On December 28, last year, Sarah Silverman had a brilliant exchange with a troll on her Twitter account, and you've probably seen the articles about it. I'm catching up! What can I say? I so loved her responses and the leadership they showed, that I wanted to copy them here for you so that you can read the whole beginning (there's more after this, in which people band together to get help for Jeremy).
I often see questions from women entrepreneurs about how to handle trolls. Usually, the advice they have gotten is to delete the trolling comments (if possible) or ignore them. This is not bad advice, and you have no obligation to engage with a harasser - often it is a bad idea.
For women who are already at a high level of leadership in their career, especially when they own their own business, I give slightly different advice, and the reason is exactly what happened between Sarah Silverman and Jeremy below - for both people. The 5 brilliant things she does in this exchange are (1) show leadership, (2) use her intuition, (3) teach what she knows, (4) stay in charge of her own self-image, and (5) advocate.
1. Silverman Shows Leadership.
Now, when I first read this, I was not totally sure if Silverman was being sarcastic and poking him or being genuine. But, her comment "My back F*cking sux too" makes it clear she is being upfront. Whatever she's seen of him, she can tell he is a person, and she establishes a point where she can identify with him against a common enemy - backs suck.
Rather than ignore or delete Jeremy's tweet, Silverman immediately encounters this man from a place of power. I call this a place of power because it is clear that Silverman knows there is nothing this internet troll can do to influence her feelings, but she reaches out and gives him the opportunity to do better.
When I see companies deleting negative reviews or comments with disagreements, it often seems to me like the company has something to hide and secretly agrees with the comment. No, it is not a woman's job to engage with every harasser, and it is especially not our job to take care of our harassers' feelings. Sometimes, deleting or ignoring a comment is the best way for us to take care of ourselves or there is not a positive way to engage with a troll.
But, when we tie our feelings to having all positive feedback, it gives away all of our power. Silverman shows us here that she could receive the insult and be curious about where it came from. She knew it meant something about Jeremey, and nothing about her.
2. Silverman Used Her Intuition.
And BAM, she hit where he was coming from right away. The fact that she took a leadership stance, rather than a victim stance, held space for this troll to become a real human with incredibly compelling history.
In each of these posts, Silverman continues to just be curious about Jeremy and what his posting means about him. She knows that him insulting her only reveals his own self-destructive thinking.
She is also willing to go into her next intuitive guess about what's going on with this guy and why he was willing to harass her.
3. Silverman Teaches.
This post is so key. I see so often intuitive healers, coaches, counselors, and other healers miss opportunities like this to engage in a real way with someone in pain. The key to why Silverman could do this without putting herself in danger is that she stayed in a leadership roll the entire time. She never put Jeremy in charge of what she thought about herself or even of the conversation. His first post showed he wasn't up to that.
She uses this opportunity to teach him (and us) tools that have clearly been key in her own life experience.
Often, when we have a hater on the internet, we somehow assume that person has power. Someone yells "C*nt!" and our reptile brain, no matter how wrong we know it is, goes to, "OMG everyone is going to agree with this person and realize what a broken, damaged, pathetic loser I am!" Haters on the internet really have no power until we agree with them. Their pushback can often be a door to clarifying our business purpose and at least clarifying our self-respect. If you stay in integrity and are the leader of your business, they are giving you an opportunity to lead.
4. Silverman Stays in Charge of Her Own Self-Image.
She knows that him calling her a name means something about him, not something about her. She does not punish herself for his bad behavior. This not only puts her in a powerful place, but it also allows him to change and apologize. She is holding complete space for his trauma.
Because she understood that Jeremy's post was about himself and his own self-sabotage, she explains that she was able to be curious about where he was coming from. Now, Silverman's leadership in this conversation is very different than trying to change our behavior or make ourselves small to try to get our harassers to stop harassing us. At no point is she manipulating Jeremy. Instead, she is leading him. Because she starts from a place of power, she is able to be curious about the pain in his life and speak to that.
5. Silverman Advocates.
It is so easy in a harassing situation to believe that advocating for ourselves means advocating AGAINST our harasser. It totally makes sense when we believe that, and I am not criticizing anyone about it because our brains start to focus on how we can stay safe and protect ourselves from future harassment. That usually means that we start focusing on how we can manage our harasser's behavior and make sure he changes it.
Here is the problem with that: it puts our energy and focus on our harasser. And, he doesn't deserve it. You deserve your energy; you deserve your attention. Energy you are putting into advocating against him will probably work in his favor - he may learn a lesson from it. But, it is still energy you are giving him.
Imagine Silverman's tweets if she had become (reasonably) defensive or afraid. They might have looked like, "I am not a c*nt. I am a great comedian! One of the best comedians! Everyone says so!" And then they could have engaged in a struggle against each other. Or, she might have deleted the tweet and spent hours going over how hurtful it was with her best friend. (Can you delete tweets? Reported it, I guess.)
Now, don't get me wrong, sometimes I like to fight with someone unreasonable or complain to my best friend just for fun, and I have nothing against anyone doing that.
But, there is a big difference between feeling powerless with the energy a troll brings to the table and using that energy towards your purpose.
Silverman used Jeremy's energy towards her purpose, which let her advocate for both of them.