If you can’t take the heat, turn into a tardigrade!

If you can’t take the heat, turn into a tardigrade! September 6, 2012

“I am a rock. I am an island”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” is a quote that is frequently attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (without sourcing). I found it for the first time while I was in middle school in a Dear Abby column and adopted it as a mantra until some point in college.  This can be a helpful coping strategy, especially in middle school, but I was definitely too enthused about it.

I flashed back to my younger self when I read Ted Seeber’s comment on my post about the campaign against Jen McCreight.

My point is that when you enter the world of online communications and flame wars (and I can’t believe I have to tell you this, let alone a supposedly “experienced blogger” like Jen) you need to check emotionalism at the door. Text is an autistic media- there is no subtext, there is no body language, any emotion you think is being transmitted is all imaginary and in your own head.

First of all, the possibly-Eleanor Roosevelt quote is not “No one can come to your house and physically harm you or sabotage your professional career without your consent.”  Jen was getting threats, and you can’t stoic your way out of those.  (Well, you can, insofar as you cultivate an indifference to bodily harm, but I don’t think that’s what Ted or anyone else is recommending).

But let’s leave sticks and stones out for the sake of argument and just ask whether you can reconfigure yourself so that words can never hurt you.  Yeah, probably.  I’m pretty good at it, and it’s a skill I’ve leveled up over time   I just don’t think that’s a very good goal.

How do you get better at not minding vitriolic abuse?  Well, you can nurture contempt for your commenters.  Every stupid, nasty comment is a public testimonial to the suckiness of your enemies.  Your ability to endure it is bolstering your side, since the hate is self-delegitimizing!  You can cackle to yourself as your watch your enemies behave worse and worse.

Or you can cultivate indifference.  You just put writing out there, and people will do with it what they can, but their reactions are irrelevant to you.  The whooshing of the wind could never offend you, so why should you let these people’s insults have any more power over you that that?  Imagine their jibes are just the output of infinite monkeys.  Text is text, it doesn’t matter who produced it.

I’ve practised both these reactions, and they can get me over a hump, and they feel great.  I don’t feel hurt, I feel stronger than the person abusing me.  Not only did I not let them bully me, but I’ve got a chance to realize just how much better than them I am.  It feels like stepping out of the way of a punch and getting to laugh as your assailant overextends, loses his balance, and falls.  I feel light and quick and strong.  And exhilarated.



And all of that is pretty bad for me.

I don’t want to enjoy someone else degrading themself, and I don’t want to practise thinking of humans as not-human.  My peace and pride is bought by callousing my empathy.  I’m a pretty bad compartmentalizer, so it’s hard for me to practise this contempt and indifference online and not have it spill over into my day to day life.

If you’re better at emotional code-switching than me, maybe you can pull it off, but, if not, then following Ted’s advice means wounding the part of you that can be hurt by people because you’re open to and interested in them.  It’s bad for you as a person, and bad for you as a writer, since your pieces will be more persuasive if you can model your enemies as human and write to them.  And what shall it profit a woman if she should keep her blog, but lose her love for her readers?


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