Call Me Bewildered

“When I do good, I feel good, and when I do bad, I feel bad, and that’s my religion.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Attribution: Donna CameronI just don’t get it, and I’m beginning to suspect I never will. What exactly is it that trolls derive from trolling?

I read a news story from KIRO Radio about a local businessman, Dwayne Clark, who paid off the layaway costs at Walmart for 110 local families. It’s something a few celebrities have done this holiday season and it’s undoubtedly been a huge gift to struggling families (I think it’s a safe bet that comfortable, affluent folks aren’t doing a lot of layaway shopping at Walmart).

In the article, the author, Gee Scott, described how inspired he was by Clark’s generosity, and also how dismayed he was to see that many people weighed in to criticize the man. They said he was showing off, it was a publicity stunt, just another rich guy showing how rich he is…. However, the author happened to know Clark personally and testified to his many generous actions and his genuine desire to serve and support the community. He noted that Mr. Clark had grown up in a poor household with a single mom who struggled to put gifts on layaway.

Why, Scott wondered, do some people—as it turns out, a lot of people—condemn or belittle the motives of someone who does something generous and expansive? He asked, “When we condemn random acts of kindness, what is it we are actually supporting? Who cares WHY someone might do a nice thing?”

Scott ended his story with this plea, “There are plenty of negative stories in the world. So if I can ask one favor of everyone this holiday season, please reward a positive story with a positive comment, emoji, or otherwise happy reaction.”

This made me curious about the responses this article would generate. So I clicked to the comments—something I never do with online news stories. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would find something to criticize in this straightforward and heartwarming little article. So I clicked.

Well, haters gotta hate, as they say, and several people weighed in with hateful comments that attacked not just Mr. Clark but whole groups of people. And that, of course, led to commenters attacking other commenters and engaging in back-and-forth name-calling. It is so disheartening. What is going on?

You might remember that shortly before the midterm election I posted a message on this blog asking us all to think about how we would respond to the election results—whether they went the way we wished or not. I expressed the hope that we could be civil with one another in victory or defeat. It was really fairly innocuous, but it was something I felt strongly about.

The comments made to that post were universally thoughtful and respectful. I’m sure there were readers who had strong feelings—perhaps in disagreement with my opinions—but they did not attack me or call me names. As a matter of fact, in four years of blogging, I have not received one disrespectful or rude comment, not one. There was one person who sent me an anonymous message through my website’s “contact me” link, saying, “This is a load of crap,” but he sent it privately rather than posting it as a comment. Of course, to post a comment on WordPress, one must register, thus removing anonymity, and anonymity is a troll’s best friend.

I had felt very strongly about our collective post-election response, so in addition to the blog message I posted, I also wrote opinion pieces with similar thoughts but different angles and sent them to some newspapers. I was delighted and surprised that both The Seattle Times and The Washington Post accepted them and ran them shortly before the election.

I’ll admit I was rather proud to see them (The Times is my local paper, and, I mean really, The Washington Post!). I was curious to see if there would be any comments. I really didn’t expect many. After all, who’s against civility? So, I looked.

Holy bananafish! It seems there are a lot of people who take issue with civility. A whole lot. When I looked at the Post comments there were already 224 of them. The writers (most anonymous) attacked me (she obviously doesn’t care who wins or loses … she must be a Republican … here’s another liberal snowflake…), and then they attacked other commenters, who then trash-talked back. Yes, there were a few comments that agreed with my premise and my message, but they were vastly outnumbered by the trolls. Well, I can’t say this for sure, because I stopped reading after the first couple dozen comments. I had to go wash my hands to rid myself of the negativity. I took a look at the Seattle Times comments and it was pretty much the same. Again, I didn’t get all the way through.

These experiences have reinforced my resolve not to click on or read negative messages online. Not to contribute to the malevolence. Sometimes, we don’t know we’re encountering something slimy or negative ‘til we’re already there, but as soon as I realize I have, I depart (and usually go wash my hands).

It has also strengthened my appreciation for the blogging community, where—in my experience—civility is the norm. We don’t always agree with one another, but we disagree respectfully and often articulately.

I don’t understand the people who talk trash, name-call, and belittle others online (or anywhere else, for that matter). Is it cynicism, envy, anger, fear … or something else? I don’t understand what they get from it or how they are fueled by engaging in hateful and hate-filled behaviors. But there seems to be a sizeable number of such people and I greatly fear that they do not want to see unity or cooperation in their country or their communities. They do not want to restore civility or promote inclusion. Just what is it they do want?

I don’t understand. And I probably never will.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” (Albert Schweitzer)

21 thoughts on “Call Me Bewildered

  1. I, too, am bewildered by trolls, and even more so by the off-topic comment threads that can be likened to a barroom brawl. As for the civility of the blog comments, we are a self-selecting community. We are interested in kindness, so are more inclined to be kind ourselves. Ditto for other blogs followed by people with shared interests. Outside the blogosphere, though, the old writers’ and artists’ mantra prevails: Never read the comments!

