So now I know how it feels to be used.  Turns out it’s not so great.  I owe some kids from my high school science fair an apology.

This whole Dave On Wheels scenario has been pretty unreal this past week.  What started as an incredibly heart-warming story of a kid overcoming the odds, letting his light shine through an otherwise cloudy day, then morphed into a tragedy as the world was made to believe that he took a turn for the worse and eventually left us fighting the good fight on Friday morning.  Today the whole thing got flipped on its ear thanks to some investigative snooping and a blogger who did some quick math (4 words per minute X a couple thousand tweets = a man whose disability has allowed him to mess with the space-time continuum).

In situations like these if you don’t learn from them you’re doomed to repeat them.  So what do we take away from all of this?    

My reaction is more akin to that of reader Matt’s than that of some of the vitriol I’ve seen elsewhere.  While I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m “proud” of the person behind all of this, I’d like to think that it was done with good intent.  The feed at @DaveOnWheels was heartfelt and inspiring, that cannot be disputed.  If presented as a fictitious character on TV or in film David Rose would have been a beacon of hope symbolizing all that one can overcome in life.  Unfortunately it’s all in the presentation.

Take a walk with me down this path that our ghostwriter calls rationale.  First he creates a Facebook page depicting a deaf quadriplegic with cerebral palsy in 2007.  This character – David Rose – has been in existence in cyberspace for over five years at this point.  A Twitter account for @DaveOnWheels appeared in 2010.  Soon after a sister Nichole Rose (@NicholeRose85) came along with a complete backstory unto herself as well as a mother and a father (per Dave’s final note) who apparently abandoned him but came to visit in his final days to make peace with his son.  Shit’s getting weird right?  Along the way he gathered friends and shared his inspirational story, giving hope to those he touched.  Unfortunately for him one of these friends ended up being an incredible loyal fan of a website full of like-minded individuals known to get behind such philanthropic causes.  Dave’s world exploded like gas thrown onto a bonfire last week as his following went from a small pond of 800 Followers to a sea of Chivers topping out around 15,000. 

His story came across the headlines of MSN, Yahoo!, and the Huffington Post to name a few.  I assume panic began to set in.  Our writer pulled the proverbial plug, shutting down all of the associated websites and Twitter accounts to David and his “family”. 

 So now we’re left with the aftermath, picking through the rubble of a house that was seemingly built in a day, looking for answers.  I made the analogy to James Frey and the controversy that surrounded his book A Million Little Pieces in my previous post.  For the uninitiated (or those under 25) Mr. Frey became famous for writing a book about overcoming his addiction to drugs & alcohol relying more on his inner strength than using the famous 12 Step program preached by those around him as he went through rehab.  His premise was that the program only served to replace one dependency with another and the strength to overcome an addiction resides within us all.  He was lauded with fame and fortune, New York Times Best Seller lists and talk show interviews, until people began to question some of the finer details of his story.  His description of some of his arrests and the details of specific characters were proven to be embellished.  As quickly as his star rose it crashed back to Earth.  As far as I know he’s still the only person who’s ever been kicked out of Oprah’s Book Club.

I read A Million Little Pieces as well as his follow up book My Friend Leonard.  I recall not feeling the outrage that Larry King, Oprah, and the rest of the media spewed forth because I didn’t really care whether the story was true or not.  Sure it added an extra layer of intrigue, but I didn’t find the story any less gripping nor the message any less clear upon learning of his “alterations” to the details.  I understand that’s not how the story was sold, but had you not been under that presumption to begin with, would his words not have been as poignant? 

I don’t hold a grudge against James Frey nor one against Dave On Wheels (whomever he may be).  I think the meaning behind their words in both instances carries more weight than the vehicle in which they were conveyed.  Is it weird that this person created a fake child with disabilities (stealing pictures of a real high schooler battling cerebral palsy to do so) while constructing an entirely fabricated world around them?  Yes.  Yes it is.  But if the only victims here are those who invested too much into a character that they knew so little of, then perhaps we’re all a little wiser for it. 

The world breaks down into those who care and those who do not.  There are people who dedicate their lives to helping others and those that believe the only way to survive is to look out for number one.  Most of us fall somewhere in between.  I’ve noted that I like to think that I’ve shielded myself well enough to not let these stories affect me, but as is clear in three of my past four posts, apparently I’m not immune.  In seeing the readership of this website quadruple in the past four days, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not alone. 

The lesson here is not to stop caring.  The world is filled with inspiration and adversity and there will always be those that embody or overcome each, and their stories should be shared.  Humans find strength in the acts of others, it’s in our nature.  Think how often you’ve found yourself motivated by the logic of, well if he/she can do X or overcome Y then I can do so as well.  Unfortunately our strength is our weakness in this instance.  This capacity to be inspired is an emotion and emotions can be manipulated. 

To my knowledge Dave On Wheels never asked for a dollar or bilked people for anything more than their time.  He responded to messages and encouraged others to persevere through their own challenges.  His crime is akin to a non-addict attending AA or an atheist at church.  While frowned upon, a social pariah he is not. 

I am reminded of an email I received several years ago about a box of puppies that were found along a highway.  It came with an adorable picture of Labrador puppies that were found by a co-worker’s neighbor and they needed to find homes for them right away.  I actually had a friend at the time in the market for a dog and so I had my co-worker inquire as to their availability on my buddy’s behalf, but my co-worker wrote back shortly thereafter saying that they’d all apparently found homes already.  I thought nothing of it and went on my merry way.  Two days later my mom sent me an identical email (with the same picture and everything) telling the story of how one of her co-worker’s neighbors had found the same box of puppies on the side of the road. 

The point of the story is not that two completely different social circles of mine were taken by the same email hoax.  What’s important is that a bunch of people I know and care about had the same instinct to do what was in their power, to do what was right, in trying to find a home for these puppies in need.  One could argue that we all would have been better off had the email never have been sent at all; but then our hearts wouldn’t have been warmed by looking at a box full of adorable puppies in the middle of an otherwise non-descript work day either now would they?

Author’s Note: In doing research for this article I was shocked to learn how the name “David Rose” is synonymous with the words “hoax” & “conspiracy” across the internet.  Be it this guy or this guy or him, the David Roses of the world need to get their act together.  Kinda eerie right?