Image of a yellow warning sign with text Do not feed the troll and fork icon on a keyboard 3D IllustrationWhy can't we all get along? Hmmm. It seems like that's a question tossed around a lot these days. I'll tell you how it came up for me this week shortly.

Do you remember how this term became popular?

On March 3, 1991, four Los Angeles police officers viciously beat Rodney King after a traffic stop. A bystander recorded the beating on his mobile phone. Many people credit the video as the catalyst for the trend of citizens using their phones to film live events as they happen. I don't want to bring up that sad chapter for discussion.

In the original trial, three of the four were found not-guilty. The jury failed to reach a verdict on the fourth. These acquittals set off the Los Angeles riots in the spring of 1992. It was a horrible time for the city and country.

In a federal trial that followed, two of the four officers were found guilty and sent to prison. The other two were acquitted.

During this period, Rodney King participated in many interviews. In one of those interviews, he said the following, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”

The version we hear most often when adapting this saying is the one I used in the title, “why can't we all get along.”

Every time I say this or hear someone say it, I think about that terrible time and Rodney King's plea.

It seems to ring as true today as it did back in 1991 and 1992.

Some background

As many of you know, Money Magazine published an article this week highlighting four sets of parents struggles to deal with addicted sons or daughters. It is the feature article for both the online and print versions. My wife, Cathy, and I were one of those couples.

The writer, Kristen Bahler, read my blog article where we told our story of our son, Jason's addiction. The financial consequences struck her. That is the focus of the article. She did a magnificent job of representing us, and the hard choices parents have to make, both personally and financially.

The comments, feedback, and responses to the article have been overwhelmingly positive.

The PAL Group, whose executive director's family is part of the article, told me they had over one-hundred emails the day the article went live. Forty of those emails were requests to help start meetings in a local area.

As I'm writing this post (Thursday, November 15, 2018) over 1,100 people have read my blog article telling our addiction story this week alone. It is, by far, the most read article on Money with a Purpose. Our hope in putting our stories out there is to help other parents find support. Addiction is an isolating and lonely disease for the addict and their families.

Handling disagreements

There is also a downside to putting yourself out there on a blog. Not everyone will agree with what you say or how you say it. I'm perfectly fine with people who disagree with my thoughts, opinions or how I approach things. At the end of every article I write, I ask readers to provide feedback, comments, and their thoughts on what I've written. I value that feedback and look forward to it.

Some have disagreed with me both publicly and privately on some of what I've written. One of the most debated topics on the blog is about whether a financial advisor has any value in the personal finance space.

Of course, we know they do. The most debated question seems to be over how we get paid. Many bloggers have a visceral reaction toward advisors who get paid under the assets under management arrangement. For those not familiar, that's where an advisor charges the client a percentage of the assets they manage. The typical fee cited is 1%. In simple math, that means an advisor managing a $1 million portfolio would charge the client $10,000 a year.

Some bloggers are passionate in their disdain for this compensation model. Listening to some of their comments, you'd think the advisors were criminals (OK, not really, but they are strong opinions).

Physician bloggers seem to be the most vocal. I get it. The high incomes that come with their professions make them targets for advisors, both good and bad. The bad ones get all the press. That's the way it works. I understand that too.

I've debated with a few of them after reading some of their articles.

Healthy debate

I love having robust, civil discussion about topics on which people disagree. Advisor compensation seems to be at the top of the list of some. I've enjoyed healthy discussions and debates with three physician bloggers for whom I have a great deal of respect. They are Physician on FIRE (PoF), The Physician Philosopher (TPP), and Wealthy Doc.

TPP and I are part of a blogging group. He's a young anesthesiologist that reminds me of myself in my younger days. He has strong opinions and isn't afraid to express them. I respect that. We've debated on Twitter, via email, and in person about the role of advisors and their compensation. I met the Wealthy Doc at FinCon last September and had similar lively discussions.

The Physician on FIRE appeared on a panel at FinCon where someone asked if there was tension between the FIRE bloggers and the financial advice industry. PoF was the only one of the group who had an objective answer. I thanked him for that at the end of the discussion. We've continued to support each other's blogging efforts since meeting. He's one of the most successful physician bloggers and an excellent writer. I appreciate all three of these relationships.

There are many other bloggers that I now call friends as well. As I've written in many articles, the blogging community is a place for healthy discussion where there I find both respect and civility.

Of course, you know there's another side to the story.

Internet trolls

Internet trolls are folks who seem to have nothing better to do with their time than find articles they disagree with and go out of their way to start a fight with the writers. They don't stop with disagreeing with the writer's viewpoint. Their goal is to tear down the writer with character attacks and judgmental comments often disconnected to reality.

Veteran bloggers say that, in many ways, attracting trolls is a rite of passage for a new blogger. It means you have now arrived. According to this theory, this week I have arrived. More on that shortly.

A couple of other blogger friends wrote giving their opinions on the topic. John, who runs the ESI Money, wrote a humorous article on the topic of trolls titled, You Are an Internet Troll. He goes as far as categorizing the trolls and giving examples of each. He quotes some of his responses to the trolls. It's good stuff!

Michael Dinich, another friend, also wrote on the topic. He wrote an article taking to task some in the blogging community. The title of the article was High-Income Bloggers are Ruining Personal Finance. How's that for a controversial topic?

