Love in the Time of Crankiness. Part One.

November 3, 2016   |   15 Comments

As a writer, blogger, Buddhist teacher, and self-employed person who depends on her web presence for all sorts of reasons, I have often heard this admonition: Ignore flamers. Don’t respond to anyone who wants to fight with you or challenge your position unless they are polite and measured. Do not react to aggression, ridicule, shaming, insults, projections, and taunts. Delete, delete, delete.

I disagree. I do respond.

The first time I was attacked online, here is what happened.

I sent out an announcement to my email list to say that I would now charge for something I had offered for free (for three years). Instead of sending out three free guided meditation videos per week, I told them, I was going to cut back to one (still free). To continue to receive additional material from me, I invited everyone to become a member of my online community at the cost of around $20 per month.

This caused a small but vitriolic sh*t storm. While the vast majority either said nothing or became a member, some percentage was extremely angry with me. One woman wrote (and I paraphrase), I thought you were different, but it turns out you are just like all the other charlatans out there. You don’t really want to help people, you just want our money. Bait and switch. I can’t believe I fell for it. Fuck you and I hope you are happy ripping people off through your lies. You can just laugh it off with your friends Deepak and Oprah. (Yes, that was said.)

This was the general theme of the upset emailers: you lied, you are greedy, fuck you.

Wait. I had been creating and sending out free videos for three years. I was furious about these accusations and really, really hurt. Shocked. How could a person receive so much from me, use it, appreciate it, and then imagine it was all a big trick?

I sat at my desk and cried. I wanted to quit everything but first I wanted to say to her: You bitch! I have offered you so much. How can you be so mean? So ungrateful and judgmental? Of course, sending such a response was out of the question. (Headline: “See Buddhist Teacher Exhibit All Three Poisons in One Email!”) I was about to hit “delete” on her message (as everyone counsels), but I couldn’t. Instead, I responded with this:

Reading your email upset me so much and made me feel very discouraged. I’ve been doing this work (that I love) for free for so long — but I have bills to pay, a family who depends on me, and the wish to live indoors in my old age. I am not saying this to get back at you, but to let you know that words have impact and this is how yours impacted me. I am really hurt. I wish you well, Susan

I was 100% sure that would be that. I was wrong. Here is the response I received, almost immediately (paraphrased):

You hurt my feelings too. I have come to depend on these meditations and I can’t afford to continue with them now. They helped me and now they are gone and that is how you upset me.

Okay! Now we are getting somewhere. Instead of “you bitch, no, you bitch”, we had two people with hurt feelings. There is no way out of the “you bitch” conversation, but “we’re both hurt” has much possibility. I wrote back that I was glad she found the meditations helpful and asked her how much she could afford. Whatever it was, I would honor it for six months and, if at the end of six months, she was still in dire straits, we could continue. She responded with gratitude. I responded with warmth. It was all different.

What caused the shift? We each expressed something genuine without, and this is very important, an agenda. I mean, you can’t be genuine and manipulative at the same time. Rather than trying to hurt each other, we simply admitted how we felt. We didn’t change each other, but we changed the tone of our exchange. An enemy became, not a friend exactly, but a non-enemy.

In this moment, I decided not to abandon the cranky.

Now, about two years on, I have responded to nearly everyone who wants to fight me. (A number that increases the more I promote non-fighting, by the way. Compassion for those who scare or anger you really upsets people.) (I digress.) I have ended up in a similar dialog with around 80% of those I engage. It is not fun. It is exhausting. But it is worth it because 80% of people stop disliking me and I stop disliking them.

If I choose to respond only to those who already agree with me, I will end up talking to myself. I want more than this. Since the world’s ills, according to Buddhist thought and basic common sense (not to mention a cursory review of the entire scope of recorded human history), are made worse by dividing humanity into us and them, I can’t in good conscience make this division. Peace is rooted in good relationships. Good relationships are based on units of two, me and you. It is that simple and that labor-intensive. Today, right now, you — no matter how kind, cranky, crazy, or vicious you may be — are my chance to create peace. I will take that chance.

