Originally published by Sammiches and Psych Meds
When I was in fifth grade I got a Snoopy autograph book to commemorate my move to the fifth school since starting kindergarten. Although nervous, it would mark another opportunity for resilience in my life of many shifting directions. I loved that autograph book with its padded glossy cover and subtle rainbow of pastel pages. I took it to school and asked my friends to autograph it for me. Here are some classic quotes (misspellings intentional):
UR2 good + 2be=4gotten. Wendy ‘79
Remember M, Remember E, but most of all remember ME. From, Marcie
You have bean a greet freind, stay that way good luck in 6th good dancing remember your old freind Steve
And from my very best friend: Dear Tracy, I think your very nice and you are fun to play with. Sincerely Yours, Theresa
How sweet is it that a kid’s first instinct is to be complimentary and polite. Especially at 11 years old, it seems to be a bit of a miracle my vulnerable request for a wish-you-well wasn’t ruined with a trollish comment. Perhaps they were more innocent days then. Or maybe it’s because those kids had to see my eager face when they handed me back my treasured autograph book and would not have risked seeing me hurt. For today’s kids, the sting of the loveless troll happens soon after they start using social media. Check out Ask.fm if you’d like to see the brutal forced-choice game of kiss, f*&k, or marry, or worse than that, anonymous questions inviting insults and harassment.
However today’s article is less about how online verbal assault hurts its victims, because it just does. Instead I’d like to focus on how much love and validation helps. Because all these years later, what I really learned from my Snoopy autograph book is to cherish those who truly know and champion me. Here’s the message from lavender page 3 from my number one fan:
You have a real neat personality and a sensitivity that will always bring you close friendships but it will also cause you to have hurt feelings because others are not always as thoughtful as you. Always keep that cute little smile.
PS You almost won the bike race.
I think my dad called me Tuffy in the ironic sense, although he’d never admit it. The family legend is that a neighborhood boy was picking on my 5 year-old sister, and at 2 years old I walked up and bit him on the nose – earning the nickname Tuffy. Being that I’m a bit of a chicken, I can’t imagine this is true. But then again, I’ll take a bullet protecting the underdog still…so there it is.
As a psychologist in my twentieth year of private practice, I’ve channeled that sensitivity both personally and professionally and adopted my dad’s validation and championing skills. It nourishes my soul to be of service. To see somebody blossom from the meekness fed by the shaming judgment of others into the courage to step forward and speak their truth is a privilege to witness.
It’s a tough balance to care for those we love while simultaneously nurturing ourselves. Whether it’s the desire to please others or the necessity of sacrificing as a caregiver, it’s just too easy to put yourself last. And so often, people will criticize to make sure you stay last. One of my most memorable AH-HA moments is when I realized that it’s a compliment when certain people hate you. Relationships based on feelings that form an inverse relationship (they get jealous when you do well) are a total waste of time. If comments are hurtful or not constructive, then it’s none of my business what others think of me.
But tell that to the Internet. Social psychologists can attest to the bold cloak of anonymity and how otherwise meek people will self-righteously hop on a hostile bandwagon. The famous Stanford experiment demonstrated how college students will morph into brutal prison guards when given a role to play. And remember how the Milgram and Asch experiments demonstrated how easy it is to influence people into brutality or false eyewitness with an authoritative instruction or through peer influence?
Anonymity and the immediacy of sharing momentary feelings with thousands turns the Internet into Lord of the Flies. Subtweets, flaming, social media shaming, and trollish online comments reflect a shameful display of the worst of what it is to be human. Not that haters are new. After all, even Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and Jesus Christ had haters. But let me tell you a story about how, just because there’s a time-honored tradition, doesn’t mean being an a-hole is acceptable, even if you think it’s in the self-righteous name of kindness.
In our community lives a proud, elderly rancher who owns a feed store. We will call him Ben. He’s the kind of man who serves customers sunrise to sunset without complaint and still has time leftover to volunteer for kids. If you need to know how to care for your first bunny, just stop by and he’ll give you all the free guidance you need. Hold a chick? He’s your guy. Every single time we’ve visited over the years, and that’s often, he encourages my kids to give their mom and hug and say, “I love you,” which he promptly rewards with a grin and handful of chocolate. He even lets you return your chick weeks later if it turns out you nurtured a rooster. All in all, from my view as his frequent customer, Ben is an amazing man.
One day I got messaged from a friend that said Ben got an unpleasant Yelp review about his business. His only review at that, go figure. Why do only the complainers leave online reviews? It turns out that an animal lover came by his store and saw a calf out in the rain. After insisting that the worker at the desk craft a shelter for the calf (keep in mind it was 65 degrees), the customer returned to build it himself. He then posted a scathing review about how the store owner, Ben, is cruel to animals.
Now, if you frequent the store as often as we do, you’d realize that that calf is named Princess and is perhaps the most spoiled animal alive. She was orphaned young so the store owner brought her to work to hang out at the neighboring veterinary hospital’s back yard. She comes when called to get her treats and is visited by the little ones of the town often. It’s arguable if calves need a roof on a sprinkling Southern California day, but honestly she usually has one. It turned out that that was one of those rare moments Ben wasn’t even manning the store. What was seemingly an attempt to champion a soggy calf ended up hurting a hard-working store owner with decades of generous service under his belt. Rumor had it that Ben teared up when he read the Yelp review (although he’d deny it).
So in defense of Ben, I and some other customers posted what this feed store really means to our kids and the community. We quickly watered down that one star with love and loyalty. The next time my kids went in to pet the chicks and shyly accept their chocolate, he looked at me with a twinkle and reminded me what’s really important in this life, that we must be careful how we champion those who are wronged and sing even louder for those who love. It was a beautiful lesson for my kids to return Ben’s kindness.
Next time you want to rant about your bad day online, remember that there’s a real person with years of invested sweat and tears on the other side. Maybe your time would be better spent being a champion to those who did go the extra mile for you rather than tearing those down who didn’t. And if you’re stinging from a cyberbullying comment by a loveless troll, remember what Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
This article is dedicated to those who nurture themselves as well as others and for the courage to follow your dreams. Drown out the trolls by posting some well-earned 5 star reviews today. It matters. I know the emails I get from my awesome GKIS subscribers and Facebook followers mean the world to me! And if you’re a parent, keep your eye out for social media apps that allow anonymity or a false alias. They are a cyberbully’s paradise, and your child won’t recognize the sting of the loveless troll unless they’re already hurting from it.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetYourKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
fin dac-jade by dug_da_bug, CC by-NC-ND 2.0