Some in the blogosphere took offense to Michael's viewpoint. His follow up article introduced some of the negative feedback, The subtitle of the article is, It's Worse Than I Thought. The gist of Michael's post was to point out that the high-income bloggers had lost touch with many of their readers. That set up a firestorm that came back to Michael from a few of those bloggers. He highlights some of the feedback and responds.

I'm not sure these fall into the category of trolls. The passion in some of the comments goes beyond the line of civility. It's important that changes.

My internet troll

My troll showed up this week in response to my article about our son's addiction. Here are some highlights:

“What do I think about your rant? I think you really, really want your son to die.” 

How's that for an opening salvo? They continue.

“Maybe you think you’ll look like less of a monster if YOU can succeed at manipulating your readers’ perceptions of your son and his life. Or, maybe your drug is money, and you’re no longer able to grasp a loss that can’t be measured on a balance sheet. Either way, you’re erasing your son’s future, destroying your relationship with him, and, probably, hastening his death.”

When I read the response, my first instinct was to counterattack. Even though I know that wouldn't be appropriate, that was my first reaction. I mean, this person attacked my very character. As I said earlier, I'm all for healthy debate. I encourage and value opinions that differ from mine. I respond to every comment I get on my articles. However, these comments went beyond the pale.

The responder goes on:

“Yet, because you’ve tried to crowdsource your son’s demise, there may still be some hope for him, after all. Perhaps, your rant will reach a person who’s willing and ready to help your son. I can only hope . . .”

Whew! That's some serious rage!

Taking a step back

I forwarded the response to some people I trust and respect to get their thoughts. One was very direct, “DON'T FEED THE TROLLS.” What they want is to start a fight that has no end. Another suggested I be careful not to snuff out opposing views. A third offered, “Yup. That's a mainstream audience for ya.”

Still, I considered responding. As I thought about it, I wondered what would cause such a visceral response. One of my friends suggested the commenter may be an addict themselves. That would make perfect sense. In the throes of their disease, addicts rarely take responsibility for their problems and blame everyone around them. If a parent or other family members cut off contact and support for this person, the reaction would make more sense. It was personal to them.

Another possibility is that the comments came from someone who had been hurt badly by parents who had abandoned or betrayed them. Having experienced betrayal and abandonment in my own life, I could relate to that as well. However, the over-the-top reaction was something I couldn't wrap my head around. Having tried in other situations to have a reasonable dialogue with someone in this state, I decided not to respond and not publish the comment.

The decision proved to be a good one. A short time after the comment highlighted above, the same person commented on another article. That confirmed I was dealing with a troll then. The second article was an inspirational story about a guy who spent ten years in prison beginning at age twenty one. Here was the comment to that post:

“Folks, Bill’s amazing journey was only possible because his family didn’t shun him, the way Mr. Leamnson did with his adopted son. Don’t forget that.”

To the commenter

If you're reading this post, please understand that I will not publish this kind of vitriol. It appears you have a bogus email. I welcome your comment if you're willing to identify yourself and disagree in a way that doesn't attack my character. You inserted yourself into a situation about which you have no understanding. Should you decide to comment on this or any other article the way you did on these two posts,  those comments will never see the light of day.

Oh, and if you're interested, my son and I have a relationship that is better than ever. He knows about and supports me telling our family's story. We told him about, and he supports the Money Magazine article. He is finally ready to seek treatment for his addiction. His probation officer and the prosecuting attorney recently recommended  our son, Jason, enter a long-term treatment program for addicts created by the newly instituted drug court in our county. There is one more step to take before final approval. We are confident he will be accepted. After an eleven plus year battle with this horrid disease, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. He is finally ready

You're likely not interested in that story. It doesn't fit with your narrative. It is, however, the truth. His mother and I are as optimistic as we've ever been about our son's chances of overcoming the disease.

Managing comments

Isn't it funny? The one time I get a crazy comment, it turns into a blog post.

I've had over 500 comments on my blog posts. Most of these came from articles written since publishing the addiction article in June 2018. It's been a blessing that so many people took the time to read and comment.

Here's how I feel about comments. If you take the time to read my content and care enough to comment, I'll take the time to respond.

I can think of only one other comment I didn't approve. That was from someone who offered advice on health supplements offering unsubstantiated data on the efficacy of said supplements. I can't in good conscience publish something like that.

If the day comes when I have a half a million visitors to my blog each month, I may have to revise my commitment to respond to every comment. We have a LONG way to go before getting anywhere near that number.

I'll do my best to publish meaningful, relevant, and helpful content each week. I hope you will continue reading and sharing your thoughts, whether you agree with me or not.

Final thoughts

I want to join Rodney King in his challenge to all of us, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”

And in the times when we don't agree, let's do it such a way that is respectful, even if intense. Let's be willing to hear another's viewpoint before defending our own. It's pretty hard to hear someone's perspective when they're yelling.

Passion is OK. I'm a passionate person. When passion crosses the line into character assault and personal attack, it's not OK. Don't we get enough of that from our politicians? We see it with neighbors fighting with neighbors. Isn't it plastered continuously all over the media? Sadly, that's what sells.

We can do better. You, my loyal readers, are a great example of how to do it.


Now it's your turn. Was I off base in how I handled this commenter? Should I have responded? I'd love to hear about any experience you've had of this nature. The floor is yours!