A few years ago, I was an active
commenter on a blog.
For a while, it was
a terrific place for me to frequent.
admired the author’s writings a lot.
were several commenters whom I enjoyed interacting with.
But something happened over time.
I started witnessing several negative,
hurtful, sometimes distasteful comments.
There were a handful of people who abused the comforts that anonymity
A subset of these comments
was directed at me – I had clearly set up myself for this.
In my comments, I would come across as righteous,
indignant and, worst of all, sensitive.
I thought that I was doing the right thing in standing up for fellow
commenters, spouting philosophies on what I believed the rules of the online
universe must be.
After a while, I
decided that I would not be part of that blog anymore.
And I signed off with a rather dramatic, longwinded
My experience on that blog was
an unforgettable one.
And as is the case
with key experiences in life, the exam came first, the lessons later.
I thought of my experiences on
that blog and what happened later while reading Mark Manson’s rather deceptively
titled book, “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck.”
The book is a lot more profound than the
seemingly flippant title suggests.
one of the most thought provoking lines in the book flips the famous Spidey
Before I get to that, let’s start
with the Spidey line – “With great power comes great responsibility.”
If my memory serves me right, I actually
quoted Spidey in one of the several holier-than-thou comments that I had posted
on that blog!
But let me hasten to add
that I do not regret the fact that I said that.
Far from it.
I am glad that I
voiced my opinion that the internet affords people the kind of freedom and liberation that can easily be misused.
People can be brutally honest, hurtfully blunt
or tastelessly vulgar all without a care in the world.
Well, maybe not completely.
Cyber crime is serious business and people do
get caught for serious crimes.
about the comments that are not a crime in the legal sense of the word?
Nobody is going to be charged with “verbal
assault aided and abetted by sarcasm!”
My comments on that blog were
many a time a plea for decorum and civility.
The responses that I got were varied.
A number of people could sense
that the pain I expressed was genuine – some of them are my great friends today.
Others – including the author of the blog – displayed
tough love by saying that I was doing myself a disservice by coming across as touchy.
That I had to accept the fact that the online
sphere was going to always have people that would misuse the freedom and prey
on folks that are openly expressing the remnant scars left by prickly words - well-meaning advice for sure.
A small set of people gleefully enjoyed the anonymity
and subject me to verbal volleys which now seem funny when I think of them but
no, I wasn’t laughing then!
After a while,
as I said earlier, I quit.
steadfast in my refusal to veer away from my beliefs.
In the past 2 ½ years, I have been writing a
lot more regularly for my own blog than was the case before.
I still do follow the author’s writings but of
course, have not left a single comment on his blog, the comments section of which, I am happy to say,
has become a lot more civil over time.
yes, all is well now.
But at the time I ‘quit’ the blog,
I definitely felt hurt and downbeat.
I had done one thing that Manson wrote about in his book even before I read
But I wish I had done one other
thing that he so passionately describes in his book.
The thing that I did
followed one of Manson’s deeply affecting lines – “Negative
emotions are a call to action.”
soon after my rather dramatic final comment on that blog, I decided that I would
revitalize my own blog and use it as an avenue of honest expression, be it on
films or people that have made a difference in my life.
That part worked out well.
So, what did I not do?
What I didn’t do is summarized by
a sentiment expressed in Manson's book in lines of differing lengths but of similar depth.
One is the aforementioned flipping of the Spidey
Manson writes, “With great
responsibility, comes great power.”
other line that expresses a similar sentiment is, “We get to control what our
problems mean based on how we choose to think about them, the standard by which
we choose to measure them.”
While I was
a part of that blog, I didn’t exert full control of myself.
While I was responsible as a commenter, I was
not taking responsibility for my
reactions towards the reactions that resulted from my actions.
on people’s good graces and expected people to interpret my words with the intent
that was behind them.
I did not say to
myself, “Okay, if I sound earnest and directly, even if civilly, call people
out, some are bound to retaliate.”
worried as much about people’s perceptions of me as I did of what I wanted to
In Manson’s words, I did
not have the “control” to define what the problem meant to me.
I have made this mistake in some
relationships too, not being content with my authentic expressions of affection
but also in craving relevance in the way
There, right there, I lose
“control” when I shift my gaze away from an inward focus.
But owing to thoughtful well-wishers and insightful
books, I sincerely feel like I know what I must continue to work on, in order
to silently experience the power and lightness that comes from taking full
ownership of actions and a level-headed awareness of varied reactions that can
In the recent past, I witnessed
two unrelated instances - actor Prasanna and singer and MeToo activist Chinmayi
– of celebrities being subject to vile comments on Twitter.
Both responded with guts, gumption and grace.
Instead of stooping to the lows plumbed by
the originator of the abhorrent comments, they displayed the kind of “control”
that Manson describes.
Of course, the comments
would have caused them pain.
responses showed that they were willing to face the unfortunate realities of
the online world.
I can only hope that
the voices, also anonymous in their own way, that came out in support of them
must have warmed their hearts at least a little.
Until the day comes when people
realize that abusing free speech is bound to have costly implications for
others, I can only hope that we all empower ourselves with the priceless riches
of self-control, self-preservation, an unwavering focus on our own values and genuine
ways of expressing those values.
way, even if we don’t ace every one of life’s exams, we can at least be
well-prepared to get through them relatively unscathed!