There’s no shortage of advice out there on how to deal with That Commenter. You know the one—he or she starts out with a few back-handed compliments in response to a post or two, and then the day comes when they’ve simply had enough. In a sentence or six they outline why you are the wrongest of the very wrong, your children will grow up to hate you, your spouse probably rues the day you married, and how you will die alone because everything you touch is tainted. (This is different than constructive disagreement, by the way. Not everyone who disagrees with you is mean and inappropriate. This post is just about the folks who really overstep bounds, get personal, and attack.)
This is part of living a semi-public life (which any writer who ever talks about anything personal is doing, intentionally or not). There are people out there that view any willingness to share personal stories as any or all of the following:
A) Your entire life laid transparent, a complete story with no missing pieces,
B) Permission to judge you,
C) An invitation to relive personal baggage, related to you or not,
D) An opportunity to unload vitriol.
Lots of people have great ideas on how to deal with this when it happens.
The commonly accepted non-confrontational method is to simply ignore this person, because everyone knows that you can’t reason with the unreasonable. Anyone who lives a life where they feel compelled to hop on a personal blog and start telling the writer what a terrible person they are is by definition someone whose life is unfulfilled. Happy people don’t go pick fights with strangers. So I quite like the advice to ignore, because that seems most prudent to me.
If things get really obnoxious, you can of course ignore and delete the comments. If it doesn’t stop, you can ban the commenter in question.
Others feel that ignoring someone in this situation just gives them more power or somehow silently sanctions their poor behavior. Those folks advocate letting their commenters loose on the poorly behaved, and/or letting the person know exactly how you feel about their feedback. Again, I try not to talk to crazy people, so I’m unlikely to respond, but I’ll confess it does rather tickle me to see my commenters take someone rude to task on my behalf.
Several bloggers I know feel that if someone simply cannot control themselves in the comments, the blog owner is well within her rights to creatively edit said feedback. While this approach amuses me (one of my favorite people, Leigh of Miss Doxie, noted that when editing nasty comments, grumpy people end up complimenting her on how good she probably smells), it’s not really my style.
So what should you do when it happens to you (because if you write online, it will happen to you, if it hasn’t already)? I have no idea. I think you do whatever makes you feel better, so long as it doesn’t involve stooping to the same level. What you do is something you‘ll have to figure out.
I will, however, go out on a limb here and suggest what you should probably think while figuring out what to do. And that is this: Someone who leaves nasty comments semi-anonymously on the writing of someone they don’t know is someone who is not happy. Happy people don’t need to be right all the time, and happy people don’t need to put other people down. It sounds sort of elementary-school-wisdom-y, because it is. It’s simple. Happy people don’t intentionally make other people unhappy. They just don’t. Call ‘em whatever they want, people who come to you for the express purpose of being jerks are just plain malcontent.
And that’s kind of sad.
As you may guess, I recently had a commenter lay into me, and I was ill-prepared, I confess, because that hasn’t happened to me in a very long time. I immediately felt upset and defensive, but then I remembered that happy people don’t do what she did.
So then I took a minute to remind myself that 1) what she said isn’t true, 2) she doesn’t know me or my family, and 3) because I am happy, and she is not, I should probably just feel sorry for her. When I’m feeling especially forgiving, I pray for her and people like her; it must be hard to be that angry.
‘Tis the season to love and be loved. Don’t waste time worrying about how to characterize or productively address folks who don’t get that. Just do what you do, and if you’re lucky enough to be happy, wish for peace for people who aren’t.