I participated in a couple of twitter conversations this morning and I wanted to elaborate my thoughts in a slightly longer form.
My friend Jim Zub posted the following thread:
I woke up this morning to a half dozen angry anon messages on my Tumblr. Nasty insulting stuff about me, my appearance, my work. It happens a few times a week and usually flares up around new project announcements. With a new D&D mini and Champions announced, it happened again.
If I go after every single one, I’ve given those people what they want – my attention. They learned what it takes to get a response from me and look forward to ringing the bell and doing it again.
If there’s valid criticism, I’ll take it on the chin. Absolutely. If it’s just insults and flailing, I’m happy to move on and get back to doing the work.
His thread hit a whole series of thoughts that I’ve been trying to articulate about attention, rewards, and how to extinguish unwanted behavior. Attention is a reward, high energy attention even more so. Outrage and anger are extremely high energy. If I post outrage at a thing, I have rewarded that thing with high energy attention. Sufficient quantities of outrage from enough sources have the power to blast a thing out of existence, but usually what happens is that the attention just rallies support to the thing which outraged me. So when I see a thing that makes me angry or upsets me, I go through an evaluative process.
Am I angry because I feel defensive about the thing? If yes, that is a moment for introspection about why I’m defensive instead of confident/secure.
Does the thing directly affect me?
If it is an attack aimed at me, does it have power to actually harm me or something I care about? (Note that my reaction to an attack may feed energy into it, thus helping it gain enough power to harm me; power it didn’t have until my reaction granted that power.)
If it does have power to harm me, what actions can I take to undermine that power? How can I secure my reputation or defend others in the splash zone?
What cause can I support which comes at the issue from a constructive and healing way instead of an angry/hurt/criticizing one?
The usual result of this evaluation is to ignore/block the person or thing which made me angry, perhaps take a step to secure my safety, then take a deliberate action to make the world a better place.
I don’t always manage to follow this process. I’m human and therefore prone to irritation and over-reaction. But when I do follow the process I have a lot less drama to deal with and a sense that I am participating in making the world a better place.
My brother-in-law Randy asked this question:
Curious: at what point did you guys realize that your cartooning had given Sandra a full-time job?
It was part time by 2004, and full time by 2008. It took me until at least 2010 before I realized I was working full time. Work-from-home is sneaky that way.
Recognizing I was a work from home mom, not a stay at home mom was a revelation because it shifted all my expectations of myself. It was suddenly okay to not dive into PTA or school volunteering.
A guy named Kevin chimed in:
Congratulations on figuring that out. How long did it take you to convince the other moms?
I’ve no idea when or if they became convinced. I was too busy to pay attention to their opinions and none of them attempted to impede my path.
The conversation continued a bit with Kevin saying something about the other moms gossiping behind my back, which made me stop and recognize that I’ve never really felt judged by people in my neighborhood about my parenting choices. It could be that I am fortunate enough to live in a place with exceptionally nice people. It certainly feels that way to me. I’m surrounded by neighbors who all desire to be good and helpful to others. Yet sometimes it goes wrong. I know people in this same neighborhood who have felt terribly judged and are wounded because of it. So I’m left wondering where the difference comes from. It could be that others get different treatment than I do. This seems probable, a college-educated, married, white woman receives far more benefit-of-doubt than someone without those advantages. It is entirely possible that the judgements bounce off of me simply because I’m so tangled up in my own thoughts that I am not paying attention.
The difference between the times when I’ve felt judged and the times when I haven’t felt judged have far more to do with my internal landscape than the other person. Usually when I do feel judged it is because something the person said connects with a pocket of self doubt that already exists in my head. It hurts when someone implies that my toddler’s misbehavior is a result of poor parenting, because I secretly wonder and agonize if I’m failing as a parent. Because the accusation strikes deep into my self doubt, the defensive shield of anger slams into place, leading me to want to rant about how that person really doesn’t understand what I deal with.
I see this exact dynamic play out on the internet constantly. People get angry and defensive, even when there wasn’t actually an attack, because the words said triggered the person’s self-doubt and the person projects that self-judgement onto the words of another.
I don’t have a conclusion to wrap these two conversations together. I just have ongoing thoughts as I pay attention to the way people interact with each other, particularly on the internet.