The troll and the coward

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!

  • Gary Snead

    Great post, Carl. & timely, as I experienced real-life trollish behavior from a teen and her Mom in the office this afternoon (Friday). My student and I wasted a lot of time with them. The frustrating part was that the most accurate, honest thing either of them said was that I was reacting to them and not being real nice. Indeed I had turned off my mindfulness mouth and engaged my emotive mouth. I hope I can remember the lesson and stay more centered on my vocation, not the other person’s chaos.
    Perhaps since I was not so invested in making or defending a point when reading then posting to your Facebook status, I was able to very easily and quickly discern and dismiss the trollish post and stayed on course to the topic.
    Praise God for forgiveness, mercy, and His lap, available to cuddle on.

  • Jon Boatwright

    The internet, I’ve noticed, is full of the “spiritual police”, trolls and non-believers out to set the record straight or rather tell everyone else how wrong they are. The spiritual police, for example, are out to tell everyone who is not in line with their thinking that they are not saved. You know the agenda of the others, I’m sure. There seems to be a mystery hidden in Christ that we can only get an inkling of by a deep surrender: a deep sincerity. So many believers are wrapped up in a sort of righteous nationalism and can’t see that Christianity is humble and not a respecter of men or borders. It’s not an easy thing to embrace and many just can’t make the leap. Many can’t believe that God favors the poor and he demands justice. They want to hold to their own agendas plain and simple. Jesus wasn’t anything but loving. In the end that is what we are measured against. Others may do as they will but as for me and my house I will follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • http://www.brookletbodyworks.com Kim Owens

    I think it was one of those weeks! When you say, “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!” I can totally relate!

    I allowed my boundaries to be pushed beyond belief yesterday. The incident ended with the “boundary pusher” asking me to pray for her, which I did. I felt like it was a spiritual success that she asked me to help her to seek the Lord. However, after she left I found myself being judgemental and irritated by her irrational, self-centered behavior. I spent time in prayer last night asking for God’s forgiveness. I found it so humbling and disturbing that the same mouth that could pray for her, could also curse her so vehemently.

    Upon reflection I see that I allowed my boundaries to be pushed beyond what was acceptable. I wish I had mindfully seen the interaction for what it was, set and upheld my boundaries, prayed for her and saved my energy for good… We live and, hopefully, we learn.

  • Al Jordan

    It takes great courage to live transparently. And it takes great love and trust to allow the harshness of the world to be a source of deepening surrender and growth in grace. I always have to remind myself when I feel the anger welling in me because of some perceived injustice or wrong committed against me or others that I have this ‘treasure’ in an earthen vessel. It seems my very human nature is always with me and yet it, itself, becomes that which I can offer up as the priest offers up the host in order for greater transformation and redeeming grace. It is the most difficult thing to love the unlovable; and yet, I am finding that if I release the anger and disgust I feel sometimes toward things unlovable, I find a deeper acceptance and letting go in myself. Thanks again for your transparency and yieldedness before the transformational power of love.

  • http://gmail Mary

    One of the greatest challenges in my life is to find compassion for myself. To do this, I needed to make some changes in my way of thinking. Your reaction to the ‘troll’, is quite human. Most of us have met up with these negative types. To me, they are a bump in the road (or path). You swerved a little but avoided going into the ditch. Bravo!
    Hey Al– I liked your term, ‘earthen vessel’. That hit the spot. Thanks.

  • Elizabeth

    I, too, like the term “earthen vessel”. Decades ago, a wise woman, referring to that term, said that it was important to always remember that we are ‘cracked pots’… and that that is how the light within shines out on the world.

  • http://viereckschanze.blogspot.com trev

    From a nonChristian standpoint: I run into trolls all the time, as I like to read political blogs. I see no harm in using that term, because it’s one the Net denizens themselves have designated for people who show up only to cause trouble. I used to ignore them. But now I don’t think that’s always an appropriate response; IMO, genuine error (like calling social justice Marxism) should be pointed out when possible, if only for the benefit of others who might be reading. So I try to keep my dealings with them on a strictly factual basis, waiting until my emotions level out before responding.

    From that perspective, I think you behaved just fine. :)

  • Al Jordan

    Good approach, Trev. Respond from facts not from emotions. Very hard sometimes not to let the emotions get hooked, however.

