THE ANATOMY OF A FAILED CHARACTER ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

Ina, a former arts & crafts teacher, tells her story about a failed character assassination attempt. Her narrative does not focus on the causes or conflicts that lie at the roots of the attempt nor on the mortally malcontented being in need to vent their frustrations on her and her family. Instead Ina’s story centers around the notion of a failed attempt. Why did it fail? And how did it fail? What role did art play? Ina shares her experiences because she profoundly hopes that it might help others. ‘Even if it is one teenager or woman that is helped by my story, I am happy‘. Her story is illustrated by several artworks.

Medieval Illuminated Manuscript
of a Phoenix burning and regenerating itself. Ina says that she adopted the phoenix as her role model. She got burned but regenerated herself.

Ina’s interview takes place at her studio. Her large work table and various artisan tools ignite a desire to become creative. Various unfinished projects give evidence of an overload of inspiration. Ina reluctantly revisits a time in her life in which she and her family received hate mail after hate mail. ‘Hateful emails seek a reaction, a response, they invite a counter attack’.

I read ‘Religion and Violence’ by historian René Girard when I was in my twenties and I was struck by his theory of the Scapegoat Mechanism. How important a scapegoat is for social cohesion and how collectively accusing is more important than the substance. Thinking back of Girard’s theory, I concluded that -unluckily and apparently- it was my time in life to experience that mechanism first-hand. Scapegoating me was skillfully done with drip-feeding fabricated and exaggerating accusations that resulted in attacks on me’. 

As soon as Ina realized that attempts to counterbalance false accusations didn’t help, and that she wasn’t responsible for one other’s envy, she withdrew and refused to interact with those who made it their mission to bring her down. She hoped that the campaign against her would die down as soon as some fact-checking was done. It was not the accusations that hurt her (they were silly, made-up, and unfounded) but the fact that people were so willingly believing gossip. Ina knew therefore that trying to get into the good books of her aggressors was a Sisyphean task. Thus, Ina decided to wait it out. That didn’t work. Eventually, she had to hire a lawyer as a firewall. ‘Seal off your personal space, and resort to things that are soul nourishing, like studying, being creative, doing sports,’ advises Ina.

‘Just because there is an attempt to harm your life, to bring you down, to harm your family, it does not imply that you should get emotionally involved. That said, hate-mails hurt no matter how unfounded or dumb the content is. I noticed that I started to excuse myself and resorted to using disclaimers, I adopted an apologetic attitude. That was not good, so I changed that’.

‘I realized one has to live one’s own life, suffer one’s own sufferings and rejoicing in one’s own luck and happiness. Not to say that I have adopted a hyper-individualized form of existence, instead, I am Aristotelian in believing that one’s telos, one’s full potential should be the focus of our lives in relation to others. We are inherently social beings. But you need to select carefully with whom you hang out. Relations are healthy when they support each other’s telos and growth, unhealthy when they hamper one’s telos. It was unfair to ask from me (and my family) to absorb other people’s hate and discontentment.

What does character assassination look like? What is its anatomy?

‘It is much more than an ordinary squabble or an unresolved conflict. Character assassination is a coordinated and prolonged effort to maliciously harm a person, to damage a person’s good reputation, and to destroy someone’s self esteem. I will not sum up the long list of areas of my life that were targeted but the vile accusations were emotive, paternalizing, and downright hateful. There was relentless criticism on almost every aspect of my life along with reproaches and objections. My education, my past, my choices, what I said-thought-felt, the way I looked… my husband, his work, his voluntary work, even my child, nothing got spared. It was obsessive.

I noticed many characteristics of conspiracy thinking too: deep and unfounded suspicion, blaming without evidence, no fair hearing (jumping to conclusions or unsubstantiated ideas). The amount of emails describing me and my family as elitists and elite were significant. And of course, the ‘elite’ was to blame for ‘everything’.

It grew -even without me interacting- and after a few months the hate had accumulated in that I was a despicable and dangerous person. That I was dangerous made me almost laugh, had it not been so sad, because I am a boringly good citizen. And, also very conspiracy-like, I was to blame for everything that was wrong. My villains were so proud of echoing that I was the single cause of a layered, multi-faceted, and complex problem. Ever since Eve! Such is the beautiful, simple world in which one woman causes the fall out of paradise.

