I recently had brunch with a few bloggers and one of them said, “Everyone knows you’re not supposed to read the comments but I did…” I’m sure most of us who write or spend any time online have a horror story that starts with those exact words. When I posted my first blog for the Star Tribune—a compact essay explaining why I don’t use the word “wife”—the editor emailed me later in the day and said, “I hope you don't read the comments.” I wrote her back and said, “I read every single one.”
While I don’t read the comments on YouTube or most mainstream sites, I do read every comment on every piece I write no matter where it appears. I have lived a charmed life as a blogger for the most part. I have been blogging for nearly ten years and have only had a handful of negative comments on my blog in all that time. My first experience with truly hateful comments came when I was first published on the Huffington Post and since then, I’ve had a few more experiences as my writing has appeared in more places.
I have been called unnatural, a pervert and a sex offender. I've had my appearance picked apart and criticized. I've been told I'm a terrible mother and have also been told I'm not a real mother at all. I have been called stupid and privileged and arrogant and boring. The only thing that surprises me anymore is that people continue to find creative ways to express outrage over the most innocuous pieces I write.
I am not a masochist so why would I read the comments? I've had some time since that brunch date to reflect and articulate my reasons.
- Homophobic comments and those directed at my gender expression remind me of the work still to be done and the importance of continuing to tell my story and remain visible. These types of comments don't hurt me because I know they say more about the person writing them than they do about me. Before coming out to my mother, my greatest fear was that she wouldn't accept me and I thought I wouldn't be able to survive that. Well, she didn't accept me but I knew right then that I would survive because I had already accepted myself. The same is true now. Comments about my sexual orientation or appearance can't hurt me because I made peace with myself a long time ago.
- Conversely, comments that do hurt reveal the areas that I need to work on in regards to self-acceptance. One of the comments that hurt me the most was one in which the commenter described me as "another navel-gazer with too much time on her hands." That is my soft spot and it hurt. My mother often told me I think too much and there is truth in that. I spend a lot of time in my head and worry that I think too much and do too little. When a comment stings, I try to figure out why and then ask myself if it is something I can change and want to change. If it is, I work on it. If it isn't, I work on showing compassion for myself.
- If I don't read the comments, I would miss out on the good ones. There are often kind words mixed in with the hateful ones. There are people who can relate to my writing in some way and some who admit that they have seen something in a different light. Those are the people for whom I am writing. If my story touches one person in some way, then I have accomplished what I set out to do.
- I can learn from perspectives that are different than my own. I have written things that people have disagreed with and I have written things that have been unintentionally hurtful to others and I have had commenters call me out on both. There are people who know how to respectfully disagree and those who can thoughtfully articulate how my writing has impacted them. I don't know everything. I am a product of my upbringing and experience just like everyone else. If I am asking people to read my perspective on something and honor it, then I owe readers the same opportunity. As we all know, some use that opportunity wisely and some do not.
That said, I do still have emotional reactions to comments--I'm not a robot. Commenters are going to comment. Ignorant people are going to spread ignorance. Haters gonna hate, hate hate. I can't control any of that. I can only control my response. So, I take deep breaths. I get to the roots of my reactions. I laugh at how ridiculous people can be. I reward kind comments with thoughtful responses and gratitude. I shake my head a lot and try not to rant about the world going to hell in a handbasket. That's all I know to do.
Everyone knows you're not supposed to read the comments but I do. I'm a rebel.