After Friday’s post about Miss California and the whole gay marriage thing, someone sent me my first piece of real blog hate mail.
Now, working in radio and TV, you grow used to receiving horrible letters. So much so that you can start to lose faith in the goodness of your fellow man, it’s that ghastly.
In fact, I believe I still hold the record for the number of death threats received by any personality on American public radio, following an inappropriately upbeat report I did from Dublin some years ago about an ancient abandoned Irish jail.
For some reason, many irate listeners in the Irish community in Boston, Mass., thought my suggestions for brightening the place up with flower-beds and wallpaper insulted their history, and felt that the only reasonable response to such comments was to give me a good knee-capping, then leave me to bleed to death. Which is fair enough. As we know, and as history shows time and again, especially Irish history, violence solves everything.
Plus, of course, while my TV show was on the air, the network’s message-boards were filled with hateful comments. Luckily, these were countered by copious praise from viewers bright enough to understand the series, who not only loved it but engaged in a running ground battle with the haters, in the hope that the executives at the network were also bright enough to ignore the negative tirades of the minority and keep the show alive. Alas, as we know, the haters won.
Plus, my books always receive their fair share of detractors. If you look on Amazon right now, some creep from an obscure magazine I’ve never even heard of, called Booklist, has written a truly unjustified and quite mean-spirited editorial appraisal of my latest, Naked in Dangerous Places.
Only, here’s the thing. You can tell – or at least I as the author can – that it’s based on nothing. He’s barely read beyond the first chapter.
Quite bizarrely, the review appears to be a critique, not of the book per se, but of my radio style, which he despises. Powerless, however, to get me taken off the air, he’s instead turned his ire on my literary work, hoping that this will teach me a lesson or two, and possibly curb sales. And hey, maybe it will, who knows? Why doesn’t he just go the whole way and suggest a sound knee-capping for my efforts? That would be just as rational.
As it is, every review of the book from people who’ve actually read it has been resoundingly positive, drowning out the reviewer’s voice of hate.
Which brings me back to Friday and the comment I received about the gay marriage piece. It came from a guy called Clint. Here’s what he wrote. It’s not pleasant.
“Ok go shoot yourself in the fucking head. That shit was way to long. You need to take yourself to church become a priest and touch little children you fuckin homo. Another thing whats up with the artsy gay ass abstract modern art pic of yourself at the top. I would wipe my ass with that pic and actually talk about gay from an angle that interests people cause your opinion is not doing it.”
Anyway, I have a way of dealing with this, which I’d like to pass on to you.
Long ago, I used to work for the British government. Every day for several hours I sat on a public desk, dealing with complaints from angry strangers with an axe to grind, who wanted someone’s head to grind it on. And I was that guy. The guy they ground their axes on. It was quite a horrendous time, but very character-building, and it taught me two important lessons about how to deal with angry, hate-filled people.
Lesson 1) When they shout, don’t shout back. Rather, speak quietly. They will soon realize they’re shouting and begin talking quietly too.
Lesson 2) Stay calm and agree with them. Agree there’s been an injustice. Agree they have a valid point. Agree that you may have made a mistake, and will do everything to correct it.
Follow these two lessons, and all anger magically dissipates, like angel dust in the opening sequence of Xanadu. The result is usually miraculous.
Most people just feel they’re not being heard, that’s all. That their opinion doesn’t matter, that they don’t have a voice. So listen to them, behave like they matter and that you’re interested, and most times they will immediately calm down.
That’s my trick.
Nowadays, based on that experience, when I receive genuine hate mail from people, I do the opposite of what’s expected. I don’t argue or take offense, I write back agreeing with them. More than that, I discuss their issues in a calm, rational way, hoping to learn something from their points, then make my point in return. Simple. And almost without fail I end up with a positive, harmonious result.
Which is what happened with Clint.
I have no idea how old Clint is; he could be 15, he could be 85. But he’s angry and wants to be heard. So my reply to his hateful comment was placatory, kind, open, and non-aggressive.
Result: within a couple of hours, here’s what he wrote back:
“Wait who are you and what are you talking about and yes I mess with people. Its nothing to be taken seriously….why do you blog if you dont expect to catch some shit from people. Be truely astonished omg. Get a clue and if you can in any way learn from this experience take it to the head and realize thats life and how it truely works.”
Still aggressive, right? Barely comprehensible, actually. Written English is not Clint’s strong point. The gist seems to be, though – if you’d allow me to translate – that he’s tough and likes to screw with strangers, and if I’m going to post an opinion on the web, well, I should expect to be attacked for it by angry people like Clint.
Disagreeing somewhat with this premise, I wrote back.
“You have every right to say what you think about a blog or anything else. You happen to be on the money about it being too long. You may even be right about my gay-assed picture. But imagine how much more seriously your views would be taken if you aired them with respect and kindness, rather than abuse. It’s so easy to tear something down – it takes almost no effort at all. Making constructive comments is harder. But it gets you a lot more respect.
“Next time you feel the urge to write an abusive comment, imagine that the person you’re writing to, instead of being a stranger, is your best friend. Someone you value and wouldn’t want to lose. I guarantee your approach will mellow.”
That was my two-penneth. Very fair, very balanced. But in the real meaning of the words, not the Fox News “saying that, but doing something else” way.
And lo and behold, guess what happened! Almost immediately, Clint, having made a human connection now, and feeling appreciated and understood, wrote back, this time with an entirely different approach.
“Yeah you are right….I owe you an apology. Maybe your opinion do matter to some just not to me at the present moment. That is the way I am though I am rude crude and I wreck stuff. You can think I am an ass thats ok it doesnt bug me one bit. Im sure some one will eventually bag on my blog and I will simpally call it karma. Anyways happy trails and may God be with you.”
Obviously, his use of English isn’t any better when he’s calm, but his approach is entirely positive and kind, even, dare I say, loving in tone.
From hate to love in three moves. Not bad, eh?
And it works almost all the time.
I honestly recommend you all try this. From now on, try dealing with anger in a reasonable, quiet, calm way instead of rising to it and becoming angry too, and see what happens. Well, actually, you can already see what happens. Magic happens. Like the opening sequence of Xanadu.
Now, I have to stop. Once again, this is way too long. Also, I have to see if I can change that artsy gay ass modern art pic of mine before Clint sees it and writes to me again. I can only take so much.
TV Swami – he say YES to love, kindness, understanding, and being nice to people.