Friday, 11 March 2016

Don't Get Mad, Get Smart

I've seen thin-skinned people flip out because I disagreed with them over and over again in a range of contexts. Radical feminists, anarcho-capitalists, libertarians, and an assortment of others. I can understand their frustration when they don't get what they want, but why are they determined to make sure I know about it?


Is it an attention-seeking thing?


If and when I have a disagreement with someone and feel a need to correct them I will make my argument but if they disagree with me, that's fine. I might leave the conversation believing they're misguided and might even write a blog post or twenty about how misguided I think they are but I've never felt the need to block them, then let them know I've had a whole opinion of my very own. If I block someone, it's because I'm not interested in getting or holding their attention. I block them because I don't want to hear from them any more. And if they never get to hear a thing I say ever again, good. That's what I want.

"I hate you with the fire of a thousand suns!"


My colleague jokingly says this at work: "I hate [$name] with the fire of a thousand suns! My fury will pursue him and all his kin to the third and fourth generation. Eternal vengeance shall be mine!"

We sit back and laugh; she's too laid back to actually mean it but there are people who are genuinely like that and it does them no good. As I've said any number of times before, if you want to get attention, great, but it needs to be the right kind. Protip: The "What a nutbucket!" response is the wrong kind.

We're not supposed to generalise, but we do


There's an undercurrent of furious violence in the way some people treat me when I disagree with them about a particular issue and quite frankly I find it disturbing. The result is it puts me right off of having any kind of sympathy for them. If they belong to a particular group or have adopted a particular identity, their attitude and conduct affects my perception of them. This is a reflexive, subconscious thing. Treating annoying people as individuals takes effort and most of the time I can't be bothered. It's easier to write off all [$group/$identity] as obnoxious or stupid or ignorant, etc., than to take the time out to find one or two exceptions to the rule or even to try to convince myself that there are any. I know I'm not the only one who does that.

The story and the message


On my Linked In profile I wrote an article about how your story and message are important in terms of building the perception of ourselves we want others to have. Self-awareness is essential; if we're not fully cognizant of how you come across to others we can actually create and promote the wrong story and sabotage our message. This is why we need dissent. People who disagree with us or call us to account for behaving badly aren't our enemies, they're pointing out flaws we can correct in order to present our intended story and message more effectively.

Be consistent


Think about it: what do you, reader, want people to think and believe about it? Does it match up with the way you behave on and offline? You can only influence your story, you can't own or control it but your message is fully and completely your own. Does your actual message match up with your stated one? Remember, your message isn't only conveyed by the words you type into a status update or a blog post, it's in your choice of images, the items you share, the items you take an interest in, and the way you behave and interact with others.

The influence of others


People can say what they want to and sometimes they are really mean but it will only stick if people believe it and take it seriously. I've been the target of troll activity but was never in danger of losing my job because I had the truth on my side: it was a random troll I'd never had any dealings with attempting to start a flame war between myself and a third party for the lulz.

The question, then, is why didn't it stick and why did nobody take it seriously?

  • the story is implausible and designed to provoke an angry, defensive response
  • no effort was made to get the authorities involved despite accusations of criminality
  • the troll used multiple aliases and platforms
  • the troll revealed himself and I've got a screenshot to prove it

There's a lesson here: always act in accordance with the way you wish to be perceived and keep an eye on your conduct; if it's not consistent with the story and message you want to present they will be subject to the influence of others. Being self-aware enables me to limit any negative influences others may try to exercise over my story. It also helps me to stay on message. This is why nobody I know actually believed the troll's histrionic fiction.

When idiots attack


No matter how hard you try to be reasonable, sometimes people just flip out for no apparent reason and have a go at you. Sometimes it's a troll playing you for a fool. Sometimes it's a political anarchist incensed that you have utterly failed to understand that their awesome dogma is going to save the world (don't get me started!). And sometimes the person you're dealing with has such an authoritarian, controlling attitude about the issue at hand that nothing but complete submission to their worldview will suffice, so don't go expressing unapproved opinions or they will get annoyed and make sure you know about it. What then?

Don't feed the trolls


Whether or not it's fair to characterise a person who is determined to express their displeasure right up in your face as a troll, I recommend you treat them like trolls. Ignore, ignore, ignore. If you must contradict them hop in, make your statement, then get out. Do not engage with them, it's not worth the aggravation. If you comment about it on your blog use the vaguest terms and don't name names. People who consider themselves to be fair and even-handed will apportion you a share of the blame if you make provocative statements. If anyone wants to stir things up or wring some sympathy for themselves out of your post, make them work for it.

If they lie about you, let them


If someone makes statements about you online that are not outright libel but you don't like them, just ignore them and remember to be consistent with the story and message you want people to believe. They will believe what they want to no matter what you do but it's easier to believe good things about you if you generally behave within accepted parameters. If the statements are libellous or are against the TOS of the platform on which they are posted you should be able to approach the owners or administrators and ask them to remove the posts. Sometimes it works but if it doesn't, don't worry about it. Keep calm and carry on.

Don't let them get to you


If you find that you're sensitive to comments made by people who oppose your worldview, don't pay attention to them. The last thing you want is to spend your time trying to Make Them Behave or Express Your Displeasure At This as doing so can have the opposite effect to the one you intended. It's easy enough to sympathise with someone who is going through a hard time — we all do sooner or later — but if you complain too much or too often people will see you as sympathetic minus the "sym." You don't want that.

When idiots attack, as a general rule, just block and ignore them. Don't get mad, get smart.

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