Philosopher king Marcus Aurelius wrote that, “The best kind of revenge is not to become like them.”1 He goes on to say “that meekness is unconquerable, if it be true and natural, and not affected or hypocritical. For how shall even the most fierce and malicious be able to hold on against thee, if thou shalt still continue meek and loving unto him.”2 It’s good advice for the internet age.
We’ve all encountered meanies online, people who hurl insults or distort your comments to make it look like you said something terrible or stupid. The impulse is to fire back. But then you both look like children.
Insults are a dominance display, a troll’s attempt to lower your status in the social group. But even if you don’t want to dominate others, you still don’t want to be dominated.
Besides, if you stoop to the troll’s level then you lose the moral high ground. Spirituality is about relationship, not alienation. You don’t need to dominate others in order to stand your ground.
You can create an opportunity to deescalate the situation. But whether the troll avails himself of the opportunity is not up to you.
Recently, I responded to a Facebook comment to a story about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis deciding that Critical Race Theory will be excluded from the public school curriculum. A parent stated that he wasn’t sure exactly was CRT is, but he heard it’s controversial. I responded that CRT developed from Critical Theory, which was created by Neo-Marxists—and that’s one reason it’s controversial. I added that CRT views whiteness as a racist ideology that should be deconstructed. I did not, however, say whether I agreed or disagreed with CRT or Governor DeSantis.
The response from progressives was decidedly negative. “Why do you think slavery and Jim Crow weren’t problems? Why do you think racism isn’t a problem today?” they asked. Also, “Don’t be a dick.”
We’ve all seen this sort of behavior. People engage in personal attacks when they are unable to deny the facts or come up with a counterargument. Instead of actually discussing the issue, people get defensive and try to change the subject.
Their goal is to get you to retaliate. By stooping to their level, you lose the moral high ground and concede the argument to them.
Marcus Aurelius is right that by responding with kindness, you step outside this dynamic. But kindness doesn’t mean being a pushover. Be kind not just to your opponent, but also to yourself.
My response to their attacks was, “I am ready to forgive you if you are willing to apologize.” One man didn’t respond. One woman kept attacking.
That’s the way it goes. It’s rare that someone would actually apologize, though some people might. Don’t take the bait.
- Meditations 6:5 by Marcus Aurelius.
- Ibid, 11:16.