‘Things completely spiraled out of control. It was frightening (and interesting) to see how every next email or letter was harsher in tone, more accusative. When my family and I received a physical threat and a death-wish, we were advised to go to the police and a lawyer.

‘At that time, I came across ‘Tax Collectors’ by Reymerswale but I did not know the title of this artwork. It shows two tax collectors doing their paperwork. Despite their luxurious clothing and fine interior, the painter has deliberately made them look downright ugly. To me, this painting could have been titled ‘Two Hate Mail Writers’ because hate makes ugly’.

Workshop of Marinus van Reymerswale Two Tax-Gatherers probably 1540.

‘I asked myself what in my life had been left untouched by hate. There was not much left. Realizing this, I knew it was about a need for hating, exactly like Girard had theorized. There was a need for a shared enemy on the part of the accusers to ease tensions. I had become a lightning rod for an unsolvable conflict and problem. I was deeply shocked.’

HOW TO DEAL WITH ATTEMPTS TO DESTROY YOU?

I suffered terribly. I have had moments wondering whether I could cope with all the anger directed at me. Hate is a terrible monster, like Cerberus (the three-headed dog of Greek myth guarding the entrance to the underworld). Envy is an even more devilish monster. You have to protect yourself against monsters. I was greatly supported by my husband but I needed judicial help too. So, get help is number one.’

‘Number two: look at where the anger comes from. Is it justified? Does it come from a well-educated, well balanced person (or persons) who is open to mediation, respecting the choices you make in your life? No? Then try to stay unaffected. People willingly venting their unrestrained anger are harming themselves; it is like the trash taking itself out. So, get help and try to stay unaffected. That sounds contradictory, but it isn’t’.

Peasant Mother by David Alfaro Siqueiros. To Ina this painting shows there are times you feel surrounded by cacti.

Ina came across a painting of a mother with her child positioned between man-high saguaro cacti navigating her way through a barren and hostile landscape. She felt one with the painting. ‘This is a great expressionist painting. You immediately are drawn into the painting. The background shows a sunset but it looks like it is on fire, adding to the dramatic scene. I loved this painting because it so cleverly shows danger juxtaposing tenderness. I felt like the mother in this picture. But I also felt like the child, held by the protective arms of my family. As long as my family and I kept on walking, that landscape would change for the better’.

Phoenix Regenerating, Aberdeen University Library: showing a Phoenix after its regeneration.

‘During the prolonged attacks, I felt as if I had died a bit inside. A crisis can break or make you. If I died a bit inside, I decided that I would be like a phoenix, the mythological, immortal bird, who dies by flames and arises from its ashes. It took time, but I completed my regeneration. My health was restored (that took more than a year) and I felt good again. The biggest compliment I gained is that I looked younger. There is much truth to that observation. I adopted a Phoenix as my mascot. Its picture helped me to keep strongly focused on regeneration. That was very important to me’.

Will you forgive and what did you learn?

‘It would be a mistake to forgive because it was a well-planned and prolonged attack, not a faux pass. I decided against forgiving because I am setting an example to never allow emotional abuse’.

‘The long period of harassment happened during the pandemic. It was a shameful fact that in the Netherlands there was an increase of women and children abuse during the pandemic, especially during lock-downs. Apparently, some were in need to vent their boiled up anger. Perhaps it helped them to write hate mails, but they should have dealt with their feelings differently’.

What I learned? I learned that people are shockingly easy to mobilize against another person. All the instigator had to do is preying on feelings of envy or frustrations’.

DID THE HARM CAMPAIGN FAILED OR SUCCEEDED?

Shame withheld me to look for help. It is probably a womanly thing to react as a sin-eater. I felt ashamed being so hated. Shame is a very bad reaction to bullying (there is no way you have brought scapegoating onto yourself). It results in withdrawal and silence. What one needs is the opposite, to set up a robust defense. I remember my lawyer hearing my story and saying; ‘This is awful, let me take it from here and I’ll run this pass a criminal lawyer too’. The intense relief that caused! So, did the character assassination fail? Initially, no. It caused emotional and physical damage. Also, money was spent on judicial help which better could have benefited the next generation. And I still keep my friends at an arm’s length, afraid they too pop out of Pandora’s box as hateful puppets. But overcoming shame and seeking help changed everything. I am absolutely not a fan of Nietzsche, but he is frequently quoted for having said that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. In the end, the character assassination epically failed’.