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  • Posted by:  Sarah Jenkins

    Susan, this is a great point and I appreciate your skillfulness in responding to someone who expresses hurt and anger in a blaming, critical way. But the people you’re describing aren’t actually trolls. They seem to be people who just express their anger and upset unskillfully. Trolls comment maliciously for no other reason that they want to disturb people and get a reaction. I’ve seen threads again and again in which a troll comes in to wreak havoc. When someone responds to them, either angrily or evenly, the troll is encouraged by the attention and keeps posting vitriol. When trolls are ignored, that’s the end of it, they go away because nothing is feeding the fire.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I appreciate the distinction between upset people and intentional havoc. You are right, of course.

  • Posted by:  Vivienne Palmer

    Even the ‘real’ trolls, though, are human beings. Often they are very lonely and socially isolated people. Two people were recently jailed in the UK for issuing death threats to women online. One was a young female alcoholic. The other was a man with diagnosed mental health problems. It doesn’t make what they did any less distressing for the women on the receiving end of their poison, of course, but when I read about it, and saw the photos of them, it did make me think that nothing is ever simple, and that everything can be an exercise in compassion if we can try to shrink the ‘monster’ typing awful things on our comments section back to human size.

    Incidentally, Mary Beard, a distinguished UK academic, ended up taking a young man out to tea after he’d called her an ‘ugly old c**t’ on Twitter, and she’d debated with him. Now, that is ‘troll-taming’ taken to a whole new level!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Mary Beard, my new idol! And, yes, it is never simple. That is so true. I appreciate your good-heartedness.

    • Posted by:  Alan

      I’m from the UK too, I have just read about Mary Beard, what a brilliantly generous way to deal with an upsetting incident if you have the skills to carry it off

  • Posted by:  Jayne Sutton

    A beautiful post, Susan. Thank you. Would that I always have the heart and courage to behave this way! Although I know I won’t, it is an aspiration. ❤️

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I share your aspiration! Without that, it’s almost impossible, so at least we’re already in the game… <3

  • Posted by:  Sharon

    Dear Susan,
    Your words brought my tears. Yes, there is pain there — pain from past moments of feeling too weak and lacking in conviction to voice my truth or face animosity and perhaps rejection. But there is also something like sweetness with this pain — that you can point a light toward the direction I must take — and perhaps more than for any altruistic purpose, but for my own healing. Thank you Susan.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Thank you, Sharon. Thank you for being willing to take on your own sorrow. That means everything. xo s

  • Posted by:  anett

    Susan just want to let you know how much it means that you do this and share this.. and that you cried and it touches so was moving me a lot..

    That you continue the work you do – is it!

    Doing my best practice with you – learning and looking more close and thank you so much for introducing Claude AnShin to us I looked at the German Webside and got so much out of his interview.

    yes we can!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So glad we’re practicing together and very happy you have connected with AnShin!

  • Posted by:  Kristina

    Yes! Keeping the door open, even if just an inch, makes such a difference from slamming it shut! Sitting in righteousness is not a nice place to be, and will not help peace in the world… Thanks Susan, blessings from Kristina

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I totally agree.

  • Posted by:  Paul

    Suan, Well, I don’t know that Oprah and Deepak are all that bad company, lol. Apparently, you’ve achieved a new level of celebrity! LOL. But seriously, I think that’s pretty good karma: you’ve achieved a level of sending and receiving that gives you skills to transform relationships. Not bad. As I reflect on this, I reflect on our celebrity culture: it’s all about taking and taking, from both sides of the fence (no judgement intended on Oprah or Deepak). Ultimately many ordinary folk feel so small, because through the lens of media we magnify the power of virtual demi-gods of achievement/realization. It’s, as we know, out of balance, and a samsaric realm, not too far from the hungry ghosts. We all have power(s), and we all share it. To paraphrase the great senator: “I know Susan Piver. Susan Piver is not a celebrity.” Susan, every video exemplifies the depth of your authenticity. And that’s saying something about you, that even videos show you are honestly processing experience on the fly in front of thousands. Be filled too, by the connection you create, with so many of us! Open Heart Connected, Paul

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Hi Paul. What a lovely, encouraging, fabulous comment! I am very grateful. Thank you.

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