Trolls

tomten
"Those who seem to have no interest in hearing generously, probably forfeit their right to speak."

The Muse can tell you that I rarely read the reactions to my postings on our neighborhood listserv. Something about the context seems to encourage people to drop their pants and lead with their least attractive profile when responding. Many tend toward a scolding stance. Some delve into the demeaning. Of course I feel goaded and sorely tempted to respond, if only to set the record straight. I'm learning that it's probably not my responsibility to set straight any record deliberately twisted through less than generous interpretation. Sure it feels as though I've just been ripped a new one and of course I really want to defend my integrity, but jumping into the pig wallow, even if explicitly invited, won't improve any argument, though the pigs seem certain to enjoy the spectacle of any high-minded anyone self-debasing themselves into to the troll's native environment. The Muse reads them. I usually don't.

My next door neighbor sent a text message regretting the latest savaging of which I'd been blissfully unaware. I appreciated him with a grateful reply. A few more personal messages arrived, each appreciative and generous.
I felt moved to break my general rule and review the publicly posted responses and I was not disappointed. My previous experience reappeared, with virtually all of the public responses scathing. scolding, apparently deliberately intended as demeaning. I wondered what message they were responding to, since I'd quite deliberately avoided scathing, scolding, and demeaning in my original posting. I concluded, through my blooming disappointment and budding rage, that I was reading responses to what they'd read rather than to what I'd posted. The ambiguity of language pretty much guarantees that any piece of writing might be interpreted in an almost infinite number of ways, depending upon the context within which the reader resides. No writer can reliably predict the numbers of contexts within which their various readers reside. Writers depend upon some native generosity from their readers, but not all readers seem to possess generosity, native or studied.

All feedback is first and foremost, perhaps eternally, about the one providing the feedback, so I re-read the troll comments with the idea that they might help me better understand the world view of the trollers. (I know, 'troller' isn't the most generous label I might ascribe, but I'm only human.) What might I learn about them, since it seemed clear to me that they had little to teach me about me, since they didn't know me beyond what I'd written in my post. It was an ugly sociology lesson, one seemingly designed to challenge my whole notion that I hold the responsibility to make the most generous possible interpretation of curious information, which is to say information about which I could only have inadequate understanding. I know, I'm holding myself responsible for making up some believable fiction which might better serve the possibility of a half-decent relationship emerging as a result. I sweated this challenge.

In the end, I posted a short appreciation for all those who responded, acknowledging that for me it seemed that not everyone seemed to see the world as I see it. I thanked them for their civic engagement. I sidestepped what certainly felt like their seduction to try to goad me into a good, old-fashioned pig wallow. I received a couple of private appreciations for my appreciation. No public ones, of course, because there's something about listservs that seem hostile to appreciation. So be it.

Notice how many words I've expended outlining my thoughts behind my response. None of those processes were visible to anyone but me, and even to me, they were emergent rather than fully sentient and deliberate. I felt my way through to them rather than simply evoking a handy-dandy pre-programmed process for deflecting trolls. It's hard work, but I'm learning that engaging with cynics rarely yields desired results. I'm uncertain how to engage with cynics for they can counter any argument with even more arguing, seemingly unconcerned with resolving anything. Their purpose might be to continue the conflict, which might feed some dark urge within them, rather than to find any resolution. Were I to simply agree with them. I would likely, almost certainly, learn that I hadn't agreed properly and the conflict would continue. If I pass an appreciation, the conflict generally stops, not as permanently as it does when I simply do not read the responses, but fairly quickly.

I take it all personally. How could I do otherwise? Trolls don't seem to take anything personally for their grousing seems a mere extension of their personalities. (That might not be my MOST generous interpretation.) If one posts, one can be certain that they will be misunderstood by some of their readers. Nothing hurts a careful writer more than to find that they cannot be understood, even when they learn (or generously suspect) that understanding probably wasn't on the troll's agenda, and perhaps not even in their repertoire. Then I catch myself trolling. I try to teach without permission from the student. I found myself wondering during this latest troll encounter, just who those trolls thought they were interacting with. I'm not deluded, ill-informed, or stupid. It was clear that they, self-elevated to become my teacher without my permission, thought they might somehow reform my perspective, which wasn't really my perspective but theirs.

Jesus counseled his disciples, that if the message ain't taking, they should go someplace where the message might take. "Shake the dust of that town off your sandals," he was quoted as saying. I can't hardly help being myself, even when I post to a listserv. Others can't hardly help bringing themselves to the conversation, either. Whether we ever inform each other, let alone satisfy each other, might depend upon our mutual generosity, which grants others the permission to hear and to speak. Those who seem to have no interest in hearing generously, probably forfeit their right to speak.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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