Urban Dictionary defines a “troll” as someone who deliberately pisses people off in an online newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption, argument, or to get a reaction.
Seasoned writers know to avoid interaction with these people at all costs.
However, I’m fairly new at this.
I recently had a personal essay published in a very visible online motherhood magazine. To sum it up quickly, it was describing a temporary moment of insecurity that I felt in my marriage since having become a mother and not having a ton of time to focus on self-care or nurturing my relationship. I approached this issue with forthrightness, and a little bit of hyperbole for humor’s sake and to try to keep the tone somewhat light-hearted.
Now, common sense alone would tell any writer that putting something personal out there like that completely opens you up for criticism, and creates a digital breeding ground for trolls.
All well and good, and understood.
However, anyone who’s read my “about” page or Facebook page knows that one of the main reasons I started my writing venture was because I was inspired by and connected with the truth and honesty of other women. And I decided to start sharing my messages publicly because I truly feel that if I’m able to reach even one person with my words just as they reached me, then that makes it all worthwhile.
Also, I whole-heartedly believed that sites like the one I was featured on existed for the purpose of bringing women together and lifting them up, not tearing them down, and so I thought people would mostly be kind.
That was naive of me.
And so, I did it. I put it out there—with almost zero hesitation.
And I thought I could handle it.
I thought I would soak up the positive feedback while letting any criticism or cattiness roll fluidly off my back.
And then I watched the comments trickle in. Let’s just list a few:
Seriously, you have a problem.
I feel sorry for this cranky-ass.
This is classic co-dependent manipulation. (LOL, really?)
and my personal favorite—
Her husband is probably hiding in the basement planning his escape 🤣.
Each hurtful comment was like a chisel slowly and painfully chipping away at my insides that I had so bravely outpoured.
I told myself not to jump in. Just ignore it. Walk away; leave it alone.
But the truth is I felt compelled to not only shield and clarify my own words, but to come to the defense of every woman who read my essay and who said to themselves wow, I’ve been there. I didn’t want others who related to it feeling like there was something wrong with them for ever having felt that way too. I’m not perfect and believe me I have my not-so-nice moments, but I have zero tolerance for ignorant comments and maliciousness just for the fun of it.
And I thought to myself, I can correct this. I can shut these people down with one well-written, articulate, to-the-point response, and then it will all be done with. They’ll see my logic and the error of their ways and move on.
I probably don’t have to tell you it doesn’t work like that.
Choosing to engage was the equivalent of diving into an endless rabbit-hole of pointless exchanges. One where my calm and sensible tone was only perceived as passive-aggressive (OK maybe it was a little) and countered with even more harshness from all who wanted to watch massive drama unfold, and I regretted it the second I did it.
This is not a unique situation. It’s one that’s encountered by thousands of writers all over the world who put their heart and soul out on display with the hope of uniting and uplifting others.
And it’s true, people are entitled to their opinions and we live in a world where free speech is a right. But it’s a right that many people misuse, irresponsibly.
Because the fact of the matter is that continuing to berate, criticize, poke fun at or place judgement on someone who’s already admitted to a fault or a moment of weakness they want to improve upon is bullying. It may be bullying in its subtlest form—disguised in sheep’s clothing and wearing a little lipstick and high heels—but it’s bullying nonetheless.
You can’t convince mean people that they’re being mean.
As ridiculous and oversimplified as the use of that word may be, that’s really what it is. Sheer meanness for the sake of being mean in an attempt to get other like-minded meanies to join them in their verbal attacks—simply because it makes them feel elevated somehow.
It’s classic click-bait, and I latched right on.
Still though, the pen remains mightier than the proverbial sword.
I will absolutely, without a doubt, continue to write from my heart about my innermost thoughts and feelings, and release them out into the world. I have grown to love the connections I’ve made through this new hobby and I do believe I reached at least some of the people I wanted to reach with my article.
But I will never, ever again choose to engage with rude and insulting commentary. It’s pointless and a waste of time and just brought me down to the level of people I never want to be even remotely close to.
And I can only hope that those who may ever feel an affinity with my personal written thoughts will do what I failed to do this time around, and take the comments for what they are—trivial, meaningless words from people who probably need to do some serious soul-searching of their own.