    Liked by 2 people

    • “Barroom brawl” is a perfect description, Kathi! And I think WP must have been taking a break. I see you’re listed as “Mrs.” here and “Mrs. B” in the comment below. Must have been a hiccup. “Never read the comments” is such wise advice!

      Like

  2. Like you, I am mystified, Donna. Not by the urge (bad day, kick the cat), but by the sheer volume and I suppose the lack of editing. Blogs seem to have occupied a sweet spot between the extremes. I am thinking about why that is. Thank you for your message of sanity and kindness.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am also baffled, Donna. I blogged on Huff Post for a while but had to stop because so many of the comments were ugly, with readers hurling insults at each other — exactly as you’ve described. I wonder if civility, respect for each other and differing opinions (which we’re all entitled to have) and downright decency will ever make a comeback. It is very disheartening.

    What astounds me is the enormous number of hate-filled individuals out there, and how deep-seated their anger is. I find it hard to believe that you just wake up one morning that miserable. Obviously the horrendous example being set by Washington is partly to blame, but I do wonder if these people have never had anyone love them enough or even care for them enough to help them deal with these feelings and whatever it is that makes them feel so wronged by life.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I have to believe that we will restore civility, Fransi. Otherwise, how will the species–and the planet–survive? Maybe there should be a button that you have to push before posting a comment saying something to the effect: “Would you be proud for your mother to see this comment?”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been pondering this too Donna. Hatred and anger are very stimulating to unhappy people. Civility is beyond them. I honestly think they get an adrenalin rush from this kind of interaction. They think they are winning and getting one over on others who they believe don’t deserve to be happy. They express their darkest thoughts and hang on to their twisted beliefs about others in the world.
    Misery feeds on misery.
    …. Or there really are hoards of people being manipulated to bring hatred and chaos to the media and democratic organizations, in order to distract from the truth.
    Either way, it’s not worth feeding the dark wolf. Lets continue to feed the light.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Val, what we feed grows. Your comment about the adrenalin rush makes me wonder if some people are so dead inside that they will do whatever it takes to feel alive–even if the only thing that does it is spreading hate and arousing anger. What a sad and pitiful way to live. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. First, congrats on being published in the Washington Post! Secondly, I don’t understand people’s need to trash talk others either. And it seems to come from all sides, politically, racially, socio-economically, you name it! All I can guess is that we humans have a certain amount of aggression in our personalities, and for some people, the internet seems to be a safe way to let it out. No one can see who they are, so they can be as ugly as they want. Personally, when I feel worked up about something, I find exercise helps so much more than venting! All of us have anger, but I for one don’t want to take it out on others, ever. No one deserves that!
    Thanks for continuing to talk about this. It’s scary and disheartening to read the comment sections, but it is uplifting to read posts like yours and realize there are so many good people who would never attack anyone else, verbally or otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks so much for this kind and thoughtful comment, Ann. I think you may be on to something when you talk about trolling behaviors as a “safe” way to vent aggression, frustration, or anger. I don’t think many of us were taught healthy ways to deal with such emotions when we were kids; in fact, a lot of us probably learned to suppress such emotions, thus creating simmering rages we didn’t know what to do with. As you note, these behaviors are seen on the right and the left, and from all educational and socio-economic backgrounds. Maybe as more schools seem to be focusing on kindness, they will also look at the root causes of unkindness and look for ways to help kids learn to manage their emotions. We can hope….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Donna,
    I just can’t understand it either. It seems to be a waste of time and energy. I read this post to my husband who often gets caught up in reading comments on social media, then he becomes disturbed by all the negativity. I choose to never read comments on articles, because even if it’s a good, uplifting read, there will still be some who say mean, horrible things as you mentioned. It makes no sense to me. I suspect some are mean-spirited people, and some just have too much time on their hands. I’m with you—more kindness. How else will we survive? Congrats on the op-eds—the Washington Post! That’s big time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Cheryl. If enough of us stop fueling negativity by our clicks and responding to trolls, my hope is that they will someday just sputter to a stop, like a car that has run out of gas. In the meantime, we can do our best to fuel those who spread positive, inclusive messages. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Some people are so unhappy and empty inside that they want the rest of the world to join them in their misery. I am sure there are more people who appreciate what you’ve written, Donna, but unlike the trolls, they are living their lives and are probably much happier people than those who can only type negative comments.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think “empty inside” has a lot to do with it, Therese. If people feel numb or nothing, these negative behaviors may make them feel more alive–perhaps not happier, but maybe happy isn’t something they know how to deal with. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

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