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How to Deal With Trolls (Hint: Don’t Get Even and Don’t Give In)

Woman typing on laptop
Picture: Christin Hume

‘You need to get a life,’ Laura told me. ‘There’s plenty you can do to help children without being a father.’ Then there was Maya: ‘Forgive me if I don’t cry a river when men suffer the indignity of infertility when women have suffered that stigma for millennia.’ And Charlie had his say: ‘Get over your ego and adopt.’ 

It’s been the surprising thing about talking publicly about childlessness—the level of abuse that’s come alongside the messages of gratitude. While many have thanked me for bringing the ‘taboo’ topic of men and infertility into the open, an equal number have seen fit to get nasty.

I’d imagine you too have had to contend with someone who uses the distance and anonymity of the online world to say abusive things. How do we respond? That’s what I talked about on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought segment this week with Chris Evans. I’d love to hear your tactics too in the comments below.

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Dealing With Abusive People

Man using phone in darkened bedroom

 

Picture: Damir Bosnjak

So, a quick back up. Last week on Radio 2 I talked about men and infertility. It was one of those nice moments when host and contributor unite over a common experience (if you missed the audio, it’s since been uploaded). Before I’d left the studio, emails were already coming into the station grateful for what we’d discussed.

But not everyone is as kind as your average Radio 2 listener. In addition to the above, here is a selection of other comments I’ve received after doing other TV and newspaper interviews:

Man up and stop bleating 
Mike

Adopt, you idiot. There are plenty of kids out there who need homes 
Angel

Children make you happy and give your life meaning 
—Kal (Just what a childless man needs to hear)

IVF is the most selfish thing. You’re basically saying the children in care are not good enough.
Thank goodness you are infertile. Someone as selfish as you does not deserve to be a parent 

—Melinda

After that I was almost grateful for this advice:

Stop consuming soy!
—Cedric

The ‘Third Way’ Response

Woman on couch with laptop

Picture: Mimi Thian

Messages like this typically trigger two responses within me. One is the desire to hit back:

How dare you judge me without knowing my story
—trying ten years to have a child, three of them spent trying to adopt

The other is a sense of guilt: I know that right now 6000 children are waiting for foster carers in the United Kingdom alone. And I’m not doing anything to help.

Maybe Melinda is right

I won’t go into why we pursued adoption over fostering now, or why we haven’t pursed either again. But since neither retaliation or guilt are productive (let alone reasons to become a foster parent), I’ve needed a third way to respond to the trolls—and I’ve found it in the challenging but liberating words of Jesus to:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you
.

The words seem naive until you remember that Martin Luther King changed history by following them. If I hit back, I lower myself to their level. If I give in, I feel bad and they don’t change. But responding with creative, surprising, disarming kindness can help me rise above the insult, retain my dignity, and maybe even help the other person reconsider their ways. 

In Practice

What might this look like in practice? In most cases it looks simply like silence, the kindest thing being to ignore the comment. In other cases a joke or quip will do the job, while in others still it will be to expose it publicly as an example of what not to do (I have explored more options over here.)

What then might it look like with my recent commenters? Here goes:

Dear Mike:
Thanks for your interest in my masculinity. Please show me what ‘manning up’ looks like. I’d like to learn from you

Dear Angel:
Adoption didn’t work for us, but do tell me how it’s worked for you

Dear Melinda:
You sound hurt. What’s your story?

Dear Cedric:
Let’s do coffee. I recommend the mocha latte with a vanilla shot…
on soy

Want More?

I explore the ‘third way’ response more in Resilient:

Paperback

6-session video series

Audiobook

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