It was 2:16 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. I was hunched in front of my computer in a baggy T-shirt, no pants on, furiously pounding away at my keyboard. Line after line after line of angry, black text appeared as fast as my acrylic nails would allow me to type them. I thought about how I would burn Facebook to the ground if I had a chance to as I hammered out an angry, senior thesis-worthy response to yet another insecure, straight man who was complaining in a Subtle Asian Dating post about how women deserved to be nothing but sex dolls because no “female” wanted to date him. (And yes, if you’re wondering — those men really do exist.)
The problem with you — I punched, pupils dilated, breath heavy, heart racing — is that you blame women for rejecting you. You make these incredibly misogynistic comments, and yet you think the problem lies within other women for rejecting you? And then you make a post on a public dating group not only objectifying women but reducing their value to sex? I can’t imagine the way you treat your mother, seeing that you’re reducing her value to —
Record scratch. Freeze frame.
What was I doing?
This wasn’t the first time I found myself spitting out words in retaliation to some pixelated profile in the dead of night, when I had far better things to do. I could’ve been catching up on the pile of readings I’d neglected, reviewing Chinese terms or, even better, sleeping. It was, after all, past 2:00 in the morning. And it wasn’t like I was going to remember this one Facebook comment thread in a week, either.
Yeah, what was I doing?
Facebook comments targeted at or specifically about a certain group of people, politics or quite honestly anything that might be of a sensitive topic to people often end up in a massive trainwreck of arguments following the comments. Sometimes people are genuinely passionate about the things they’re arguing about. Other times people are just looking to waste your time or start a fight. Or they’re just trolling you. You get the point.
My point is, pick your battles. Your words have a lot of power, and quite honestly, using them on an online troll is not the best way to use them. Fighting an online troll only wastes time because, chances are, no one will walk out of the debate with a changed perspective. In fact, most of the time, the debate will end up in name-calling and some sort of aggressive attempt at a personal insult.
There are better ways of having discussions, and picking where you decide to project (or respond to someone else’s projections) is one way of ensuring that the debate is worth something somewhat productive in the end. The people you choose to debate with also matter — don’t waste your time explaining gay rights to someone with a Confederate flag in their profile picture. Think about all the different ways you could elevate that discussion with someone who is open to listening to you. Think about how productive the exchange of ideas would be if you spoke about them with someone who is equally as receptive as you are — someone who would be willing to take the topic and discussion seriously.
And sure, this seems like a low bar to set for people, but use it as a way to pick the people you choose to engage with. Pick your own battles based on what you can get out of other people — don’t stunt your own growth stooping down to talk to people who aren’t worth your time.
This metaphorical pick-and-choose-your-battles applies beyond Facebook trolls and keyboard warriors. Remember that you don’t have an endless amount of time; you must choose who, when and what to engage with.
I’m not saying to only do things you find important or enjoy, I’m saying to not dwell too much over smaller, more superficial things that are out of your control. Did a car cut you off while driving? Just keep your eyes on the road and let it go. Did a friend seemingly take their bad day out on you? Text them to show your support and check in the next day. Did you fail your midterm? It’s one exam in one class — you’ll be at Hopkins for four years, and you will be okay.
These are small, trivial things that may seem like the world’s biggest problem in the heat of the moment, but think about it — will you remember these in a week? A month? What about a year?
You have more control over instances and general things in your life — all you have to do is figure out what’s worth your time and what isn’t. Will these little things matter as much to you now as it does in the future? If the answer is no, then relax, look away and move on. You have more choice than you realize when it comes to issues, whether that’s something as depressing as a failed exam or as annoying as a stupid Facebook troll. You even have a choice to adopt this mindset or not — which will you choose?