"I just hope you feel so unhappy for the rest of your life. I hope you suffer a conscious misery."
"I am pretty sure you a narcissistic self-centered psychopath."
"The only thing you seem to be adept at is leaving a trail of ruined lives."
"This is a horrible story and makes you look like an ungrateful, materialistic wench."
These are just a few of the comments I received in response to an article I originally wrote for YourTango (and more recently on Huffington Post and Thought Catalog) where I shared the story of a man I loved dearly many years ago, but decided was not the right fit for me as a life partner. Nerves were clearly hit, and much like in the game "Operation," when your tweezers hit the metal, BZZZ went the comment section.
For whatever reason, many people took a story of a beautiful connection between two people and dumbed it down to an issue of money vs. love. Though I don't wish to provide additional fodder for those chomping at the bit for another opportunity to attack me with even more colorful adjectives (and before I move on to the larger issue at hand), I want to clarify a few things and answer a few questions that have been asked:
1. I loved the man I married and did not marry him for money.
3. A person can love someone deeply and also realize they're not a fit as a life partner. Choosing a lifestyle with some security does not make a person shallow or materialistic.
4. You can remain friends and love a previous partner even after moving on.
5. As we grow, we learn and make the best decisions we can at the time. While I have second-guessed many decisions I have made throughout my life, I can honestly say that I have no regrets. The choices we make in life help to create who we are today, and given where I am in my life now, I am very proud and grateful.
That all being said, aside from the sticks and stones and names that hurt me, there is a bigger problem on the web that is literally, a world-wide issue.
The more we 'connect' on the Internet, the more we actually disconnect, not only from experiencing life as we are living it, but from really getting to know each another. All too often we forget (or simply don't care) that there are real people with real feelings on the receiving end of the verbal abuse disguised as comments.
The Internet has become a playground for anoyomous bullies who take out their aggressions with blasphemous insults for which they are never held accountable. Young people are even taking their own lives due to cyber-bullying. The world-wide-web is woven with deadly arachnids who are upset with the world. They excrete their bitterness, resentments and hurts upon others behind the safety of their computers, with anonymity.
Those who are throwing their hate-filled venomous darts reveal a shocking snapshot of hurt, anger and sickness that is living in our communities. Their negativity and nastiness infect everyone, not just the intended victim. While anyone in the public eye is a vulnerable target of criticism, mockery, name-calling and hate mail, what we saw after the tragic death of Robin Williams was deplorable. The depth of pain and turmoil that he suffered is unimaginable, and while there were sentiments of sadness and support, there were many insensitive, mean-spirited comments sent to his grieving daughter from the (rancid) peanut gallery, further perpetuating the poison that infiltrates our lives daily.
Isn't there enough hatred in the world? What causes these sadistic people (aka 'Trolls'), to feel that they can vomit their chunks of nastiness into cyberspace? Why do they feel the need to be so hurtful? Research shows there are a handful of reasons, including a perceived sense of anonymity/obscurity, social identity salience (the process of deindividuation), desensitization and a perceived lack of consequences. This may help us to understand the pathology behind the trolls, yet it seems that there is an abundance of anger and a glaring lack of compassion toward our fellow human beings.
The stickier the web gets from trollers, the more people might be afraid to write and to share on the Internet, or even cause them to leave social media (as was the case with Robin Williams' daughter, Zelda). Trolls might indeed be weakened without as much fodder to devour, but it would be at a great cost. While it is true that many horrifying things are being said on the Internet, there are heartwarming, supportive exchanges as well. The world-wide-web has the capability of uniting us together as a community and connecting us with people we might not otherwise meet in real life. It can give us an opportunity to hear people's stories, lessons, wins and mistakes. It is also a very effective way to show support, love and encouragement to a vast number of people.
It is very easy to publicly tar and feather someone when you’re doing it from under an invisibility cloak. Criticism (while not always easy to hear), when constructive, can provide further introspection and growth; unnecessary nastiness however, is a different beast. The truth is, we can never please everyone, or be liked by everybody. When something both complimentary and loathsome is said to us, we tend to focus on and remember the latter ... it's human nature. Negativity seems to be a stronger force; a magnetic pull that sucks us in like paper clips. I am choosing to repel against this natural tendency and not go down the rabbit hole. We can't change the actions of the cowardly trolls, but the good news is that we do have control over what we choose to focus on and how we react.
My initial reaction to this cyber-attack was one of shock, sadness, and hurt from the hailstorm of hatred, and also incredible frustration from feeling misunderstood. I wish something could be done to monitor the not-so-friendly cyber skies, but as with many things in life, perhaps we need to accept the good with the bad and grow an extra layer of skin until something changes.
I began earlier with examples of negative comments that I received, but there were also many supportive ones, and those are the ones on which I now choose to focus:
"Such a beautiful touching story. To experience that kind of love in one’s life time is truly a blessing."
"Made me cry."
"….it was a beautiful story. The hate for this woman is staggering. I am just floored at how the entire point of this story has been so completely lost… because you are spending your efforts in just condemning her."
"Thank you for writing that article. You were attacked pretty hard so I applaud you for saying what most people are too afraid to admit..."
Thanks to the Internet, the opportunity to have a positive impact on others has never been greater. Telling personal stories is one of the most powerful ways to encourage, motivate, support, heal and console. I sincerely hope that the hostility that lives on the Internet won't prevent people from sharing. When we come from a place of vulnerability is when the magical, wonderful things in life happen. Stay vulnerable, and stay in the game. Don't let the troll bullies win.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly." — Theodore Roosevelt