Encountering Hate Online…

Encountering Hate Online… July 6, 2014

… Hate mail is a funny thing.

Whenever I receive it, like this morning, I always wonder two things.

One – Does the sender actually think hate filled words from a total stranger are supposed to mean something to me?

And two – what emotional sickness fuels a person to take the time to write another human being they’ve never met and wish them harm? What inner darkness stirs such an action?

Most hate mail I simply dismiss. You’re free to write me and bless me out all the live long day if it’s going to make you feel better to get it all out, but know, I rarely reply. The few times I’ve actually responded where when I got a sense the sender actually wanted to dialogue further, once they got all the name calling out of the way.

I do find hate mail upsetting, but probably not in the way the sender intended.

I am not moved or upset at the actual words themselves. What’s disturbing is witnessing someone being so controlled by their own anger and pain that they are helpless to stop themselves from lashing out.

Trolls in comment boxes are one thing. That’s usually just your every day, garden variety sarcasm mixed in with a dash bullheadedness. It’s helps to remember behind every trollish comment is a real, live human being who has taken the time to read (however incorrectly interpreted) what you’ve written and felt compelled enough to respond. They may be looking for actually dialogue or just to vent. I won’t begrudge anyone that.

But when the comments, and in this instance hateful emails, exhibit a twisted underlying darkness it’s helpful to again recognize behind those words is a very real, live human being in obvious pain.

Don’t reply to the words. Respond to the person.

I met newly ordained Fr. Eric Sundrup, who writes for the Jesuit Post, a few weeks ago at the Catholic Media Conference. During a panel discussion we were asked how we handle trolls and vitriol we encounter online. How do we not let it infect us and disrupt our spiritual well being.

Fr. Sundrup was the one that reminded us that it’s a human being we are encountering online, not just some automatically generated words floating at us on a computer screen. Someone put them there. And it’s always best to respond to those particular someones carefully.

Carefully, because we do not know that person’s background. We don’t know what emotional pain or spiritual confusion that person is undergoing. It can be an opportunity for sincere dialogue or prayer.

Since I am not a theologian or a therapist, when I encounter the disturbingly darker stuff the proper response is only prayer.

In the past, with my own Irish-Rican hotblooded temperament, I’ve found the Prayer in Time of Anger particularly helpful.

Lord Jesus, there is anger in my heart and I cannot root it out.

I know that I should calm down and offer the hurt and disappointment to You but my emotion is running away with me. Help me to overcome this weakness and give me peace of heart as well as mind. Let me learn from this experience and grow into a better human being.


The absolute worst thing you can do is respond to anger with anger. When you do you’ve let someone else gain control over your own emotions. Also anger is spiritually corrosive.

So this morning I would ask you to take a moment and pray for this particular person who wrote me. I would also like you to pray for the anger in your own life — anger someone has towards you or you may have towards others. Pray each and every time you see an angry comment online (that could take all day or cure you of the habit of reading comment threads).

Always pray before reacting.

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