How to Love Your Haters


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Dear Ming,

I wanted to write you this letter regarding all the trolls and “haters” you have been getting over on your blog. I have a lot of advice for you– advice that has helped me deal with all the negativity on the internet. None of this is meant to sound preachy at all. We both deal with the same issues, and this is advice that has helped me, and I wish to help you too, my brother.

First of all, I know getting trolled sucks. It is really shitty. You put in all this effort, energy, love, sweat, blood, and tears into your posts, and people still have something negative to say.

Out of all the photography blogs on the internet, there is none as comprehensive and in-depth as yours. Sometimes I read your articles, and I think to myself, “How the hell does he blog so prolifically, while still doing editorial work, flying all around the world, taking care of his family, answering 200+ emails a day, make powerful images, respond to every comment, without doing cocaine?”

I say this as a compliment. There is no harder hustler in the photography blog-o-sphere than you. I truly admire you pursuing your passion in photography as well. Having worked in the corporate world of bullshit, office politics, and the chase of money — I know how difficult it is to hustle as an entrepreneur.

First, I would take it as a badge of honor that you have all these trolls on your blog. It is a huge sign of your success, and honestly– most of this negativity comes from jealousy. Think about all the people in the world who would love to be in your shoes. You are artistically gifted, a shrewd businessman, a hustling entrepreneur, a prolific writer, and someone constantly pushing his boundaries. Most people are dissatisfied with their lives, being stuck in a cubicle. They are insecure about their lives and their photography, and they simply project their frustrations upon you. When you are such an influential person on the internet, it is easy for people to throw punches as you. As photography bloggers, we are easy punching bags (unfortunately).

But also know that if you weren’t successful and doing such a good job, nobody would be trolling you. After all, at the end of the day, you only have two options in life: to either be judged (usually negatively) or ignored. I think it is much better to be ignored.

Secondly, I know this is really fucking difficult, but think about the positive people who love and support what you do, rather than the trolls. Trust me, I’m the same– one negative comment can cancel out ten positive comments. But at the end of the day, if you can touch and inspire one individual, it is all worth it.

I know that sometimes it is hard to visualize the positive impact you have on the world and society. You talk a lot about gear, but you do it from a unique standpoint that you emphasize that both the gear and your artistic vision is important. A painter can’t paint without knowledge of different brushes and different paint mediums such as acrylic, oil, or watercolor. Whoever think that you are a “gearhead” is obviously missing the point.

I think at the same time, you are concerned and worried about having people getting the wrong idea; that photography is more about the gear, rather than the art of photography. Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to give people GAS whenever you write a camera review. That’s the nature of the beast though; you are going to help people who are curious about a new camera, but at the same time, you’re going to cause dissatisfaction with people who don’t have the newest and greatest equipment. That’s why I personally try not to blog about gear much anymore, as gear is constantly being outdated, and at the end of the day, all cameras are more similar than dissimilar.

I think your best articles are the ones in which photographers 200 years from now will find value in. Your articles on creativity, inspiration, and travel are the ones which inspire me the most. I also feel that perhaps moving forward, focus more on these. You are a guy who has such limited time anyways; I also know that you’re more passionate about teaching and spreading the love of photography (not just the gear).

Another tip that has helped me deal with negative people online (and offline); imagine them like barking dogs.

Have you ever walked on the streets and a dog started to bark at you for no reason? Does that bother or piss you off? Of course not. Why not? The dog is just a dog; it doesn’t know any better.

Similarly, have you been on a plane and there is an annoying baby crying? Does that bother you? Yeah definitely, it disturbs your sleep, and peace of mind. But do you blame the baby or get angry at the baby? Of course not. Why not? Because the baby doesn’t know any better.
Similarly, some adult human beings are also like crying babies. Imagine all of these negative trolls online like little babies crying and pounding away at the keyboard. Visualize how hilarious that looks, and it will make you laugh at negative comments or emails, rather than make you feel frustrated, upset, or depressed.

Another piece of advice that my friend Mijonju told me, who probably get 10x more trolls than I do on YouTube:

Have you ever been on the bus or subway, and there is a random crazy homeless guy (or psychologically unstable person) who randomly comes up to you, and yells at you while waving his hands? If so, how does that make you feel? For me, I just look at him weird and not take it personally. Why don’t I take it personally? Because he is crazy, and probably does that to everybody. I just happened to be a random target. I then just try to ignore what happened, and carry on with my day.

Similarly, I honestly think a lot of people have some serious psychological problems. You never know if this online troll is bipolar, just experienced a death in the family, had a partner or spouse leave (or cheat on them), or whatnot. If you think of your trolls as sad, lonely, depressed, angry, or frustrated brothers and sisters, you will pity them and feel bad for the instead of feeling anger or resentment towards them.

Let me tell you a story. I’ve always wondered about the psychology of “haters” out there, and have discovered some interesting insights about humanity.

This one time, I received a really negative comment on one of my articles. The user name was like something like “Eric Kim is a con artist” and the comment read: “Eric Kim is rubbish. His street photography fucking sucks, and he is a horrible human being. He is a con artist, and anybody who signs up for his workshop is getting ripped off.”

