Somebody called me a coward yesterday.
It was a guy who had become a Facebook friend of mine. We’ll just call him “M.” I didn’t know him, but we had a few mutual friends and so when M. requested that we be friends, I accepted.
We didn’t have any interaction until yesterday, when I posted the following status update on my Facebook page:
Matthew 25:31-46: the Christian mandate for social justice.
I’ll freely admit: this was a response to Glenn Beck’s telling his listeners that they should avoid any church that promotes social justice. I simply wanted to point out that social justice has a firm scriptural foundation.
Well, talk about opening a can of worms!
M. promptly posted a bizarre comment about the difference between charity and “officials who take from one at the point of a gun, to give to another.” I should have realized right then what I was dealing with. But, alas, I didn’t.
Another of my friends (somebody who I actually do know, whom I’ve really met in person) suggested that M. should tone down his hyperbole. Thus began a series of back and forth comments. It soon became obvious that M. wasn’t really interested in open-ended debate or conversation, but just wanted to push his own ideologically-driven viewpoint. Furthermore, he wasn’t at all interested in the passage from Matthew 25, even though at one point I made this direct statement: “M., any further comments here that are not directly related to Matthew 25:31-46, which is the point behind this thread, will be deleted.” He ignored me, and began to draw connections between social justice, socialism, and Marxism.
When he went so far as to call my other friend a Marxist, I deleted his post. And that’s when he sent me the following message:
Carl, Like all Marxist elitists, Christian or otherwise, you are a coward, and very generous with other peoples’ money.
I resisted the urge to send him a brief, two word response that rhymes with “yuck poo.” Instead, I simply banned him from my Facebook page.
This is not the first time I’ve dealt with someone whose behavior corresponds with the actions of an internet troll. But it is the first time I’ve dealt with trollish behavior on Facebook. I’m annoyed with myself that I engaged with M. for as long as I did. It was a waste of my time and my energy. I don’t think this is about politics; I have plenty of conservative and ultra-conservative friends (on Facebook and in real life!) and while I don’t share their views, I’m willing to give them airspace on my blog — or my Facebook page. All I ask is some basic respect and a willingness to recognize that others hold different views.
But there’s no respect in calling someone a Marxist just because they dare to disagree with your conservative politics. Or calling me a coward because I deleted such a name-calling comment. Nor, frankly, is there respect in the use of “bait” — i.e., deliberately provocative statements like “Social Justice is simply another name for Marxism” or “officials who take from one at the point of a gun.” Too late, I realized what was going on here. This guy behaved like a troll, and had been baiting us all along, and more than one of us took the bait.
I’m annoyed at myself because I took the bait. We all get triggered sometimes, and it happened to me yesterday. I think I took the bait, in part, because it happened on Facebook. I should have known better: I have many “Facebook friends” whom I don’t know at all; they’re friends of friends, or they want to be my friend because they’ve read my books, or whatever. But up until now, the conversation on my Facebook page has always been congenial — friendly. Sigh. It’s like a little bit of a loss of innocence.
It occurs to me that some folks (especially M. himself) might accuse me of being just another name-caller since I’m using the pejorative label “troll” in regard to M. This is why I’m trying to choose my words carefully, and only suggest that his behavior seems trollish. Furthermore, that’s why I’m calling this post “the troll and the coward.” If he wants to call me a coward, so be it. Maybe I’m doing a little bit of “eye for an eye” here, but I think at least I have some evidence to back up my words. As best I can tell, it is only by the logic of a troll that my actions appear cowardly, and it is only by such trollish thinking that my friend gets labeled a “Marxist.”
Considering all this from a spiritual perspective, I’m reminded that everything is grist for the contemplative mill: even dealing with behavior that is associated with internet trolls! It is a mindfulness exercise to learn not to be triggered by the inflammatory “bait.” It is a contemplative practice to stay mindful enough to see this kind of thing for what it is, right away. Mindfulness practice means learning to be fair, compassionate, but firm — and finding the spaciousness within to prevent the “yuck poo’s” from arising when trollish behavior is aimed directly at me.
Clearly I have a long way to go. I don’t believe being a contemplative means having no boundaries. Rather, I believe a true contemplative can set and enforce boundaries, when needed, mindfully rather than reactively, at least most of the time. None of us are perfect, and so we all will have times when we get triggered: when we are reactive rather than mindful, in response to someone else’s “stuff.” The trick then is learning to respond to our own stuff mindfully rather than judgmentally!