  • Infinite Warrior

    Welcome to the desert of the real. ~ Morpheus

    Having been called Marxist, Fascist, Legalist, Moralist, Atheist, Religionist, Nationalist, Globalist, and a plethora of truly unsavory things in between (occasionally even by friends and family), I can relate but, having eventually lost and only recently recovered my own center of balance, can offer no comfort or advice other than “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.

    Under the right circumstances, it actually gives one a whole new appreciation for what politicians who sincerely enter public service in the interest of the public rather than corporations (though there are few) go through on a daily basis, but — you’re right — it isn’t about politics. It’s about how well-established Elitists prey on the emotions of the general public to keep themselves in power over us and the importance of being mindful of that.

    What we’re experiencing in our daily lives and, perhaps, especially on the Internet is just a symptom of the much more deeply rooted global, systemic issues responsible for our shared malaise, but the Internet also has afforded us an unprecedented opportunity to become more acutely aware of the corrupt, rusty mechanisms of the World Machine apparently determined to crush us and all other life forms between them.

    The best advice I’ve received thus far in dealing with it is not to feel there are boundaries to protect in the first place. It may seem counter-intuitive and perhaps especially to Southerners given that R-e-s-p-e-c-t is so highly valued here, but as a lifelong practitioner of selective ignor-ance, I’m honestly not sure why I ever felt it was unless it’s because I was going through so many inherently emotional experiences in my personal life at the time.

    I haven’t much patience for all the dualistic categorizing — sheep or goats, wheat or chaff, creative or destructive, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican — going on aaround us unless they’re being applied to ideas and not people. If we ever wondered how superficial American mainstream culture could become, I think we’re all pretty well-versed at this point. People are complex and, if one believes that “there is an aspect of you in every dimension that exists” (via), then there is also something of everything lurking in the hidden depths of our being. In the same book, however, one will find verse 10:16:

    I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.

    “Shrewd and innocent”. Okay. I like that one. It’s not an either/or.

  • brazenbird

    Most awesome post.

    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.

    I too am fighting this very thing in my life. I find myself in these situations often. At first I thought the best course of action was to remove myself from these situations altogether. But then I missed out on really provocative conversation that made me think. I have come to the point where I too believe it’s a practice of mindfulness. And it’s glaring the amount of work I need to do – the practice.

    Thank you again, for sharing.

  • Infinite Warrior

    Respond from facts not from emotions

    One other piece of golden advice received in my travels was an extremely well-timed reminder that fact and truth are not one and the same. “Facts” are unremittingly interchangeable; truth is not; and truth, always, lies somewhere in between. On a parting note, there are a couple of beautiful insights that have provided me with great solace the past couple of years:

    “The only justice is to follow the sincere intuition of the soul.” ~ D.H. Lawrence

    “A just person is one who is conformed and transformed into justice.” ~ Meister Eckhart

    Namaste.

  • PHIL SOUCHERAY

    I am struck by so many emotions in reading this string that I really don’t know where to begin. I’m sorry, Carl, that you endured those slings and arrows. No matter what the old saw says, words can hurt. But when they do, my challenge to myself is to identify the source of the original wound that such words are aggravating. If I’m lucky enough to figure it out, I think it represents another opportunity for healing, which is always a blessed thing. Often, though, I stop short of digging into my interior and write the trollishness of others off as being from THEIR pitiable ignorance and arrogance, which doesn’t do anything positive for the world. The search for what is authentically true about our spiritual natures is what this blog is about. May Carl and all others who contribute to it find the gold in it always — whether it be chunks, nuggets or mere dust. Peace.

  • Brother Don

    No reason for any angst. The only thing that you did wrong was to respond instead of ignore. You warned and then you followed through. Our country was founded on many pillars, 2 of which are social justice and greed. The greedy are convinced that their good fortune is not related to the gifts (public education and good business climate, among others) that are granted by “We the people” Federal and state governments and thusly do not see any need to provide for the greater good. As you tell me, it is what it is. And we are not going to change it.

  • http://viereckschanze.blogspot.com trev

    Thanks, Al. And I agree–not getting hooked takes a strong presence of mind. But like others on here, I treat it as an opportunity for mindfulness.

  • Jo

    “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”

    This is why they do it. Carl, one long blog waste of your talent, wisdom, and a great disturbance of the peace of God has surrounding you.

    I am not really fussin’. I just realized all of us (14) are venting to the choir. Because the others won’t see or hear anything until it is their time. When their hearts start to melt, their eyes start the heavenly focus, and their ears detect His voice of reason. Sooner or later. Here or there.

    Peace (that surpassing understanding kind) be with you…


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