I love to argue and debate. I don’t mean fighting or slinging monkey poo. I’m talking about the quickly dying art of two or more opposing viewpoints of a particular subject passionately sharing ideas, thoughts and information. I always come out a winner in these situations. Not because I always win or my viewpoints and ideas prevail. I come out a winner because I always learn something. Many times I come away from a discussion more secure in my original opinions. Having to defend my thoughts helps me solidify why I believe something in a particular way. It’s an easy thing to say “I like ice cream”; it takes some effort to explain why I like it.
Sometimes I come away from these discussions with new information that causes me to reevaluate my thoughts on the subject at hand. Even if my mind isn’t necessarily changed, I end up with a better understanding of the “why” behind the other viewpoints. And when I do change my opinion on a matter, it’s usually because the other side has properly explained the reasoning behind the belief and I realize that I did not have all the relevant information to form an opinion. I like being right, who doesn’t, but I would rather be well-informed.
It seems to me that a large part of the opinionated public can’t explain why they hold a particular viewpoint; they don’t seem to understand, or even care, how superficial and shallow their ideas are when the only explanation they can give for the belief is “because I do” or “so-in-so said it was that way”. The internet and its message threads and social media sites seem to give energy to the unexplainable opinions of trolls.
I have recently witnessed, or have read about, a number of message threads attached to a news article that have almost immediately left the topic of the attached article and turned into verbal fistfights. One such article was about making a cake. I never realized the instructions to make a cake on a cooking website are really an invitation to participate in a MMA match. I was taken aback this morning when I discovered that an article about the underwater discovery of the ancient city of Heracleion was really a discussion about the proper definition and usage of the term “mental retardation”, and a how-to article on editing the works of others. And political topics are never really about how ineffective our elected officials truly are; they are really about how everyone is a brain-washed, idiotic c-word for whatever side of the political line one falls.
I have to blame my desire for intellectual stimulation on school. It’s really the fault of my professors for feeding my hunger for a unemotional dissection of any given topic. My parents gave me the genetic markers for analysis and critical-thinking; but this last year of education has made me realize how often I feel like a lost traveler wandering a desert with no water in my search for a meaningful exchange of ideas. I keep finding myself stuck in a mirage. I think I have found an interesting topic with relevant comments, and instead I find monkeys slinging poo.
I usually enjoy finding someone who drastically deviates from my opinions. It gives me the opportunity to practice staying rational and on topic when I feel myself getting worked-up trying to change someone’s mind. I have a couple of friends on Facebook that I use for this mental exercise. We tend to disagree on a vast amount of subjects, and many times their comments come across condescending, sarcastic, or insulting. I take these opportunities to think before I type; to hear my words and the tone they are expressing before I reply. I make the effort and do the work needed to disregard the poo slinging, and I focus on the underlying opinion that I want to question or challenge. It can be difficult sometimes, very very difficult. Sometimes I have to curse and rant to myself before I start typing. It helps me to vent off the negative and emotional crap before I can form and express a valid rebuttal. I have learned that I cannot control the response of others, but I can control my responses to them.
This comes in very handy when I find myself scrolling thru message threads and reading the comments of complete strangers. Because I really don’t want to feed the trolls. I remember when I was a child and I was upset because I was so short and people would call me shrimp, or make fun of my last name and call me marshmallow. My dad told me to smile at them and say, “hey! That’s my favorite food!” He also told me to work on just ignoring them. He explained to me that sometimes people pick on you and say hurtful things just to get a reaction out of you. Any reaction. It might take some time, but if you ignore them they will eventually give up and look for someone who will react. The bullies get their fun from just making you react.
The internet trolls can’t be beaten, they can only be starved. Even intelligent and thoughtful responses to their fecal comments only serve to feed their appetites for attention. At some point the ability to stay civil is lost on even the strongest of minds. The challenge to out curse them and come up with more creative insults becomes overwhelming and you find yourself looking at troll in the mirror. I’m learning to recognize when I have reached that point and to just walk away from the conversation. I never get pleasure from the poo slinging because in my heart and soul, I am not a troll.