At first my knee jerk reaction was, “What the fuck? Who the hell is this guy, and what did I ever do to him?”

I was curious who this person was, and if they ever left any comments in the past. I use DISQUS to power my comments, and there is a feature which allows you to search comments based on ip address. Funny thing: this guy left 2 comments, one about two years ago, and one as this hateful message. Even funnier? His prior comment was very positive and supportive. Even funnier? He was a street photographer I hugely admired and respected, and even collaborated with in the past before.

I was puzzled. Why would he be so negative and mean to me, when I was never mean or negative to him?

I went to his blog to investigate if everything was okay on his end. Funny enough, I discovered that he started teaching street photography workshops too, and perhaps he saw the workshops I taught as a threat.

So I emailed him, asking him what I ever did to insult or hurt him. I told him how much I respected him, and how much his comment hurt me.

He then replied and profusely apologized, and let me know that he suffered a death in the family, how his girlfriend left him, and how he has been psychologically sick and depressed. He asked me to delete the comment, and please to forgive him.

I did so, and realized an important truth; what others say about you is never about you. It is always about the other person.

Don’t feed the trolls

In a recent post, you wrote an article about your gear, and tried to reiterate how you’re just trying to carry less stuff in the field:

“I am not a gearhead for the sake of it or because I’m obsessed with the gear: it’s because I know what I want/need, and you often don’t know which compromises are workable and which are not until you get the stuff in the field. I’d like to carry less and be more focused, but I don’t want to compromise on image quality or printability. I cannot help but think that like our current government, it’s time for yet another major cabinet reshuffle at MT HQ…I don’t know which direction it’s going to take yet, but there’s more than a niggling feeling there will be both a lot of casualties and some unexpected rationalisations at the end of it.”

Not sure why, but it looked like you had a lot of negative emails and comments. You followed up by writing:

“Coda: There will be one more change. After the number of incredibly rude emails, messages and comments following the recent post, I have decided I am going to stop pulling punches. If you want to troll, go join the rest of your breathen under the bridge at DPR. If you are immature enough that your camera is your religion and you cannot distinguish between objectivity and personal attack, or had parents who never taught the basics of civil interaction, you will be dispatched and banned. If you want to criticise, remember that your own work is also out there for evisceration – or if it isn’t, then you have zero credibility. It seems to be far too easy to forget that the internet does not absolve you of manners and you are a guest here. I do this for free, and I reserve the right to a) stop when this is no longer enjoyable, and b) kick out those who seem to delight in making life a pain for everybody else. That is all.”

I read that follow up from you, and felt your pain. You’re putting in all this work and effort for free; what gives others the right to criticize you? Why don’t they just stop reading your blog, and just move on instead?

But this is what the trolls want; they want you to be negatively hurt. They are like bullies on the playground, they want to see you cry.

I honestly think the best way to deal with negative criticism is to just not acknowledge it, and to ignore it. Yeah I know, easier said than done. But here are some mental models I’ve learned from the master Stoic philosophers which helped me greatly (from my hero, Seneca, who wrote this nearly 2,000 years ago):

Let’s do another thought experiment: if there was something that pissed you off, would you vent your frustrations and anger on a rock? Of course not. Why not? A rock wouldn’t respond, and it would not be worth your time.

Similarly, if you don’t even acknowledge negative criticism, the trolls will eventually go away. Why? They will find it has no effect on you, and they will feel like idiots, and be embarrassed, and love on.

Another tip: self-depreciating humor helps tremendously.

I remember when I was in high school, the worst thing you could call another guy was “gay”, “faggot”, or “fag.” Most guys would be fucking pissed off or hurt when they heard that. I know I did, and I was bullied a fair amount growing up.

But what was the antidote? The next time bullies (or my best friends) would call me a “fag”, I would take the piss out of myself by flicking my wrist (the politically incorrect way to imitate a “gay person”) and say, “So what if I love to suck big black cocks?” Then the bully would be shocked and follow up by saying, “What the fuck? You sick homo” and try to take another blow at me by saying, “Well, I fucked your mom last night!” Instead of getting pissed off, I would just give him a weird look and say,  “Dude, that’s pretty gross. If you like to fuck old women, good for you.” Then the bully would look like an idiot, feel embarrassed, and move on.

So similarly, you have no need to “defend” yourself regarding being a gearhead or whatever. There is also no need for you to write a disclaimer and publicly state that you’re not a gearhead. Why not? Because you know you’re not.

It’s almost like writing an article and saying at the end of the article, “By the way, I’m not black, I’m Asian.” Anyone who thinks that you’re black is either a) Colorblind, or b) Confused.

Perhaps the next time someone insults you or calls you a “gear head” just try out self depreciating humor. Instead of defending yourself, just say something like, “I like to collect Ferrari’s too.” Or say, “But all of my cameras keep me warm at night.” Or if anyone insults your writing style, you can say, “I’m also a horrible cook” (I’ve used this one before).

