As someone who writes on the internet for a living, I am well-versed in the madness of comment sections. I have been fiercely #TeamFuckTheHaters. I have ignored comments, responded feverishly and defensively to comments, killed commenters with kindness, and even sometimes snarked them right off the page. I even digitally hunted one particularly nasty commenter down and was like, “the hell you wrote this comment to me for?” (He apologized.)
I have raised my fist in the sky at the inhumanity. I have lost hope for humans. I have said the word “trolls” in reference to any commenter who dares disagree with my assertions. I have been told to commit suicide. One person was all, “I hope your mom gets cancer,” on a post about finding inner peace. I have read comments which still haunt me and run through my mind on repeat as I write something vulnerable or brave. I have cried. I have thought about quitting and retreating to a cabin to drink mercilessly and write mystery novels. I have vowed to read the comments always, then I have regretted that decision almost immediately. Ignore. Read. Ignore. Fuck the haters. Trolls! Ugh.
You know what I’ve never done, though?
I have never listened. I have never come to the end of a post and read each comment with an open mind and an open heart. I have always been defensive immediately. During all the times in which I wanted commenters to understand and feel my humanity, I have not reciprocated and given them my mercy. I have not listened to dissenters. I have not learned anything from the words of other people who might know something I do not.
Are there dissenters and contrarians who are just looking for a fight, whose intentions are impure from the outset? Yes. But, there are also humans who have insight that I do not have and who I can learn from. Just because they have put their thoughts into the comments section does not automatically make them a troll. Just because they do not agree wholeheartedly with me and shower me with worship does not mean their words are invalid or not worth reading.
As someone who is fervently devoted to igniting conversations and beginning dialogues around issues which are difficult to discuss, I was hypocritical. I was/am a hypocrite. I present my ideas and shut off the communication. Unless someone would like to agree with me, I will not listen. The respect I wanted for my opinion was something I felt entitled to, without so much as giving that same respect to others. Am I proud of this? No.
I want to begin conversations. I am not a preacher. I do not need my voice to be a megaphone. I want a two-way dialogue, even when it’s difficult. In fact, most especially when it’s difficult. And, with conversation and dialogue, comes the possibility that my point will not be agreed with on all counts. That must be okay with me, otherwise I am not truly desiring of conversation. It’s not a conversation if it’s me talking and not listening to others. If I want open-hearted, respectful conversations, I need to be the beginning of that. Expect nothing of others that I am not willing to give.
Furthermore, I am far more interested in the intention of a commenter than their words. If their intention is to inflict upon me ill-will or to disrespect me with their words, then I am not interested in engaging a conversation with them. Nothing I say will change their mind and that is their battle to pursue, not mine. If someone’s hobby is to be senselessly hateful to strangers on the internet, then they have a personal war with themselves that they have to duke out. That is fine. I will send them light and love on their journey. No irony. I really will.
However, if someone would like to engage with me a respectful and open-hearted dialogue, I am all ears. I was not before, but I am now. I will listen respectfully and respond in kind, as time permits. I will take into account intention above words. And, I will seek to ignite a conversation which will hopefully leave us more understanding of each other as human beings.
I don’t need to be right. I don’t need my opinion to be The Only Opinion. I am open to learning and I am far more open to being proven wrong, than I am of being proven right. To be proven wrong, to see a new point of view, would be expansion and growth. Whoever would like to meet me in the middle, I’m ready. I’ll be there.