Sunday, December 08, 2013

Don't let the comments get you down

I wrote this some months ago and thought it was too banal and obvious to put up. But well, here it is anyway.
I experienced a moment of personal growth a few days ago. I saw a comment on one of my marketing posts that had been picked up on a site other than the one it had been originally posted on, a comment that lamented how useless my post was.
Funnily enough, it's the first time that's happened to me (for a business post).
In itself, this isn't a big deal. Lots of derogatory comments on the Internet, right?
What was different to me was my reaction. I was able to shrug it off with a mild feeling of amusement.
For someone who used to lie awake at night with a weight in my stomach over disagreements with other bloggers or commenters, this feels like a big deal.

I haven't turned Zen overnight, of course. A few days later, I disagree with someone on Twitter and got the familiar feeling of dread again even though I had no regrets over what I said. But even this much seems such a big change that I want to tell you about it.
I've had this blog for nearly eight years. I started out by writing of really personal stuff, treating it like a journal and saying what I really felt.
This was fine while just a handful of friends were reading. But I started commenting on other blogs, strangers started reading my blog, and I started, not vey often but once in a while, getting comments that made me angry. I never got anything really vile: no personal attacks or threats of the kind that so many people, especially women or minorities, seem to experience by just daring to be a person online.
But as I found it difficult to deal with angry disagreement, I realized how much more difficult the other thing would be. And the more outspoken I was, the more likely it was that I would have to face that.
I reacted by backing down. I stopped writing about really personal stuff. I kept my blog up, but barely. I wrote about what I was reading or doing, not what I was thinking (as much). And of course, turned my blog boring.
I'm neither proud nor ashamed of what I did. I know bloggers who write fearlessly about their somewhat non-mainstream views or lived, and I admire them, but I admit I don't have that kind of courage. I value my peace of mind too much. (Okay, I'm a wimp.)
But I do hate being so affected by the opinions of strangers on the internet. It never made me question my worth or my decisions, yet it did...make me unhappy.
But now that I'm slightly less bothered by contradictory opinions than I used to be, I thought I'd examine how I got here both so I can keep thickening my skin and maybe encourage other thin-skinned people out there.
Personal stuff is personal.
It's probably not a coincidence that around the same time I started writing less about my personal life, I started writing more about marketing. I took to it more eagerly as I realised that people are less likely to denigrate you personally because they disagree with your views on hashtags. In fact, most comments and feedback is really encouraging. (People are kind!)
And if you do disagree with me about marketing, you disagree with me about marketing. I don't feel like you're questioning my values, like I might if you disagreed on a more personal post. We can argue over the merits of Twitter over LinkedIn (Twitter, of course) and still be friends.
So if you're squeamish about comments and trolls but want to write on the Internet, maybe start with the less personal stuff - your work or a hobby that you can talk passionately about without getting overly personal.
Write on “friendly” blogs.
If you write on a blog that creates a safe place and stringently moderates disrespectful comments, you can post and let someone else (the blog moderators) deal with the muck. It’s an easier way to dip your toes in.
People are less mean to their friends. If the blog has an engaged but friendly community that you know would welcome you -or that you’re already a part of by engaging in the comments - you know you're among friends and are less likely to get skewered.
But after you jump in and get negative comments...
Accept that it will affect you.
I feel better about such things since I've stopped beating myself up or feeling bad. You're human, and it's difficult to not take it personally. So give yourself permission to be upset.
Walk away from a fight.
But don't make being upset an excuse to behave badly. I've said things I'm ashamed of, and now I try to rein my anger in and not respond immediately even not respond at all.
Walk away from the computer. Snuggle your cat, play with your kid, solve a puzzle. A few hours (or days) later, it won't seem important.
Remember, it's not important to have the last word: it's important to have the upper hand, and it's never with the person raging in the comments section.
Be respectful.
If/when you do respond, be respectful and don't descend into personal attacks yourself. Don't say something you might cringe at later. Even if you think the other person is an idiot, don't say it. (Not easy, i know.) Be polite, disagree, and move on.
Have a sense of humor.
If the comment is that stupid, laugh at it. Call up your best friend and mouth off all the sarcastic epithets you can think of. Tell your spouse what youd like to do that person. And then let it go.
Write more.
Yes, really. Your first few bad comments sour your day even your week. But while I don't think you’re ever totally used to it, you can become somewhat inured.
Take strength from the positive.
Comments, that is. You're getting positive comments too, right? So if some people agree with you, it's only fair that some don't. That's okay, you don't have to convert everyone. The other people are all morons the smart ones are all agreeing with you.
Don't close yourself up to learning.
Don't take that last sentence in the previous section seriously. I've learned a lot from bloggers and commenters with points of view I hadn't considered before. Feel free to disregard comments that just say, “you suck lol,” but consider thinking over alternative viewpoints, if only for an added perspective you might be missing.
So, other people who have struggled with commentphobia: what tricks do you use to keep a healthy perspective?

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