Any advice for teenagers who get bullied, for women who become conduits of anger?

‘In teenage language? ‘What the fuck! Seek support NOW. You are worth living your cool life without the bullshit of others’. To adults, I advise the same, though in different wording: go to the police, get a good lawyer. Stop feeling shame, stop suffering; harassing behaviour by others is socially or judicially unacceptable. Seek help’.

–XXX–

THE MORAL OF THIS BLOG-POST? You have read this before on this website: We make art, appreciate art, and see our lives reflected in art. The great stories about the human predicament, whether Ancient Greek, Biblical or classical literary sources, or famous fine art paintings, all cover some part of our lives. Seek refuge in art and literature. Nourish your soul with literature and art. Art matters. Books matter. Art heals. We -humans- have created a huge reservoir of healing properties to be found in libraries, museums, galleries, studios, and bookshops. Use it; enjoy it.

Next blog post will be about what is a Cassandra Syndrome?

Mindfuldrawing.com is owned by Paula Kuitenbrouwer who holds an MA degree in Philosophy. Paula’s pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic. Paula has an Etsy shop here. Her Instagram account serves as an online portfolio and is here. Contact Paula freely by email or a contact form for commissioned artwork.

OTHER BLOG POSTS:

What is Cassandra Syndrome?

What is Cassandra Syndrome and have you ever suffered Cassandra Syndrome? Artist Paula Kuitenbrouwer sheds light on this syndrome by weaving definitions, illustrations, and personal narratives together.

What is Future Faking?

What is Future Faking? Artist Paula Kuitenbrouwer illustrates her definition of what Future Faking is with the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Listen to Intuition

My husband and I were driving through the countryside just around the time of a wonderful pink-orange sunset. I was driving and my husband was sight seeing woodlands and meadows. Suddenly, I decided to drive slower which prompted my husband to ask if anything was wrong.

‘Nothing wrong’, I replied, ‘I do not like to hit crossing deer’.

Not many seconds later a suicidal squad of weasels crossed the road just in front of our car. I braked (reflex), stopped breaking (for fear of being hit by someone driving behind us) and asked full stress to my husband whether I had hit the daring family.

My husband checked his mirror and said he saw no roadkill. Big sigh of relief! That was close.

Later, I recalled that just before breaking for this twilight loving family that I had slowed down, knowing there could be a confrontation with wildlife crossing our road (or, and better, our road crossing their habitat). I interpreted my ‘knowledge’ as a worry for crossing deer.

The point is, one knows. Ones knows more than one knows. That intuitive knowledge, or intuition, is a very subtle knowing, extremely easy to dismiss or being overrule with thoughts, day dreaming, or reasoning. It is not vague or nebulous. But it is subtle. In fact, it is so subtle that one probably and unknowingly fails to act on intuition perhaps 90% of the time when it tries to gets its subtle message across to you. A suitable metaphor would be picking up the song of a nightingale when ten lorries are passing.

Driving through the lazy countryside, at sunset, with very little traffic to worry about, I did pick up intuition and it saved four weasels. I wish that more often I would be able to hear, feel or act on intuition, because it is so beautiful. It makes you feel an actor in a large play in which the director (male/ female) allows you to act with his/her overview and wisdom.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

P.S. Allow me to show you some recent work. I’ve been very productive which makes me very happy. Happiness equals art-making and vice versa art-making generates happiness. 😁

For my artwork click here. I have a portfolio of at least 100 artworks. Should you have questions regarding my work, please feel free to contact me.

Stay happy and cool,

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Living Dying Battling

Ever since the pandemic I have been reading and reading. Of course, when there is plenty of natural light, I prioritize drawing. But since consecutive lockdowns came into effect and meeting friends, running errands, and going for a walk were pushed to the background, literature took its rightful place. I kept a list of books in my diary and every time I finished a book, I proudly ticked off a book title. I like to share the moment with you that within the time-span of two days I came across a book title and a harrowing painting. Let me first give you the book title. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

‘Generaals Sterven in Bed’, a Dutch book on WWII. Generals die lying in beds.

