Conversations With People Who Hate Me: 12 Things I Learned from Talking to Internet Strangers is one of those books I’m going to be yelling about for a long time to come. It is thoughtful and thought-provoking.
As a liberal leaning very online person, I have been aware of Dylan Marron for several years and have heard his TED Talk about receiving hate online. In his book, he takes us through first how he got online and why he was creating the content he was creating, and then the process of how he moved from making snarky videos to talking to the people who sent him negative comments. Along the way, he thinks about how he is engaging with the world and how he has framed his detractors as The Other. He considers the words “hate” and “troll” and grapples with whether he feels comfortable using them.
My guests are more than what they have said about me, so how can I see them, these three-dimensional humans, as “trolls”? They don’t live under a bridge. Their entire lives are not built around tormenting the villagers. On the contrary, they are fellow villagers.”
Empathy for The Other has come up in conversation a lot since the 2016 election and again in different ways since the politicization of the pandemic. Marron’s struggles around empathy and it’s appropriateness gave me a lot to think about. He reflects on what his mother said when he was growing up, “hurt people hurt people” and the way he has used that as a coping mechanism when faced with bad behavior from others. That coping mechanism, imagining a sympathetic backstory for people who were unpleasant to him, gave him the foundation for initiating his podcast, but was it the right thing to do? Is he right to assume that the people who sent him nasty messages act from a place of pain? Does bonding over shared hurts help heal a fractured world? Is he being complicit in oppression? He values the individual connections he forms in his conversations, while also disagreeing with and seeing the harm in many of their beliefs. His dilemma around this project stymied his efforts to write this book. I appreciated that he questioned himself on everything.
Dylan Marron holds himself accountable in a variety of ways, some of which made me a little uncomfortable with myself. Argument is one of my love languages, but I know that argument isn’t a good way to build bridges with the vast majority of humans (the couple of other people in the world who also thrive on argument are either related to me or are one of my best friends). Intellectually I understand this, but the process and conversations that Marron explores are helping me reframe my own thinking about about how I advocate my own strongly held beliefs.
Conversations With People Who Hate Me is wonderfully nuanced. None of the issues that Marron tackles are simple. Communication is hard. Remembering that the people who disagree with us are human too is hard. Especially when that disagreement is over our safety and dignity.
Some people are going to be disappointed that there is not a bullet list of 12 lessons that Dylan Marron learned that we can then apply like a pattern to our own lives. But that would be missing the point.
CW: the hateful messages that Marron and others received online include death threats, homophobia, and misogyny. Discussions of bullying and sexual assault
I received this as an advance reader copy from Atria Books via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.