21 July

Report Card: One Week Later. Taking My Blog Back. The Problem With Hating The Haters

by Jon Katz

A week ago, I wrote that I had decided to take my blog back. And I did. This is my report card.

I credit Donald  Trump and his Perennially Pissed followers, the media for making money off of so much bad news,  the Pandemic for stirring up so much of the grievance, hatred, and self-pity that is flooding social media and polluting our public spaces.

And yes, there is that systematic racism thing that we keep hearing is fake. It isn’t.

I love my blog, and I often ask myself the same question I ask of the blog: who and what exactly do you want to be?

Writing about the Amish seemed to draw additional haters to the blog, on top of half of the country. Nothing makes disturbed and idle people angrier than people who seem to be happy or sincere.

Since they trust nothing, everything is suspect. Everything good must be fake.

The gift of hatred is that it makes one think. It can make me stronger; it always has.

The emotional cost of pretending cruelty doesn’t hurt when it does is substantial. No one is immune to it, human beings are not made of cardboard.

During one exchange online from someone accusing me of being a psychopath, I said a prayer to the spirits: if I ever have nothing better to do than send strangers hateful messages, or spend all day responding to them,  please strike me down.

A part of me thought challenging them was my civic duty. It wasn’t. Ignoring them is.

At the same time, I had this troubling thought: if I have time to answer these hateful messages with hateful messages of my own, am I any better than the people sending them?

I wouldn’t say I liked the answer. Hopefully, I  caught myself just in time; I’m still here. Their poison is my poison, their anger is mine.

I won’t let the blog become absorbed in the culture of hatred and resentment, another journal of the Perpetually Pissed.

I’m really not much of a hater. I’m not good at it. As I write this, I cannot think of a single human being that I hate.

I can be dumb, obnoxious, and just plain wrong, but I’ve always seen hating as a whirlpool that can suck me in so deep I can never get out. That has happened to me at times.

Rage is in the air; I need to think about just how much of it I want to breathe and still have a peaceful and spiritual life. A friend reminded me recently of something; “Katz,” he said, “you don’t have to answer every asshole who dislikes you.”

This was shockingly good advice and the most shocking thing about it was that I didn’t know it.

I learned in my decades of Internet writing that hate is a magnet for more hate, hatred is parasitic, it needs something to feed off. It is always the problem,  never the solution.

For reasons I don’t need to dwell on here,  I am no stranger to anger and obsession. I grew up being picked on and laughed at, and I sometimes need help brushing cruelty off and letting go.

I’m not going there, and my blog isn’t either. It seems that half the country is nervous these days, the other half angry miserable, and unmoored.

Since I banned the trolls, deleted them, refused to post them, ignored them,  the effect on me has been almost shocking.

I feel lighter, liberated, more creative. The blog is better, lighter, more diverse.

My head is thinking of creative thoughts:  seeking out the good things, following the Amish, paying attention to the animals, looking for color and light in my pictures.

I’m not giving up writing about politics when the mood strikes, but it will never be the focus of the blog.

At first, the trolls were outraged at my announcement, like wasps driven from their nests.

But I can tell you this about people who hate; they are just like vampires; they need blood and darkness to live; without it, they are like Dracula in the sunlight; they wither and melt away.

Banning trolls was like turning off the light that attracts moths – they go somewhere else.

After two or three days, they were gone, from my inbox, from my consciousness, and most importantly, from my blog.

I feel the blog and its author have returned to the usual recipe of interesting ideas, and the pursuit of color and light.

The sweetest words I ever hear from readers are these: “you made me think.” I don’t need people to agree with me, I live for making them think.

I don’t care what every human on earth thinks of my work.

My blog was always meant to be informative, thought-provoking, and uplifting. I didn’t completely lose it, but I was slipping.

I hate hatred, and there’s the rub.

Fighting it can seem like a virtue, when in fact, it’s just another sickness. I first understood this in therapy, I’ve been working on it ever since, sometimes successfully.

As my life gets richer and more meaningful, there is less and less room left for hating people or paying attention to hateful people. They have no place in my consciousness.

My writing about the Amish heated the waters a bit. They trouble a lot of people, perhaps because they are so content with their lives, and because they never argue their beliefs. There is food for thought.

The country is going through a rugged time, and many people are angry, confused, misinformed. Social media is becoming the toilet bowl that gets rid of all the bile.

I feel for these trolls; they are T.S. Eliot’s hollow men (and women); their lives are full of acid and emptiness. But that is not my story.

