On the internet, and in life, there are trolls waiting for us all. Sometimes their attacks feel very personal. Experience suggests these attacks are rarely truly personal – how could they be without connection, and shared knowledge, and mutual understanding? Sometimes they definitely feel personal, though, and that’s where I get tripped up, myself.

I watched a couple of videos recently that are on point with the direction I am headed on this topic, this morning. One, from the vlogbrothers on YouTube. The other from School of Life, also on YouTube. Both have some relevant observations regarding that experience of succumbing to troll attacks – whether online, or in life. The mechanism is so simple: we are presented with information to which we object, or take exception to, or find offending in some way – and we react to it. It might be a comment on Facebook (as happened this morning, in my own experience) – someone reads the comment, objects to the comment in some way; it becomes an exchange. I enjoy such exchanges when they are reasoned, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and add to the dialogue of the world on important topics. That’s far more rare than it could be, and often it turns out to be comment > offense taken > bait offered > bait taken > loss of adherence to rules of logical discourse and finally the whole thing is wrapped up with an exchange of hostilities and elevated negative emotions. How suck is that? In my own experience this morning, some faceless unknown other citizen of the world took an observation about a system as a direct personal attack on her own actions, being, and place in the world, and returned those feelings as a very specific personal attack on me. Not necessary, and foolishly I responded – which wasn’t necessary, either.

Seriously. Just don't. :-)

Seriously. Just don’t. 🙂

We are each so very human. Taking something as a personal attack happens – I find myself mired in that bullshit too easily, too often, relative to the enjoyment in life I am seeking. (To be fair, ‘at all‘ is ‘too often’.) Once I recognize the pattern, I set clear boundaries and halt to the exchange and move on. It’s not personal – it’s can’t actually be personal between strangers, unless we choose to buy in, and accept that ourselves; we each have absolute control over whether we take something as a personal attack. I don’t have the time in this limited mortal life to feed trolls. (Are you nodding along?)

What if I am the troll? What if you are? If the dialogue is allowed to continue, it quickly becomes less clear who was the chicken, and who was the egg. With this in mind, I work to ensure I’m not out there baiting others on issues that are close to home, emotionally relevant, and potentially… personal.  As an individual, I tend to look at things – often – from the perspective of systems, rules, trends, and generalizations; this is one way I maintain perspective (not everything is actually about me). I sometimes forget that many people around me read every word from the perspective of “I, me, mine”. I am at risk of not recognizing that some small point I am making may feel very personal to someone else, perhaps because their perspective differs – or simply because they, themselves, as a practice take things very personally [by choice – because yeah, even here, there are verbs involved]. There is OPD around every corner – and some people dive into that pile with real enthusiasm; it is a choice. I can choose differently.

I am reminded this morning that there’s no need to feed the trolls. It is enough to be kind, to be clear about my thoughts and ideas, to be very specific and reasoned in presenting them, and to refrain from taking someone else’s words personally, or attacking their perspective (they are on their own journey). Listening deeply requires practice, and verbs, and a commitment to consideration and respect – if consideration and respect are not reciprocated, there is no need for further communication beyond a pleasant and polite word or two by way of departure. Argument achieves little, beyond stoking negative emotion. Civility is a lovely thing, and it goes beyond ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and carries the potential to allow us to be clearly heard – and to clearly hear others.

Realistically, being civil offers no assurance others will be civil in return, and that can feel scary sometimes; in a world that values and fosters violence over reason, being civil can feel a little bit like laying down one’s arms. That’s actually part of the point; it is necessary to choose whether we are building a culture of civility, or a culture of violence. Still more questions than answers here, but I definitely prefer a culture of civility, myself, wherein human beings are valued, treated with kindness, compassion and respect, and one in which individuals think critically, and behave encouragingly – one in which growth is favored, nurtured, invested in – and appreciated. A culture of authenticity, comfortable personal accountability, and good-natured vulnerability. Am I dreaming? I don’t think so, myself – there are verbs involved, sure, and clear expectation-setting, and open communication is necessary – and practice. I practice every day. We become what we practice. The world we create is based on our choices, our actions – and our practices. If ‘practice makes perfect’, what are you choosing to perfect?

Today is a good day to choose civility. Today is a good day to walk away from hostility. Today is a good day to avoid taking things personally. Today is a good day to hear the hurt in another person’s anger, and to recognize how human they also are. Today is a good day for being and becoming, and offering an encouraging word to someone struggling. We’ve only got this one world to share, today is a good day to be civil about it.