Please Don’t Feed the Trolls

by | Mar 4, 2022 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

In the language of the internet, a troll is a person who makes inflammatory, insincere, or otherwise off-topic comments in a social setting. They hope to provoke others into emotional responses or manipulate another’s perception.

Trolling has roots in Scandinavian folklore, children’s tales: antisocial, quarrelsome, and slow-witted creatures which make life difficult for travelers.

Today we certainly have no lack of trolls in civic … and ecclesiastical circles.

New Testament trolls

I never thought of the many times Jesus faced trolls. But think about how often various groups, especially Pharisees, would ask “questions” trying to trap Jesus or “test him.” That sure sounds like some form of trolling.

Jesus’s opponents see his impact. They want to stop it. And their trolling does not stop with his public ministry. Even on the Cross people taunt him, with one Gospel even repeating the “Ha ha’s” that people say while he’s dying.

How Pope Francis responded recently

The Vatican website published the transcript of the pope’s remarks after what could be called a trolling incident. Pope Francis said:

“A few minutes ago, we heard a person shouting, shouting, who had some kind of problem; I don’t know if it was physical, psychological, spiritual, but it’s one of our brothers in trouble. I would like to end by praying for him, our brother who is suffering, poor thing. If he was shouting it is because he is suffering, he has some need. Let us not be deaf to this brother’s need. Let us pray together to Our Lady for him: Hail Mary ….”

Lessons from Jesus

Here are some insights gleaned from the internet. Jesus is unthreatened by trolls. He is free of the need to be loved, liked, or even approved of. He continues with infinite patience.

He practices discernment. Jesus does different things at different times.

First, sometimes when people such as his kinsmen in Nazareth are against him, he simply evades him. “He passed through their midst”! (Like 4)

Second, sometimes, he rebuts people. He tells Judas to his face that what he’s saying is simply absurd. (Mark 14)

And third, sometimes he says nothing as he does with Pilate. (Luke 23) Who knows if Pilate really cares about truth or not? Or if he’s just goading Jesus.

In each situation, Jesus discerns what the right course of action might be. That’s a good model for all of us who deal with that kind of absurd negativity in the church and in society. Discernment is key.

Jesus presses forward with his mission

He continues to proclaim his Father’s compassionate love. His trolls sometimes get an answer, sometimes don’t, and sometimes prompt Jesus to walk away. Nothing stops him from his mission, not even the threat of the Cross.

With Jesus, we have our answer in how to deal with irrational negativity: fidelity, perseverance, courage. He does not yield before the worst that they can give him, even on the Cross.

What enables him to do this? His relationship with the Father ultimately vindicates him with the Resurrection. And then even the final troll, death, can’t win.

If you’re faced with negativity whether in person or online, in the church, in your family, in the workplace, in the larger society … take your cue from Jesus. Be free of the need to be liked, discern what to do, and then carry on with your wider mission.

How do we respond to trolls?

  • Am I free of the need to be liked?
  • Do we keep moving forward with our mission of being and bringing Good News”?

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk