A Guide to Effective Trolling... Or Not

10406565_10152551312852682_1418532912413230439_n So I wrote a thing the other day that provoked some strong reactions.

I've been blogging for more than 10 years and have managed to fly under the radar for much of that time. For many years, I joked that my blog was down the dirt road and past the rusted-out gas station, and I liked it that way. I had a small group of readers, consisting of folks I knew and strangers who were amiable and thoughtful even when they disagreed. It was a great place to try out new ideas. Blogging is ideal for putting stuff out there even when the toothpick doesn't come out clean.

I know people who've been trolled mercilessly, even threatened, on the Internet; and I know it can be harder for women, who often deal with rape threats and other violent or misogynistic comments. We're learning more about the psychology of trolls---these folks are more likely to exhibit behaviors correlating with the so-called Dark Tetrad of personality: sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

I've had a pretty great experience online. I still say that, even after spending a good part of the last few days wading through emails and comments that have come in as a result of the TIME.com article and this blog post. It's been an interesting sociological study and occasion for self-reflection. What does vigorous engagement look like? How do we disagree online and in real life? How do we influence and persuade one another? How do we show graciousness when our "side" has prevailed?

Some of this week's emails got quickly deleted, e.g. those that mainly consisted of quoting the Apostle Paul. Trust me, I'm familiar with his work.

Similarly, messages employing all caps, excessive exclamation points, etc. I don't allow people I know to yell at me; do you really think I'm going to let you?

Other responses contained factual inaccuracies about the decision that was made or had a legitimate gripe about what happened. My rule of thumb has always been that those folks deserve one response, so if I have time, I'll respond in good faith. Then it's their move. If they show a genuine effort to engage, I may continue. If they escalate the nastiness, I'm through. Life's too short.

But then there were a few messages that got to me. And upon reflection, it's not the trolls that do it. They are so over the top as to be instantly disregarded.

It's the people who wrote out of their own authentic experience... especially those who were honest in naming their pain.

One person began a note by saying, "I cried when that marriage decision was made too, but for the exact opposite reason that you did."

Hey. I feel the way I do, and the person's email doesn't change that. But how can you not be moved by that?

I keep thinking about James Baldwin's words: I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

This person refused to be a knee-jerk hater, instead responding from a deeper place. The emailer shared an experience of pain, and with a complete stranger, no less. I honor that. It has stuck with me.

Many people are pained by what happened. I don't understand it. I honestly believe that this is a faithful decision biblically, theologically and pastorally. I further believe that gay marriage won't be a cultural cataclysm, just as interracial marriage wasn't. But I appreciate the pain the General Assembly's decision is bringing to people. And part of our action at GA was for the church to put a process in place of engaging with people who are pained.

How do we do that? The church has been arguing about LGBT issues for decades. There's really nothing much left to say. Let's stop trying to convince each other we're right. So what's next? Authenticity is next. Vulnerability is next. Sharing our broken places with one another is next.

(Thank you Brene Brown.)

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Image: "Troll surrenders to love," by my aunt, artist Chris Bergquist Fulmer.