Letter to the blog: Trolls


“Troll” seems to be a word that people assume has one definition. I also assumed this until I did a little bit of looking online at the various definitions provided. Now I’m not so sure. In my mind, it has always been the person who stirs the pot, or as Scott said, to inflame. Sometimes it is done in a manner that has currently been getting a lot of traction, in a way that is “uncivil”. You don’t like that and I get it, but I just want to take two minutes to make the case for pot-stirrers and sh*t-disturbers. I will also briefly make a case for why we shouldn’t make too big a thing about whether it’s done in a “civil” way or not.
When you consider the metaphor being used as a key part of your description of a troll, you can readily see that “to inflame” has a necessary role to play in our continued health. If a part of your body is inflamed, you bloody well know that there’s something wrong and you better pay attention. Your inflamed toenail is saying “Look at me! I’m trying to fix a problem here but I’m going to need help. Stop looking at your phone and contact a pharmacist.”
I am not saying anything new here that hasn’t been said much better by others. The point is that sometimes we get into our bubbles and confirmation bias takes over. We are used to “System 1” thinking, as described by Nobel Memorial Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman in his excellent book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. It’s the fast thinking. The thinking that is automatic, emotional and unconscious. “System 2” thinking is slow, effortful and conscious.
Our bubbles can be populated by folks that are prone to identifying with the group. Many organizations today make this part of their description of who they are, “we are team-players!” Of course, the ability to be a team-player is a desirable trait in many cases. However, if the understanding of the team-players is that they must never rock the boat or point out the Emperor’s lack of clothes, that understanding is going to be part of a problem. Sometimes the person who asks the unwelcome questions or presents a contrasting point of view is viewed as a sh*t-disturber or a “troll”. Yes, the organizational positive vibes might have to deal with a little dissonance, but in many cases the dissonance can lead to a deeper understanding and warn of unsuspected pitfalls that can be avoided with some “System 2” thinking.
I’m not going to belabor that idea any longer unless someone wishes to engage in further discussion about it. The second point has to do with the current public conversation regarding whether we must always remain polite and courteous (civil) in sharing our points of view. I will readily agree that it is nicer if people do so. Having just watched the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about the life and legacy of the truly wonderful man, Fred Rogers, I can see the appeal of the insistence on neighborliness. It undoubtedly can be an effective way to communicate ideas. The problem is that when the emphasis is on the appearance of civility, much toxicity, like that of the inflamed toe, remains unseen. If left untreated, it grows more purulent and invasive. If we insist that people only communicate with one another in a way that is socially-conditioned, we are marginalizing and refusing to hear the voices of those whose pain or frustration needs to be heard lest it become part of a societal malignancy.
I would love to go into these ideas further should someone be interested in a deeper exploration, but I will leave it at this for now.

By Bruce Plante