The number one rule of writing on the Internet these days seems to be "don't read the comments."
I choose to ignore that advice -- and I would encourage you to do the same.
I have always read every comment on my personal blog posts for the Huffington Post. Some of them warrant responses, which I tend to offer. When I explained this to a friend who works at another media company, she responded that I must have incredibly thick skin. I don't.
But I also wouldn't post a personal piece on the Internet if I didn't want to have a conversation about it. When I share things about myself -- from my feelings about "Girls" to my struggle with anxiety and the dynamics of my personal relationships -- it's usually part of a larger discussion. So why wouldn't I want to see how people are responding and what stories they bring to the table?
Not every comment on a piece I write is going to be a thoughtful response or a welcome challenge, because even the most stringent comment moderation system won't keep out the trolls. (Hence why the Huffington Post has recently announced that it will be doing away with anonymous commenting.) But the comments section is often the only place where a reader is able to share his or her own views on a subject. And I believe that anyone who takes the time to read the piece and pen a response to it probably deserves the courtesy of having their comment read and recognized.
No one enjoys pouring their heart out onto the Internet and being called a b*tch or an idiot in response -- and the online world has notably been a more toxic place for women. Anonymity, or at least a lack of face-to-face dialogue, leads people to post personal attacks that I'm pretty sure they would never voice in real life, but being behind a screen also allows users to be open about topics and experiences they might not by exposed to or discuss at all otherwise.
The reason I write personal essays and opinion pieces is to spark a conversation. I want to talk -- or at least type -- about anxiety disorders, interracial friendships and being called bossy, because I believe those are topics that need to be discussed. For me, that doesn't mean presenting my own viewpoint then walking away. Rather, it means engaging with comments, rebuttals, suggestions, corrections and questions. It means accepting criticism and seeing where I can improve.
It means swallowing my pride and reading the comments.
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