I’ll begin by stating that I realize the ironies and hypocrisies in the above title. By addressing the issue of “feeding the trolls,” I am cannibalistically prostrating myself before the Temple of Internet Doom. However, I am going to address the idea of double standards we all live by, including myself. When Donald Trump taps his computer keys, it’s a knee jerk reaction for so many of my friends (and myself) to tweet back a reply, while we all realize that his campaign - and now, the pre-inauguration period - is about distraction from larger global issues. The tweets alone have served as a diversion. If you are on Twitter and you follow celebrities, reality stars, wrestlers…you’ve likely either corresponded with them, replied to their tweets or tweeted about them. This is human nature: We comment on the shows we watch, we are curious about others…perhaps we seek out role models, are subsequently disappointed and then feel the need to express that. Of course, some people have more time on their hands than others who can’t be bothered to go to social media and post. Others keep their statements on the Internet pithy, polite and respectful, while some launch personal attacks that have nothing to do with the subject at hand (“Go fix your meth teeth!” was the off-topic comment directed my way by a stranger after I posted an interview with a comedian).
This is a weird time in history. Do you remember the days when “secret ballots” were valued, when your parents never told you who they were voting for? Well, I do. My mother felt it was best to leave the conversations of “who are you voting for” out of social gatherings, while somehow managing to respond to friends’ thoughts on policies and perceived presidential successes and mishaps. However, the Internet was not around at that time. The concept of sharing a thought per minute (as the best Tweeters, Instagramers and Snapchat users do today) was a foreign one. Discourse, of course, existed in those dark ages, but without the platform that made “thought after thought” or “play by play” more acceptable. It was understood then that we kept many of the things we reveal today closer to our vests.
Several years ago, The National Jewish Outreach Program first promoted the idea of taking a weekend off, like observant Jews do, from using electronic communications. From sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, Jews and non-Jews tried this out. This may seem like a short amount of time, but if you’re as addicted to your phone as the majority of Americans (and those worldwide) are today, it is enough of a window to appreciate that you really CAN get by without texting, emailing, calling and checking Facebook. You might miss a connection and the opportunity for last-minute plans, but you also see how freeing it is not having to worry about responding or being misconstrued when you post about politics, or having to address cynical, demanding questions. Yes, you can just put down the phone and like that, you cease to exist for a while in the digital world. You very well might open up your eyes to nature, to human interaction and all that is physically around you.
When I responded to the man who told me to fix my teeth, I just spurred him on to add more personal insults. I’m not going to lie and say I’m not a sensitive person. People’s comments can be cruel, bigoted, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and the list goes on. I get bothered and bogged down when the quality of my writing is attacked through a stranger’s comment, fearful that those words will somehow cause brain paralysis in the right hemisphere, hampering my creativity or making it null and void altogether. Psychologists call this “magical thinking” and it’s admittedly a very childish (5 year old) mentality, but when you are a woman working extra hard to prove yourself and a sensitive soul by genetic design, it’s a very real feeling and a challenge to overcome.
The best and the only thing you can do is: keep doing. Keep writing, keep singing, keep acting or whatever your passion is. Skeptics and cynics should serve to keep us on our toes, always humble and always striving to do better. You can read the comments and filter out the constructive advice from the insults, even salvageable pointers buried under a heap of crude remarks. If you look for what you can learn from “trolls,” realize you are evolving and determined to deliver the best final product - often after many (or several) successive approximations. You do have to be able to relax too and have leisure time. In that case, it is best to take that Internet sabbatical I mention above – at least for a few days. Of course, there are other tactics you can employ. For instance, sometimes (judging by ludicrous subject lines), I delete emails without looking at them, knowing the content will upset me unnecessarily and get me to respond. If I were to do that, I would get tangled in a web I couldn’t spin my way out of. Time would be wasted and projects pushed off or abandoned altogether.
No one is flawless and anyone who takes time to insult others on the Internet needs their own creative outlet. When I address those in the public eye on Twitter, I’m guilty of the same thing and going forward, I’ll do my very best to immerse myself in other things that don’t waste time. That said, it is so tempting for us as a collective nation to respond to that which upsets us in politics, to joke about Trump’s tweets…Ultimately, it is because we are performing and enjoy having an audience. I never thought I would say this, but in this regard, I feel for the president-elect (if he cares! Michael Moore in TrumpLand filmmaker Michael Moore contends that Trump does worry about verbal attackers and critics, what people say to him and about him) and I know what he must do. His daughter Ivanka converted to Orthodox Judaism and reportedly keeps Shabbat. Trump would benefit from taking a Shabbat off, but not only doing so. In this time off, he should relish and reflect upon the abstinence from Twitter, from checking the news and from watching TV (and anything that involves electronics). Aside from enjoying the day, he should meditate on how freeing it is and how much he can think clearly without getting bogged down by minutia and addressing numerous people reflexively. He might realize that some of these people should be ignored and many, called after he’s had some time to think and prepare discussion points.
Again, by even bringing this whole topic up, I admit to my own inner troll(iness). We are all inconsistent in some way. We can all be hypocrites to varying extents. We are all imperfect as mere mortals. None of us are free of mistakes. We can strive to do better continually, but if we can also acknowledge our flaws, our limitations and give ourselves a margin of error, the hard words become softer.