One of the interesting things about FetLife is its “Kinky and Popular” page, wherein the most popular photo, video, or essay can get voted up. It propels people into the spotlight, as something they’ve written is suddenly viewed by thousands of people…
…and most of them don’t know how to handle the naysayers.
So what’s happening is that people who’ve never dealt with large audiences suddenly have large audiences, and get bent out of shape. So here’s three tips on dealing with five hundred comments landing in your inbox:
Tip #1: No, Seriously. Haters Are Going To Hate.
You cannot name a thing in the universe that someone is not violently against: Shakespeare. Love. Chocolate. Fruit. (Oh, God, fucking fruit.)
So no matter how wise, beautiful, or truthful the thing you just posted about is, someone will hate it. They may not be aware of it to hate it, but that’s only a matter of time. Once your essay becomes at all popular, you’ll have people telling you “God, no, that’s wrong, you’re awful.”
There may be only one or two of those nasty comments, sprinkled in a sea of rapturous adoration, but it takes only one mouse turd in your cereal bowl to sap your appetite.
A lot of people freak the fuck out when told they’re wrong. “If someone says I’m wrong, I must be wrong!” they think, and regret posting this essay because of “all the controversy,” and then retreat to a monastery to rethink their world view. This is ninny-headed. Negative responses are just the cost of speaking your mind honestly; like death and taxes, you cannot avoid them. The fact that dissension exists does not negate the truthfulness of your world view.
Once you get to a sufficient level of popularity, there is literally no avoiding people hating you. Go on, seriously. Name a celebrity. Then Google up some haters. Sure enough, someone fucking abhors them. Why do you think you’re going to avoid this?
The trick is to think of it as a game of percentages. If the feedback is 95% positive, hey, you did a good job. If the feedback is 50/50%, you’ve stumbled onto a controversial topic, and it may well be that it’s impossible to write a universally-loved essay on abortion.
If the feedback is 95% negative, you probably have stuck your foot in your mouth. That doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a bad person; you could have just spoken very badly, or regurgitated some harmful opinions you slurped up somewhere without thinking. Then, it may be time to engage.
But if you’ve got two really nasty comments out of five hundred? That’s awesome. Way above average. Stop moaning and give yourself a pat on the back.
Tip #2: Some People Are Not Actually Reading Your Essay.
As a writer, you soon learn that your words aren’t your own. Words are an incomplete telepathy; if I tell you, “Here is a rabbit. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8,” you fill in all sorts of details, because I don’t have time to tell you what font the 8 is in.
And when you write essays, particularly on hot-button topics that tend to get popular, folks bring their own baggage.
For example, when I wrote an essay about how I mistakenly approached polyamory as though it were monogamy, treating my girlfriends as though I were leading up to total commitment and marriage, I said that one of the glories of polyamory was that because the end goal wasn’t marriage and living together, you did not have to be completely responsible for your partner. If your lover goes off on long, angry tirades every time someone, say, wishes her Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, you don’t actually have to have a sit-down talk with her to change this vexing behavior. If you’re not going to be living with her, then you don’t necessarily have to alter her annoying habits for your survival. You can, say, maybe just avoid her during December.
Some of the reactions to that post had me puzzled; clearly, they said, I was just looking for women to fuck, and didn’t give a shit about my partners’ emotions. I was baffled; just because I didn’t want to deal with all of my lovers’ problems meant that I was using them and never caring? What the fuck? There’s shades, man.
Yet to those people, any sort of commitment that wasn’t FULL-ON TO MARRIAGE meant that the commitment wasn’t worth having… and they knew that men who didn’t want commitment wanted only sex. Therefore, I only ever had sex, and probably emotionally abused my partners to get that.
That could be upsetting, but I knew they weren’t actually reading my essay. They were arriving here with a very clear prejudice in their heads, and once I hit their hot-button topic, they stopped reading what I’d written and began scribbling in all the things they knew people like me did. You’ll see that all the time when people discuss gun control, or tax cuts, or liberals/conservatives – people stop interacting with the essay on the page and start squabbling with ghosts, all those fictional liberals/conservatives who think the same thing and by gum, they’re gonna teach those fictional folks a lesson.
Sometimes, you’ll get people who will be very mad and angry, and seem to have not gotten the point. They didn’t actually read you. They read an echo of their past.
It happens. Move on.
Tip #3: Stop Arguing When You Agree On The Facts. Or When You Realize You Can’t Agree On The Facts.
If you’ve written anything worthwhile, it’s probably because a significant part of your personality is tangled up in it. Good essays are a reflection of who you are.
You’ll run into people who will argue to the death because the philosophy you just espoused threatens large swathes of their personality. You being correct actually subtracts from who they are. So they’ll run out and charge into you, desperate to tear you down.
Engaging with people is good. It opens minds. But if you don’t find arguing entertaining – I do – then you should probably stop when you realize you’re not going to change the other person’s mind. You’re not actually debating at that point, for debates require the possibility of a victor.
I usually stop replying when I realize that someone is looking exactly at what I’m looking at – they see it’s a rabbit with a design on its back, they acknowledge the shape of the design, but they see it as an infinity sign and not an eight. We have both agreed that this thing exists, in the same way and now we have come to a dispute we cannot resolve. It sounds silly, but once you’re debating abortion and realize that the other guy sees this three-week blob of flesh, acknowledges it could not survive outside of the mother in any way, and yet still sees it as an infant worth protecting – well, you’re not gonna make headway. Best to chalk it off as an unresolvable.
I also stop replying when someone’s facts are so ridiculous that I can’t respect them. When someone tells me how Romney would have won if he’d just gotten McCain’s turnout, or that Reagan “came from behind” in the 1980 election, I realize I’m dealing with a schmoe who can’t even do the simplest of research, and I abandon. I can respect Republicans, and I can respect disagreement, but debating with someone who wants to clutch his own facts to his chest and won’t even acknowledge he’s wrong on these trivial, easily-disproved issues will lead to nowhere.
Engaging with folks will force you to be a stronger thinker, a better debater, and you’ll be proved wrong often enough that it’s worth doing. But you also have to know when to let someone win by walking away, especially in your journal. It’s okay. Don’t waste your time on people who won’t change, and you’ll be a better person.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.