Generals die lying on beds

I thought the title was brilliant (disclaimer: I did not read the book). It rang so true to me. I have seen it again and again, those who have struggled in life have died an untimely, painful or medicine induced death whilst those who have ruled, manipulated, or were in charge, Machiavellians, lived a long, happy life and died a peaceful, luxuriously death neatly tugged between crisp white bed linen. But foot-soldiers die on battlefields, in the dirt, at a too young age. ‘Comes with the job, an occasional ‘habit’, collateral damage, kind of thing‘. But generals die at a high age on luxurious beds.

Dead Soldier, unknown (Italian) painter. Notice the skull and bones that symbolize death in case you overlooked the bloodless colour of the soldier’s face.

Next, the painting of a dead soldier. It made me wonder whether it is a detail of a larger painting because of its unusual angle that is a bit uncomfortable for a viewer. But perhaps, this uncomfortable perspective was something the painter precisely sought? I imagine the soldier has most likely fought for someone else’s cause, principles, or power games and now dies an anonymous, early death. Maybe he ends up in a mass grave, unlike the general.

The book title and the painting made me wonder what battles we fight and for who? Who are foot soldiers and who are generals? Do you know them in your life, amongst your friends, at your work? Who is dying for who? I thought of Machiavelli’s philosophy. But also of a very old flyer of a political party that I vaguely remembered. It showed a sweet, little girl, standing all alone in a desert whilst you are asked the question: What if there is a war and nobody is willing to participate? Nobody shows up on the battlefield?

Art and literature make us evaluate the roles we take up in life. Art and literature offer us endless inspiration to ask questions in our lives that need to be asked.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Next blogpost will focus on Aristotle’s Golden Mean in relation to lockdown/quarantine and living the artist life.

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula’s shop is at Etsy

Paula’s art portfolio is at Instagram

But above all, @ her workstation drawing, drawing and drawing.

Forest Scene: Mandarin Ducks Resting on a River Bank

The mandarin ducks (Aix galericulata) have carefully chosen a place to rest. They seems to blend in with the dark background, thus if necessary, they will respond quickly by taking to the waters and thus escape predators. The river is calm, the forest is rich in sounds and smells, and all is well. The reflection of the lovely couple is visible in the calm water. Birds are flying over. 

The duck and drake have just decided to take a rest and have already positioned themselves on the bank. The duck is checking the left, the drake checks the right, if all feels safe they will soon tuck their bills into their wings and take a nap. After that they will look for food again, synchronized as they are. They are life long partners, like swans. In Asia mandarin ducks represent love and loyalty. On the photos of this drawing, you will notice a few wooden ducks. They are used, in Asia, like drawings, prints and paintings, to enhance feelings of love and loyalty in homes and rooms between couples. Seeing bonding ducks, seeing how synchronised they are, makes people long for a deep belonging, a deep bond between lovers.

This is a softly rendered graphite drawing. On my Etsy home page and Instagram you can watch a video of the making of this drawing. I have done many Mandarin duck commissions for homes, weddings, engagements, stationary, or meditation/sleeping rooms. Contact me should you have specific wishes regarding a mandarin duck drawing. Also, have a look at my shop where you will find mandarin duck mini-prints, cards, and full colour drawings. May I advise to have a full colour drawing of mandarin ducks in a monochromatic coloured room and a softly rendered graphite drawing in a colourful room?

Artist information: Derwent graphite H-series pencils on Arches hot press paper 31-41 cm. Winsor & Newton Varnish Spray.

Ornithological information: Although Mandarin ducks are Asian ducks, Dutch park and estate owners buy these ducks to add some bright colours to their duck ponds or castle moats. Mandarin ducks then need nesting facilities because in nature they breed inside tree cavities. They seem to do well in Dutch weather. I am very lucky to have spotted them nearby my home town. One thinks that they stand out splendidly, but I can assure you that even the very colourful drake often seems to blend in its surroundings perfectly.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

@mindfulfdrawing on Instagram (video  link)

Etsy (for video watching scroll down till ‘About Paula Kuitenbrouwer’

www.mindfuldrawing.com

mindfuldrawing@gmail.com