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By Tracy Bennett
When I was in fifth grade, I got a Snoopy autograph book to commemorate my move to the fifth school since starting kindergarten. Although I was nervous, it would mark another opportunity for resilience in my life of many shifting directions. I loved that autograph book with its padded glossy cover and subtle rainbow of pastel pages. I took it to school and asked my friends to autograph it for me, and for the most part, they left kind comments.
How sweet is it that a kid’s first instinct is to be complimentary and polite. Especially at 11 years old, it seems to be a bit of a miracle that my vulnerable request for a wish-you-well wasn’t ruined with a trollish comment. Perhaps they were more innocent days then. Or maybe it’s because those kids had to see my eager face when they handed me back my treasured autograph book and would not have risked seeing me hurt. For today’s kids, though, the sting of the loveless troll happens soon after they start using social media.
Anonymity and immediate access turns the Internet into Lord of the Flies. Online reviews and comment sections reflect a shameful display of the worst of what it is to be human. Not that haters are new. After all, even Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and Jesus Christ had haters. But let me tell you a story about how, just because there’s a time-honored tradition, doesn’t mean being an a-hole is acceptable, even if you think it’s in the self-righteous name of kindness.
In our community lives a proud, elderly rancher who owns a feed store. We will call him Ben. He’s the kind of man who serves customers sunrise to sunset without complaint and still has time leftover to volunteer for kids. If you need to know how to care for your first bunny, just stop by and he’ll give you all the free guidance you need. Hold a chick? He’s your guy.
Every single time we’ve visited over the years, and that’s often, he encourages my kids to give their mom a hug and say, “I love you,” which he promptly rewards with a grin and handful of chocolate. He even lets you return your chick weeks later if it turns out you nurtured a rooster. All in all, from my view as his frequent customer, Ben is an amazing man.
One day I got messaged from a friend who said Ben got an unpleasant Yelp review about his business. His only review at that, go figure. Why do only the complainers leave online reviews?
It turns out that an animal lover came by his store and saw a calf out in the rain. After insisting that the worker at the desk craft a shelter for the calf (keep in mind it was 65 degrees), the customer returned to build it himself. He then posted a scathing review about how the store owner, Ben, is cruel to animals.
Now, if you frequent the store as often as we do, you’d realize that that calf is named Princess and is perhaps the most spoiled animal alive. She was orphaned young, so the store owner brought her to work to hang out at the neighboring veterinary hospital’s back yard. She comes when called to get her treats and is visited by the little ones of the town often. It’s arguable whether or not calves need a roof on a sprinkling Southern California day, but honestly, she usually has one.
It turned out that that was one of those rare moments Ben wasn’t even manning the store. What was seemingly an attempt to champion a soggy calf ended up hurting a hard-working store owner with decades of generous service under his belt. Rumor had it that Ben teared up when he read the Yelp review (although he’d deny it). So in defense of Ben, I and some other customers posted what this feed store really means to our kids and the community.
We quickly watered down that one star with love and loyalty. The next time my kids went in to pet the chicks and shyly accept their chocolate, he looked at me with a twinkle and reminded me what’s really important in this life: that we must be careful how we champion those who are wronged and sing even louder for those who love. It was a beautiful lesson for my kids to return Ben’s kindness.
Next time you want to rant about your bad day online, remember that there’s a real person with years of invested sweat and tears on the other side. Maybe your time would be better spent being a champion to those who did go the extra mile for you rather than tearing those down who didn’t.
And if you’re stinging from a cyberbullying comment by a loveless troll, remember what Winston Churchill once said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
This article is dedicated to those who nurture themselves as well as others and for the courage to follow your dreams. Drown out the trolls by posting some well-earned 5 star reviews today. It matters. And if you’re a parent, keep your eye out for social media apps that allow anonymity or a false alias. They are a cyberbully’s paradise, and your child won’t recognize the sting of the loveless troll unless they’re already hurting from it.
About Tracy Bennett
I am a grateful mother of three feisty kids, a psychologist, and a university professor. My passion is soaking in the beautiful chaos of my busy home and helping GetKidsInternetSafe (because I hear the inside stories why we need it)!
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