One of the hazards of being alive is the fact that we’re never going to please everyone. We’re going to have people that will not like what we do. People are going to criticize whatever it is we’re doing. And in the 21st century, this is nowhere more apparent than in social media. This weeks episode is about how to be your best online.
I’m always amazed and saddened by the vitriol and hate that I see online, especially towards women. It’s as if the anonymity of being online, that separation of the digital world, they aren’t talking to a real person. I read comments and the like from others saying things that they would probably never say in person. That social pressure to not be an asshole somehow gets ignored. That distance gives them license to express their most vulgar selves with no repercussions.
So how do we deal with criticism? How do we deal with vitriolic tweets and Facebook trolls?
“When someone criticizes you, they do so because they believe they are right. They can only go by their views, not yours. If their views are wrong, it is they who will suffer the consequences. Keeping this in mind, treat your critics with compassion. When you are tempted to get back at them, remind yourself, ‘They did what seemed to them to be the right thing to do.’”
What Epictetus is reminding us here is that someone else’s opinion is just that – their opinion. It has very little to do with you but says volumes about them. What they are expressing is their view of the world. Often, they don’t have anything to truly criticize other than they don’t like your point of view. They may feel insecure about themselves, and they don’t like the facts presented because it threatens their worldview. I see this a lot in political areas. People often adopt an “us vs. them” mentality where anything that doesn’t come from their “team” is wrong. Often all they can do is threaten or insult the author because they can’t offer up any real counter-arguments.
The next thing Epictetus advises us it to have compassion for our critics. And why is that? Why should we be compassionate towards someone that says mean, cruel, vulgar things to us? Because they are the ones that suffer if their views are wrong. The fact that they can be so cruel tells you that they are pretty unhappy people if they can get so easily riled up and jump quickly to insults.
The easiest way to do this as well is to simply look at the facts. If all they have to offer is insults, then you can easily dismiss it because there are no facts involved. If they actually have something factual and logical, you should be delighted because then you have something you may able to learn from and improve yourself.
Confidence in Yourself
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”
— Marcus Aurelius
When someone does disagree with us, how do we react? Do we get riled up? Do we dash off an angry tweet to our critics? Why do we feel angry anyway? If we are acting in a way that we are proud of then nothing that someone else says should upset us. Usually, when we act in a way that comes from anger, we are insecure about something. If we are secure in who we are, if we are holding to our values, then others opinions don’t matter.
When we get into a flame war with a critic, we are no longer in charge of ourselves. When we let the opinions of others dictate our actions, then we are giving them control of us. If we get mad or get depressed because of the criticism of others, we have given them control over our emotions. We become the victim.
Being the Critic
So how should we act online, and in real life when giving criticism to others?
“If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.”
— Marcus Aurelius
This simple maxim should be our guide in what we say and do. As Jiminy Cricket once said, “Let your conscience be your guide.” Or put more bluntly from Will Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick.” Most of us know when we’re being an ass and when we’re not living up to our best selves. If we have something honest and helpful to contribute, then do so. If not, it might be best to leave well enough alone. Spending time arguing with online trolls is pretty much a waste of time, and you really don’t change anyone’s mind. Usually, you end up getting dragged into a bunch of shit, and each side gets more and more dug in and convinced that they’re on the right side.
The world is full of haters. As we spend more time online and less time in person, and as political divisions become wider, I think we’re only going to see upticks in the vitriol. We need to be sure that we don’t get sucked into the vortex of online hate. By taking the time to be compassionate towards our critics thoughtful on our responses to other people and realize that they are coming from a place where they think they are doing what is best, then we could be part of the solution, not the problem.
Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.