Aaron R. Davis
I’ve had some bad experiences this week with an Internet commenter. I don’t want to rehash all the incidents here, but it was angry and contentious. It would probably have been draining under the best of circumstances, but my mental disorders just magnified his unfathomable rudeness. Demanding justifications for decisions that don’t have any effect on you is just bad form; continuing to press the issue makes you an asshole.
I’ve been devoting way too much mental space to this person, who has a habit of being confrontational on matters of opinion. Do you have that person you know who not only can’t let it drop that you like an unpopular movie — or worse, one he doesn’t deem “worthy” — and not only won’t drop it, but actively tries to make you feel bad or wrong for liking it? That’s this guy.
If you’re a fan of anything, you’ve all dealt with this guy. In fact, I’ve dealt with several versions of this guy in my life, and they’re always so energy-sapping that I’ve just given up on spending time with people who are fans of the same things I’m fans of. In fact, I actively avoid them. I don’t want to get into discussions about Star Wars anymore because I’m just so sick of people telling me what an asshole I am for liking the prequels. I will never understand why not hating the same movies is so offensive to some people. I never really want to understand that mindset, because I don’t want to be an asshole to people about their tastes.
Actually, that’s not true. I have been that asshole before. I have ridiculed things that people love in front of them without even thinking about it. I just like to think I’ve moved on from it. I don’t engage in it anymore, because it’s cruel. I forgot why I ever had the need to judge someone for what they like or what they do or the decisions they make or how they spend their time. I no longer feel the need to push people around because of their differences, and I cringe when I think of the times I did.
The Internet is made up of this type of bullying — and it is bullying. Sometimes I’ll see a movie like Man of Steel or watch the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary episode and want to say something about them online, and then stop myself because I know I’ll be attacked by specific people for having the contrary opinion. I don’t want to deal with it. It makes me feel unsafe on the little forum I set up specifically to give myself a voice. If you make me feel unsafe saying something, you have bullied me. Intellectual bullying is still bullying.
And don’t give me those old saws of “You only want to hear from people who share your opinions” and “Why even have a blog if you don’t want to hear what other people think?” I’m perfectly fine having discussions with people who disagree with me. But I’m not going to indulge rudeness and bullying. That’s not tone policing. I’ve had lots of discussions with people I don’t agree with who were respectful and genuinely interested in having a conversation about our differences of opinion. And I disagree with this thing I keep hearing where you “need” to have your ideas challenged, and the value of negative comments are that they “test” your opinions. I’d like to say that I’ve only seen that idea put forth by people whose response to disagreement is usually “Eat a bag of dicks.” Not engaging in histrionic bullying isn’t being afraid to be challenged; it’s choosing not to validate uselessly childish behavior.
I said above that even bullies have their value. They do. And it’s not in that way of “bullies toughen you up.” People who say that are just excusing for themselves the times when they’ve been bullies. No, the value of bullies is that they show you how not to act. That doesn’t make it easier to accept what they do — you should never accept what they do. But it does provide an excellent example of the kind of person you don’t want to be.
This person I’ve been dealing with this week? He’s in his sixties. He’s in his sixties and still wants to pick fights over an interpretation of Star Trek that he doesn’t like. I remember when I was in high school and bought into that lie they tell you that after high school you won’t have to deal with assholes anymore, that people will be adults and not care who your favorite superhero is because only kids are dicks about that. Nope. Lies, lies, lies. All lies. I was driven away from a fan group I loved being in because some guy in his thirties was constantly fighting with me for daring to classify Star Wars as a fantasy rather than science fiction. He bullied me so much about it that I left. I couldn’t believe some guy in his thirties could still be such a child.
And now I’m in my thirties — shit, I’m almost out of them — and here’s another guy with 25 years on me and he’s still acting like a rude child.
These little reminders … they work. Doesn’t make him any easier to deal with, but at least I can take something away from these awful encounters: don’t be like that guy.
Always remember that kindness, consideration and acceptance just make you feel better than scoring cheap ego points by making someone feel like an asshole for giving money to Kickstarter. And when you disagree with someone, don’t call them names and don’t say they’re wrong, ask them what they mean.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org