Don’t ruin your own self serenity

At the end of the day, insults are nothing but words. And what are words? Simply vibrations in the air. How can vibrating air hurt you physically? Any sort of mental anguish you get is more of how you process that information and interpret it. Take away your interpretation of a negative criticism and the pain goes away.

What is a negative criticism or hateful comment in reality? If people write you a hateful email, break it down into physical elements. The “hater” is nothing but an ape-like creature with these appendages called “fingers”. These fingers of his (or hers) will be moving through the air, and hitting little plastic squares called a “keyboard”. This keyboard will then interpret these keys into 1’s and 0’s and input them into the computer. The computer will then decipher this into words, and sentences. Then the email provider will once again interpret this data and relay it into your inbox. Then when you open up the email and read it know that the words you read are nothing but 1’s and 0’s. How can numbers hurt you or have any negative impact on you?

Ultimately you can’t control whether or not people will say negative things about you. But what you can ultimately control is how you interpret what others say about you in either a positive or negative way.

I also have another personal rule (that once again, I learned from Seneca). The rule in ancient times was this: wait at least 1 day before deciding to beat your slave. In modern times I interpret it is as this: wait at least 1 day before responding to a negative comment or email. This way, it helps me be more objective when responding, than emotional.

Usually after waiting one day the sting from the negative comment goes away and there is no longer any need to respond. In the cases that I do want to respond, I try to treat the “hater” as a person as a benevolent teacher, and try to convert them from an enemy to a friend.

So I’ll respond by telling them that I appreciate their message, and appreciate their love and consideration for trying to help me. I then say that I’ll try to incorporate their feedback into future articles I write, and for them to please continue giving me “constructive feedback.” I then end the email with a smile face and tell them to take care, to continue their passion in photography, and give their loved one a hug (no matter how nasty someone is, there is still people they love and care about).

What usually happens? They either never respond or they respond and apologize for being harsh, and they end up being positive and supportive. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Another practical tip: wait at least a week before reading any of the comments on your blog. This is what I do. Why?

When you write something immediately, you’re emotionally attached to what you wrote. Inevitably there will be at least 1 negative comment or critique. So by waiting at least a week before reading comments you can focus on future articles you want to write, while also considering your reader’s feedback. Not only that, but you can be more objective when considering reader feedback. The two comments you usually get on the blog are either people who say a) “You’re awesome!” or b) “You suck!”. Both are equally useless. So don’t be too overjoyed when getting a positive comment, yet don’t be too gloomy when getting a negative criticism.

Getting elbowed

Have you ever been walking somewhere, and someone accidentally elbowed you in the back of the head? Yeah it sucks. It hurts. But you don’t get angry at the person because it was an honest mistake or accident.

I feel there are also a lot of people out there that “accidentally” hurt you from their feedback. Some people have asperger’s syndrome, or are slightly autistic and have a difficulty understanding the feelings of others, or “social tact.” But what if they are a “normally functioning” person, that isn’t diagnosed with any mental illness? It technically doesn’t matter, because they obviously have something wrong with their mind if they spew negative hate on you.

That is all the advice I have at the moment. If I come up with more ideas, I’ll send them over.

But yeah man, what you’re doing is fucking awesome. You’re living the dream life, a life that many envy and wish they lived. Be grateful for the privileged position you have. You’ll always have “haters” no matter what. Even the Beatles, Picasso, Andy Warhol, and all the great artists have had “haters.” Even the most noble people in history who had no malice towards anybody (Jesus, Socrates, Gandhi) had “haters” and we’re killed for their beliefs. Consider us lucky, we will never be killed for our beliefs (hopefully), the worse is that people might spit upon us or call us bad names. But how can the drool or barking of a dog hurt us? Treat the haters like dogs that need love, support, and rehabilitation. Haters are just sad and lost souls that need a hug. Because at the end of the day, no matter how negative a person is, they still desire two things in their life: a) To avoid pain and suffering and b) To be loved and appreciated.

I wish I could wear a shirt that says, “I love my haters” and whenever someone said anyone negative about me, I could meet them up for a coffee and just “hug it out” with them. In fact I have met many “haters” of mine in real life, and after some fried chicken and beer, we became good friends. Not only that, but these once “enemies” have turned into my most loyal friends.

So carry on and do the amazing work that you do. You are never going to please everybody. But as a fellow “blogger” to you, I highly admire you and what you do. You are an inspiration to me, and know that I am one of  your fans. And at the end of the day, even an audience of one is sufficient.

Also know that I’m always here to love and support you. You are a fellow brother, and as much as we hate to admit it, all of our readers (the positive and negative ones) are also our brothers and sisters in this journey of life.

So keep smiling, and whenever you get any more future negative criticisms, don’t forget to continue to smile and thank your haters.

Let’s meet up the next time I visit Kuala Lumpur, let’s have some nasi lemak, a nice espresso, and I’ll tell you face-to-face how much of a “gear head” you are ;)

Lots of love at 50,000 feet in the air (in transit from London to Stockholm),


P.S. next time try out Norwegian air, they have free wifi onboard! And the soy “flat white” from Pret-a-manger isn’t too bad either. 7:34am, 8/24/2015

You might also like these other other articles I wrote as a form of self-therapy:

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