The problem for me, and so many others, is that hate begets hate; it is difficult to stay on a spiritual or even track in the midst of all those unsettled people with their send buttons and hate-producing media.

This has been a precious process for me.

I realized the real problem was not the anger outside of me but the anger inside of me. I’ve had decades of therapy, even psychoanalysis, but I was a mess, and some things take a very long while to heal.

If it’s no fun being trolled, it’s not fun watching it either. I apologize.

I’ve also liberated myself in other ways.

The people who write the nastiest and cruelest messages seem to have this idea that I’m morally obliged to post their writings, that anyone who writes needs to post everything critical said about them.

This is how they get attention, this is how they spread their manure.

This is a new ethic that has come out of social media and interactivity. People love their new “send” button power.

I reject this idea. I post all thoughtful and civil messages, and as of now, NO messages that are either cruel or hateful. Period.

It’s a simple boundary, and except for one lapse, I’m holding to it. If you see me or sense me slipping, please call me out; I will be listening and appreciate your help.

And here’s the boundary. I will always post thoughtful messages that are critical of me. I will not post messages that are cruel, insulting, or harmful.

The distinction is important. My blog and my writing are all about being thoughtful. I love to discuss the ideas I present. I don’t mind civil disagreement.

I feel no moral or other reason to post criticism for its own sake. I don’t write to argue my ideas to billions of strangers on Facebook. Time spent arguing for its own sake is lost time.

Time spent in intelligent discussions about ideas can be sweet and sacred. I learn a lot from messages that are thoughtful and courteous.

This transition was more important than I  realized, and I am both excited and rejuvenated about it.

The good and spiritual life does not require us to be saints, only to be honest about ourselves and work to be better than we are.

That is always possible, at any point in life.

Thomas Merton wrote that humility is a virtue, not a neurosis. Humility sets us free to do what is really good. A humility that freezes us in place and freezes our being is not humility at all, just another form of pride.

Humility is about seeing the flaws that live and grow in us and facing them. There is no such thing as a perfect human being.

This week was a good start.

33 Comments

  1. One of the things that I have always enjoyed about your blog, is the exchange of ideas and making people think. It is a sorry state that the country seems to be in these days, the belief if we disagree on something we must hate. Thank you for cleaning out the haters and the trolls.

  2. Thanks for making your blog a safe place again. In the last 22 months I’ve lost so many friends, family, and neighbors. Not from Covid-19 but from old age, suicide, and cancer. Now going to delayed funerals and memorials. I’ve lost the ones that could ground me and talk me off the ledge. But I still have you, putting my anxieties to rest and soothing my isolation has literally saved me. The Amish essays have transported me to another plane, too. Thank you, thank you, thank you 💙

  3. Your blog makes me think about what’s important in life.

    I admire you for not hating a single human being. I have a short list. They are all people whom I do not know personally. They are all public figures working to dumb down and destroy our country. It does me no good to hate them, and it certainly doesn’t affect them. I’ll try harder.

  4. I read some content where authors post strong divise opinions, and I expect to see strong responses. While you have a point of view your content most often is about dogs and donkeys… shorn sheep and the people and things you love. The people who intrude on your blog remind me of guests who come to a pool party, eat all the shrimp, drink all the beer, make a pass at your wife and fall asleep on your couch. They bring nothing and destroy what’s there.

  5. Historian Heather Cox Richardson comments on this same situation with her newsletter:

    “It’s more about creating a public space where people feel comfortable, where people can comment,” Richardson says. “You’re welcome at my party but don’t pee on my rug — if you do that, I’m going to throw you out the door.”

    So glad you are closing the door on hate, Jon.

  6. My soul needs this! And so many of your other blogs!
    It is a place to go to get away from all the unnecessary noise.
    There is so much to learn, share and agree to disagree on – unlimited information and contact with others. And yet people use social media in every possible negative way.
    Imagine if most of us used it for kindness, growth and knowledge – what a wonderful world it could be!
    Thank you for closing the door to trolls giving us this little safe place – a gentle place to learn and appreciate the many life blessings!
    Just feels good!

  7. I made a similar decision on a much, much smaller basis. I follow Thumper’s Law, “If you can’t says something nice, don’t say nothin; at all”. The haters thrive on attention. I choose to give them none. Bravo for you, Jon.

  8. Yeah for you Jon! I love the insight and the new things I learn from reading your blog. I’ve been intrigued by your posts about your Amish friends. I find myself anticipating how the barn will look on your next post. Thank you for an uplifting place to learn, and enjoy!

