I think of the bloggers I follow as friends. Some of them know that, and perhaps feel the same way about me. Some don't. I feel they are friends because I have shared in their lives through the medium of their words and in them I have recognized myself.
But sometimes I don't understand their sensitivity to the slightest insult.
Perhaps my experience as a blogger doesn't lend to understanding. It helps to have a small audience.
It helps to not be (s0) sensitive (anymore, after years of therapy and, one must say, getting old).
It helps that in almost five years of blogging I have probably only had one truly negative comment on this blog and one or two on posts elsewhere.
Even so. I've had negative comments in other places that mattered way more than this space. At work. From friends or in organizations I belong to. I'm no stranger to hearing really remarkable things being said about me - some true, some not. Some nice, some ugly. Whatever.
I don't care if you want to criticize me. It's fine. Go ahead. I can take it. If I weren't prepared to be disagreed with I wouldn't be putting my words on the internet for the world to view. Offering opinion invites scrutiny. Invites differing opinions. Invites others to be amused, outraged, insulted, offended, enraged. (With any luck, not so much of the enraged. One hopes.)
Rarely am I critical of other bloggers, at least publicly. I tend to be a supportive person, and I think that life's challenges for other people are for them to work out. I think most people know what they really need to do to solve their problems, and the best way I know to help them is to just let them know I care. I might have my own opinions about why they're in the pickle they're in, but personally I don't know that its helpful to share those opinions. Besides, unless I know the person intimately, there are details of their particular situation that are invisible and unknowable to me. That's the point where sharing an uninformed opinion might just make me an asshole.
But just because someone's being an asshole doesn't make them a troll.
Very rarely will I leave a negative comment on another's personal blog, with the notable exception of Penelope Trunk, who absolutely makes me want to weep in frustration. Other than that, mostly I believe I'm benign. But I believe very firmly in the value of the critic.
Insulting for the sake of insult is childish. Taking umbrage or offering a different opinion is something different. Perhaps others don't dialogue the way one would like them to, always, but the opinion that is offered is nonetheless often quite legitimate.
My sincerest advice to any blogger ( or friend on facebook or person on Twitter or coworker or RL person I love) is to let the voices of the angry horde blow by you like so much dust in the wind. Listen to your own heart. Do what you think is right. It might not be right for me, it might be a bad choice that you make, but you have the right to make it and you have the right to ignore all advice to the contrary. This is, though, only a first step. Learning to put your life out there for the world to comment on means starting at step one: Let it go.
You could stay there forever at step one, learning to let what others think mean just what it does. Staying at the first step is an option, certainly. There's another place to grow, though, if you're up to it. If you are secure enough to handle a little criticism, hear what is offered. Receive it from a different place than one of defensiveness. Listen to criticism with ears that are not emotionally engaged. Sometimes the simple act of doing this will grant you the ability to garner insight out of what you might have one time dismissed. You don't have to take everything to heart, you don't have to take anything to heart. But don't be afraid to sift through it. Dismiss what doesn't resonate, accept what might be worth digging in to a little deeper. Do it without apology, without anger, without judgment. Without EGO.
I appreciate the sense of community that being online offers. I have a deep and abiding sense of gratitude to so many bloggers who have made me laugh, made me cry, made me think, made me mad. Every interaction I've had has helped me to know myself better, helped me to grow.
But I think many times some of us fail to make the distinction between those that are critical of us and those that only wish to make us be quiet or be hurtful. I think it is too easy to lump all negative commentary into one big cooking pot and label it "troll soup."
Yes, there are those that simply leave nasty words because for whatever reason at the time they wrote them, they felt joy in being destructive. So what? Unless they're threatening you bodily harm, their words mean nothing. Hell, when I wrote the piece a couple of years ago about my daughter punching a boy in the junk, the secondary syndication of that post on a nationally read platform actually had one commenter suggesting readers look me up via my BlogHer profile and pay me a visit. (You bet, pal, I welcome you into my yard, so long as you're fine with really big dogs and if you don't mind the police officer who lives across the street may wish to handcuff you if you get out of hand.) That kind of crap is out of line. But whatever. Someone calling me a jerk or a bitch or saying I'm a terrible parent or a terrible human being? Those are just words. Those words don't carry any more power than I lend them. The ability to cope with the virulence of others, the responsibility to cope with the opinions of others , lies not with others. It belongs to me.
Those who put their words in the court of public opinion have known this truth for as long as the written word has existed. People will never as a whole respond to my words in the manner I hope they will. I can deal with that.
I don't have to be angry with people because their opinions of me or my writing aren't what I hoped they would be. Neither do you.