Online Self-Defense

On Monday, I was called an antisemitic whore. Yesterday, I was told twice to go f*** myself. It’s turning into an eventful week, and I can’t wait to see what today brings.

I’ve written before about trying to apply Sanchin-Ryu (karate) to other areas of my life, particularly my writing. Some of my interactions this month have gotten me thinking about how those principles of self-defense might apply online.

Take yesterday as an example. Over on Twitter, I posted, “Dear white folks trying to defend, justify, or minimize the shooting of an unarmed black kid. Please just shut the hell up already.”

I knew perfectly well that this will piss some people off. (I’m amazed I haven’t yet been accused of censoring or hating free speech.) “Please shut the hell up” is an aggressive statement, and given the public nature of the internet and the number of people following me online, I know some will get angry and tell me to go f*** myself. The question is what I do next.

Walk away. It is really hard to walk away from someone being wrong on the internet. It’s hard to recognize that I have a choice about whether to give someone my time and energy. I’ve only got so much; why should I spend it on this clown?

There’s a part of me that wants to DEFEAT ALL THE OPPONENTS, but that’s just ego:

“Hines, you’re nothing but a punk, and I should kick your ass!”

“Avast, random internet person! You smell like goblin farts, and I shall pwn you like Éowyn pwned the Witch-king of Angmar!”1

What’s the point? Is my ego so insecure that I can’t tolerate one person hating on me? If so, I probably ought to get out of the writing biz. Or am I worried my readers will see this person’s Frothing Tweets of Hines-Hate and say, “By the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s meaty balls, he’s right! Jim C. Hines is a punk with a highly kickable ass! I bite my thumbs at him, and shall never read his books again!”

If the only reason to engage is to soothe my injured ego, then I need to walk away. If I have so little faith in my friends and readers, then that’s my problem, one I have to work on.

But sometimes walking away doesn’t work. Sometimes people bring the fight to you, whether it’s a bully who follows you after school or a troll who comes to your site to attack you and others.

Everything begins with stance and breathing. If someone hits me, I can’t strike back effectively until I regain my balance. If I try, I’m going to end up flailing around like a Muppet gone wild.

In a real fight, I’ll have little time to take a breath, settle into a stance, and take control of the situation. I train so that this will become automatic. Online, I usually have more time to regain my balance. The trick — the thing I always struggle with — is remembering to take that time, to just breathe and get past the initial HULK SMASH adrenaline rush.

Don’t react. Act. Monday night, I was working with a sensei who talked about controlling the pace of a fight by deliberately slowing your strikes. The opponent will follow suit to match your speed, and you can start to speed the other person up or slow them down with your own actions.

If I swear and yell and go ALL-CAPS on someone just because that’s how they wrote to me, then they’re controlling the interaction. The hell with that. If I choose to respond in kind, that’s one thing. But I’ve also had success online by responding in different ways, at which point the other person changes their replies to match mine. Suddenly I’m controlling the interaction and determining how things will go.

It’s hard. When someone punches me, I want to punch back twice as hard. But I think back to another sensei describing an interaction where the other person threw the first punch. The sensei howled, “I think you broke my ribs!” and hobbled away, hamming up his injury for the whole crowd.

He was fine. He knew how to take a punch. He could have broken his opponent into bite-sized snacks. But he didn’t have to. Instead, he took his opponent’s mental balance and ended the fight just like that.

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Confronting is not the same as fighting. Speaking out is a form of confrontation, and I think it’s important. And sometimes, confrontation does lead to fighting. But if that happens, I want it to be my choice, and I want to make that choice for (in my opinion) the right reasons.

If someone is abusive to me or others on my blog, I’ll step in to end that behavior. If a stranger talks crap at or about me on Twitter, I need to recognize that they’re probably not worth my time or energy.

These are all things I’m struggling with, and posting these ideas  doesn’t mean I’ve learned to live them yet.

Thoughts and comments are welcome, as usual.

  1. Yeah, I really need to work on my trash talk. But at least I’m using pwned correctly!