I count myself lucky. I live in a time when I have access to the internet. It has its faults, but I also get to connect with people from all different walks of life. I get to read a variety of views and share my own as well. It’s a fascinating season to be alive during.
Despite the fact that I regularly post things that some may consider controversial, I don’t encounter much nastiness online. I’m usually able to navigate the internet unscathed. For the most part, my interactions online are positive, even with people with whom I disagree. I consider myself lucky in this a well.
But as I opened up Twitter earlier this week, there was some ugly waiting for me. Someone spewing a string of harsh tweets about my mom, about my stillbirth, about personal things that they had no business commenting on. It wasn’t constructive, it was strictly mean spirited. The last tweet was a taunt, daring me to block them.
At first, I didn’t want to. I wasn’t giving them the satisfaction of knowing that their words got under my skin. I didn’t want to be seen as thin skinned, afraid of words on a screen. Sticks and stones, after all.
A few months ago, Elizabeth Gilbert answered the question, “How do you deal with criticism?” I encourage you to read her entire response, but in it she said,
I avoid criticism about myself not because I DON’T care what people say about me, but because I DO care. I am sensitive and easily bruised. I know that critical words can hurt me, and I am not in the business of hurting myself on purpose.
I said it the other day, and I will say it again: God gave me a soul to take care of, that soul is my own. I am the only one who can keep that soul safe. I am the only one who can protect my creativity so that my imagination can run and play freely in the world.
As I thought about her words, I realized that loving myself enough to say no to negativity in my life is okay. Part of being unapologetic means that I won’t feel bad for choosing to honor my mental health.
So what if they “win”? What is it they’ve won? Knowing that they hurt me? Knowing that their words had enough bite to make me not want to interact with them? That’s not much of a win, honestly. If someone wins because you refuse to accept their negativity, it’s okay to let them win.
I have seen calls to engage with people, even when we have strong disagreements. I think this is absolutely correct. We need diversity of thought in our lives. It helps us remain open to changing our minds. It helps us remember that the world is bigger than our ideas. It helps us remember that we’re people first and opinions second. Allowing disagreement in our lives is critical to being healthy, whole people.
But being open to disagreement is not the same as being open to criticism, and it is definitely not the same as being open to hostility.
There are people who have earned the ability to offer criticism. There are times when we need to hear information that helps us get back on the right track. However, not everyone falls into that category. And no one has earned the right to speak with malice toward you. You are not, in any way, obligated to listen to those who berate and belittle you.
Yes, that might mean that they get the last word. It might mean that they get to sit smugly behind their computer keyboards, knowing that their words hurt you. It might mean that they win this confrontation.
Let them win. The prize isn’t that good.