluing of her as a person. It has an alarming number of parallels to what I’ve been reading this week. If I were your teacher, I’d assign this article as required reading. Just go ahead and replace her name with his and see how you feel. Here’s a segment:
“Yet the vast majority of press and articles surrounding [Frank]’s mental state seems to ignore the stark reality of [his] struggle, and instead, opt to mock [his] erratic and unusual behavior. Rather than recognizing that [he] may have an illness, they have turned mental illness into a spectacle to watch, enjoy, and ridicule.”
Again, I don’t know whether or not Frank suffers from mental illness. It shouldn’t matter. But what if he does? Should we keep mocking and bullying him, staging him as entertainment until he breaks down? Should we call him crazy? Or what if someone you knew, who had a mental illness, acted like Frank? How would you treat them?
Maybe we should approach cases like this in a whole other way. Maybe we shouldn’t attack people for their ideas or their lack of social graces. Maybe there are times we shouldn’t engage at all, or try our best to show respect when someone does something different or acceptance when they do something we don’t like.
We’ve all said some regrettable things in the past. I know I’ve been insensitive on many occasions. But we have an opportunity here as a community to make the extra effort to support each other. To remind each other about the importance of being tolerant of other people, sensitive to their feelings, and compassionate about mental health.
There are a lot of great resources out there too. Canada’s Bell Let’s Talk recently ran a campaign to help raise awareness and their website has some great media on the subject of ending the stigma of mental illness.
At the end of the day, I believe in community. The ultimate community has been a shining example of compassion and inclusiveness in the past. What’s at hand right now is a chance to be a positive force. The collective is getting larger and more diverse every day, and that means our shared conversation is bigger too. This makes it harder to connect over shared values, but it’s possible. All it takes is being a bit more thoughtful. We can certainly do better than this.