I don’t know about you, but I often treat the internet as a much safer, healthier place to hang out than it actually is. Like walking into a seedy bar assuming it is a posh hotspot, I fully acknowledge it is my own error when this occurs, and it my own job to make sure that it doesn’t.
In one recent post, I blogged about a mentor who taught me how to “zip up” to protect myself from negative energy and unnecessary hardship.
When I go to our local park to walk, attend a concert or even enter a thrift shop, I have become accustomed to “zipping up” to safeguard myself in this way. If there is any source of chaotic, restless, overly dramatic or unbalanced energy lurking nearby, it won’t find any place to plug in with me.
But where I all too frequently forget and outright neglect to do this is when I open up a web browser or app and enter the vast, still largely anonymous world of cyberspace.
In the so-called “real world” of the physical plane, my goal is to avoid being mugged, run over or worse. In the cyber world online, my goal is to avoid being trolled, bullied or worse.
While online trolls may give themselves faces and names, in that at least they post some type of photo and add some sort of moniker to their online profiles, this doesn’t do much to repress their seeming natural inclination to give anyone and everyone everywhere a generous helping of their personal opinion.
This is particularly the case for anyone who ventures online and already possesses somewhat of an existing follower base. Like a playground fight between a known schoolyard bully and their target, it usually doesn’t take long before a little scuffle turns into a school-wide rumble.
It happened to me again the other day. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say I posted something about one of my pets that apparently irritated a great number of people. The next time I checked my app, there they were – all the trolls that I so haven’t missed – spewing hate, judgment, very personal opinion and assessment. One individual even posted that they were “embarrassed for me.”
(After doing my best to shake this off, it occurred to me that at least if they were embarrassed for me, there was no need for me to also be embarrassed for myself. So I can check that off the list. Whew.)
Of course I got really mad at myself when all this unfolded, because I really should and DO know better. I know that trolling can happen at any time and for the strangest of reasons. I didn’t zip up, and so getting attacked by trolls hurt way worse than it had to. Totally my bad.
And I truly believe it would have hurt at some level anyway, because even if I was fully zipped up and protected, even armed as I am these days with my mentor Don Miguel Ruiz’s life-changing Four Agreements, one of which is to “take nothing personally,” encountering anger, judgment, shame, hate always hurts to some degree, whether expected or unexpected.
I can also share that in my more elevated moments, I have even done compassion meditations for the trolls, understanding that behind each relatively unknown photo and username is a real living breathing being who can’t be feeling all that great about themselves or their lives, or else they wouldn’t be so keen to inject misery where none existed before.
To my way of thinking, at least (and acknowledging this is totally unsubstantiated by more than personal opinion, since I have yet to see any formal research that locates, contacts and polls trolls to see why they do what they do and how they are feeling when they do it), no one who is happy, healthy, connected in loving friendships and relationships, and actively engaged in being of service in this world, is going to have any extra free time to troll.
Even though I wouldn’t necessarily say I am scoring five stars in each of these areas myself, I can look back to times recently when I have happened upon blog posts or articles that offended, irritated or scared me, and I haven’t commented on them. Maybe showing such restraint is a disservice in a way, but I just didn’t have extra energy to spend on the aggressive and antagonistic comment thread that would have likely ensued.
In other words, in coping with the periodic presence of trolls in my own online life, I have been working hard to adopt this perspective: “trolls are people too.”
I don’t like it and it certainly doesn’t ease the sting when I find myself unexpectedly on the receiving end of their vitriol. I also don’t feel like it excuses their actions of online bullying, biased judging, guilting or shaming, especially when it is accomplished so casually, with so little effort or investment involved. A few clicks on a smart phone or keystrokes on a tablet or laptop and the damage is set in motion for the whole world to witness.
It is not a nice way to behave or to live.
However, in my nearly five decades to date, I have also come to believe that there are more good people than not-good in this world, and that even very good people can act in very bad ways when one of their bruised places gets pushed. Perhaps something about my casual little Instagram comment had this very effect on the trolls that flocked to my post. Perhaps I should send them all antiseptic ointment and bandaids, along with a very sincere apology for inadvertently causing harm where none was intended.
But for now, at least in my own life, if I feel momentarily motivated to say something I wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and say to their face, I won’t be posting it on their online feed, at the end of their articles or anywhere where I might be protected from backlash or repercussions by the inaccessibility of the world wide web.
And as so many of my treasured mentors over the years have pointed out, if the commentary is coming from someone I wouldn’t take advice from, then I shouldn’t take criticism from them either. Amen to that.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of online trolls or their physical “real world” equivalents? What was that like? How did you cope….and heal? What do you think motivates trolls to do what they do? Do you think we have any hope of a troll-less online world in the future?