I was speaking today with my friend Mary Lou Quinlan about the hateful responses I've received to some of my Forbes and Huffington Post pieces in the past year. Most often these furious responses come from readers of large websites such as Yahoo! or MSNBC where my posts have been picked up. An interesting phenomenon is that the more positive and upbeat my posts are (about creating a more satisfying career, for instance), the more vitriolic the response.
I shared with Mary Lou that I've been utterly floored when complete strangers write comments on my posts that are filled with anger, envy, rage, victimization, hopelessness and worse. And folks make wild assumptions about my life and my financial situation not knowing anything about the reality of my life, as if to say, "Sure, Kathy can talk about a satisfying career -- look what she's got going for her!" I've had to scratch my head at the rageful and critical projections and assumptions people make about complete strangers. As a trained therapist and coach who works with thousands of professionals each year, I've learned this -- what people write and say is much more about them than about the subject of their communications.
The Human Potential For Cruelty
There's been powerful research conducted by scientists proving that humans are much more willing than you'd guess to inflict pain and suffering on strangers when authority figures tell us to. Further, there have been scores of recent research studies on cyber-bullying and online cruelty, which is on the rise particularly amidst the teen and young adult population. One recent study revealed that 88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other people being mean or cruel on social network sites.
Why are we so eager to send our hate to those we can't see?
Below are the top six reasons I believe we feel free to hate on complete strangers (especially online writers):
1) Our pent up rage from our overwhelming lives has to be released somehow.
2) We think that because we can't see these people, they don't hurt when they're assaulted.
3) We mistakenly assume that running folks down will bolster us up (it doesn't).
4) Attacking strangers relieves our anxiety and pain (for a minute), but has fewer real-life consequences than confronting the people we truly need to tell off.
5) These strangers (writers on Forbes, for instance) represent authority figures -- and for millions today who feel downtrodden and angry, authority (in general) sucks.
6) When writers discuss how to have a more successful life or how to take control of your life, it makes people who are feeling hopeless and helpless very mad.
I'm not saying that readers shouldn't share their heartfelt views and insights on issues that matter to them, and I'm not suggesting we can't be passionate about our beliefs. I am saying, however, that if you can't express yourself without hateful, over-the-top emotion, then you've got some big work to do. It's time to go inward and address your challenges rather than expend precious energy spewing outwardly.
Next time you want to hate on a writer who presents his or her view to create a conversation, I'd ask you think about this... remember that what you say on these posts (and everywhere you speak or write) is a mirror of what you think about yourself. It reveals SO much more about you than about the person you're attacking. Do you really want to spend your timing crushing some stranger who's simply sharing his/her views? I think it might be time to actually DO something constructive about the pain and anger you feel, and handle it directly, in your own life and in your relationships, that truly the need the work.
So... who do you really want to tell off today, and isn't it time you did something constructive about it?
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