  9. When I found your blog I was looking to see if you had recently wrote anymore books. I think I read all related to dogs and about Simon (Simon 3 times), and your mountain adventure (twice). I really enjoyed your blog’s political writing. And I enjoyed reading the comments. I knew I wasn’t alone in my fear of losing American Democracy. I wish more writers paid more attention to the dangers of Trump when he ran for president the first time. Like many I thought he would never win. My comments were hateful but they were also true. I also worried about your safety. No one has the right to threaten anyone’s life for the words they write.

    In our house we are extremely high risk (including that now my doctors think I probably had Covid in January 2020). The American people deserve the whole truth about the new Covid variant, and I didn’t hear it last night on the news. After research, according to well respected newspapers, India has lost around 4 Million people to Covid. This new variant is extremely dangerous. My partner (a cancer patient) has to do the shopping and we still practice mask wearing and my hands are going to fall off from washing. The problem is we have less than 50% of our state vaccinated and we see few people wearing masks. So, yes, I feel we are victimized because we can still get the virus although we both received both shots. I never want to go through “any form” of Covid again.

  10. You make our world a more wonderful place to be, Jon. You bring light to the darkness and a fresh perspective. You continue to have our gratitude.

  11. I’m glad you are taking a stand, the Amish don’t interest me very much nor do they anger me. I can read your articles on them or scroll past, not a big deal.

  12. I was told by a very wise person ‘never enter into the boxing ring with a narcissist’ (or other such angry types), it fuels them and you cannot win. They like to fight, it feeds them. The best approach is to block, delete, ghost and totally ignore – as tempting as it is, never respond. They will find another target and move on. Which you have done.
    I love your posts about the Amish, so interesting. It is perplexing why writing about them triggers such hate and anger.
    Maybe they see the world thru a lense of black and white, which is rather primitive thinking.

    1. I think the answer Jean, is that the Amish are very different, they make their own rules and live by them..That drives some people nuts, especially people who have nothing but sadness and misery in their lives. Thank for the good words.

  13. Way to go, Jon! I greatly enjoy your writing about your Amish friends and love that you’re ignoring the haters. I’ve had to do the same with a few people lately. I was tired of being hurt and put down. Decided I hadn’t lived 66 years to put up with them, so I’ve moved on. Feels sooo good!!

  14. “The good and spiritual life does not require us to be saints, only to be honest about ourselves and work to be better than we are.” This statement, I believe, is truly how you live, Jon. You inspire me to do the same. Out in the world, I try to side step the trolls – just give them a wide berth. However, my work isn’t just that. My work is to soothe my inside so it doesn’t rise up against the trolls; I want my inside to match my outside. This is what meditation, grounding, loving, hobbies and boundaries all help me do – soothe that inner self. My one wild and precious life is for me, not against them.

  15. I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems I always leave this blog in better condition than when I got here. I’ve always found it interesting, insightful, with wonderful stories of real life and photos.
    It sure has made me thinknow many times. Like this very posting of yours.
    Not participating in hatred can help suffocate it. Thanks, Jon!

    1. What a great message to get Mark, I think you for it. You are right the best antidote to hatred is not to do it.

  16. Truth fighting for itself is my favorite line of yours, from a recent blog, and I’ve been reading your books for years. I must agree that your most recent work is your best and we have all enjoyed being in your slipstream.

  17. Glibness/superficial charm

    Grandiose sense of self-worth

    Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom

    Pathological lying

    Conning/manipulative

    Lack of remorse or guilt

    Shallow affect (i.e., reduced emotional responses)

    Callous/lack of empathy

    Parasitic lifestyle

    Poor behavioral controls

    Promiscuous sexual behavior

    Early behavioral problems

    Lack of realistic, long-term goals

    Impulsivity

    Irresponsibility

    Failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions

    Many short-term marital relationships

    Juvenile delinquency

    Wow. Never realized before. . Almost all fit. Psych. Today on psychopathy

  18. I don’t know who originally said “What other people think of me is none of my business.” It is easy to get sucked into someone else’s BS. I’m glad you have reset your boundaries. I stop following when stuff gets nasty. I don’t allow it in my own life. I’ve been fascinated by your writing about your friendship with Moise. Don’t apologize for it. Maybe you will help other men figure out how to form male friendships. Most of my female friends say the same thing about their husbands… he doesn’t have guy friends. Friendship is so important. Best of luck to you. So glad you have gotten back to your purpose and passion.

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