There is a cruel practice on the internet these days commonly called trolling. People who do it are trolls. I would define trolling as the art of malevolently offering the meanest, most insulting, scathingly negative critique with the highest shock value the troll can create for the purpose of causing emotional pain for the one being criticized. And if the troll can deliver a surprise attack, all the better for their soul-sucking joy de vivre. The voice, dear friends, is a frequent target of trolls. If you have them, congratulations; you're in good company. If not, you need to be prepared. They're coming for you. And me.
My latest experience with a troll...The situation: I won't go into enough detail to embarrass the organizers, but the program I recently performed in was a disorganized, logistic nightmare. The venue owner never showed up with the keys to the building. After all the musicians, artists AND audience members stood out in the sun for hours, somebody finally broke in the back window (yes, there was talk of being charged with breaking and entering) and opened the doors. You can imagine the ensuing chaos as the staff propped the stage and the musicians set up for an online video show that was a half hour overdue to start.. I sat as out of the way as possible on a bench in the front, waiting for my time to hurriedly set my keyboard up and do a quick mic check ...and then immediately perform. It would have made great footage for a reality show!
A bit of a rabbit trail:
I have learned to roll with the punches, and these things happen if you spend time on the road. This 'adventure' reminded me of the time years ago when my whole band and I waited in the hotel lobby for the scheduled vehicle that was supposed to get us and our gear to the airport in time for our flight to the next show. That vehicle never showed up, so my band leader commandeered a laundry truck for transportation in exchange for my signed picture! Yes, we made it to the airport, just in time and though nerve-racking back then, it's one of my funniest memories now.
The point is, people rarely know how difficult a performer's job really is. The backstage chaos, personal and career stress, travel guffaws, the mild illness or personality conflicts in the band have to all be ignored when foot hits stage floor. The performer's ability to capture the venue with a seamless, friendly, professional and musically excellent performance should be all the audience is aware of. (Although a glimpse at normal backstage preparation can be illuminating and fascinating, like this NYT fast-forward through backstage preparation at the Metropolitan Opera.)
OK, Rabbits, back to present day...
So we finally finished the late internet show, and got a lot of sweet comments from hosts and folks in the audience. I got home and after putting my keyboard back up in my office, revved up my computer to check my email. There was a comment on my Facebook page that took my breath away. Someone had written "I don't appreciate the way you strew your purse, bag (gig bag of stuff for my keyboard) and coat (what coat? It was 100 degrees!) all over the front bench! I want you to know you were rude and unprofessional!
While I'd had trolls comment with violent, sick profanity on some videos I tried to promote on YouTube, I had never had anyone in over 50 years of performing tell me I was rude or unprofessional. It was strange how deep it cut. I found out who she was, spent some time figuring out how I wanted to respond (various replies ranging from sorry she felt that way to tearing her a new one, then decided the wisest course for my own spirit and conscience was to unfriend and block her. I eventually found out that she hated any music that wasn't old-style traditional country. But instead of sharing that truth, she chose to cut a complete stranger (me) down as meanly as she knew how.
Things I've learned about trolls:
- They want, most of all, to be seen and heard. Unfortunately, they are using hurting others to call attention to themselves. Therefore one of your best strategies is to decline to acknowledge the troll's existence. In other words, unfriend/block/delete the comment.
- They also love to strike from hiding places of anonymity. Once more - best strategy is to erase them and their critique without your verbal reaction, which they live for. Starving them of your response is like starving them of food, and they generally move on to someone else who will feed them.
- Trolls are emotionally and/or mentally challenged. I mean, how many people who get an endorphin rush out of hurting others on purpose do you know who are not spiritually and mentally sick? Hurting people hurt people. Knowing this helps take the sting out of the hateful things they say... which is never based on the real value of the voice they are criticizing.
- Understand how they get their power. The reason singers can be so hurt by trolling is that voices need to be sensitive, unique and unguarded to effectively deliver messages. Trolling a singer is like shooting a sitting duck. So don't sit there turning the troll-scat over and over in your mind try to understand it. A troll's mind will never make sense to you. Move on to something affirming and positive so your heart can deflect the hit!
- Know the difference between an honest critique and bullying. Be sure to differentiate between a comment that is trolling, and one that is just an honest opinion you don't agree with.
- If you choose to respond, be careful: don't just feed the troll. Someone wise once asked me why I was trying to convince someone of something they didn't want to believe. Feeding a troll is an exercise in spitting in the wind, and a waste of time and emotional energy. That said, if you need to use the situation for your own purposes to straighten something out publicly or correct a damaging lie, do so succinctly and in a way that looks emotionally controlled and professional. Under certain circumstances, you can even respond legally and sue for defamation of character.
- Your best weapon: Forgive and forget. The worst thing I could probably wish on a troll is his or her life. Unlike Martin Luther King, Gandi and Jesus, the cuttingest of troll comment hasn't stopped my heart beating. The nursery rhyme rings true, 'sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me' unless of course I continue to let them. You need to be emotionally honest and process the nastiness of being trolled, but then finish the process: forgive and let go of any lingering negativity. Then get away from the crazy makers! disconnect… unfriend/unfollow/delete/block them!
- Never Be One. It should go without saying, but there are always those 4 fingers pointing back when we point one forward! May all our critiques always come from love, not from cruel lack of empathy. It's ok to recognize that someone's performance sucked, but you'll probably never fully know why... and next time it could be you. Or me! Correction of the cause is almost always possible, if suggested with good timing and kindness. Do unto others as you want done to you.
More recommended reading: 10 Ways to Destroy An Online Commenting Troll and some of the suggestions are artful ways of engaging without actually feeding them.