This is the story of how I stopped being a troll.
It starts on a Monday night, which is the night of the week that a group of kids comes to my house. We eat cookies, drink hot beverages, and talk.
I say “kids” even though most of them are, technically, adults, but I’m old enough to be the father of any of them. I should immediately also point out that my wife Jenny is not old enough to be their mom, but they call her “Mama J” anyway. They don’t have a nickname for me. Not yet.
Some of our participants call it a “Bible study,” although that too is not technically correct. Basically, we choose a topic at random and exchange ideas. We’ve discussed deep and personal things like depression and suicide, pondered heady subjects like existentialism, delved into familial and romantic relationships, and wondered whether grown-ups are allowed to do the silly things that children do. I think the reason it’s called a Bible study is because the conversation always seems to wend its way into some biblical wisdom, so maybe the name is appropriate.
During one of these meetings, I shared a personal philosophy of mine: that everyone is both precious and broken at the same time, and we’ll find both of these truths in anyone we encounter. The trick is to step into and around the broken pieces and yet treat everyone as if they are indeed the most precious thing in the world.
I should also point out that earlier that same evening, I told them a story about how I had trolled a scammer who claimed to be from Microsoft and said he wanted to access my computer because I had acquired a virus. For those of you my generation and older unfamiliar with the phrase “trolled a scammer,” it means that when someone calls you and is trying to trick you out of your money, you treat them like a piece of moldy dog poop. My favorite tactics have been wasting their time by pretending to be more stupid about computers than I really am (“I’m sorry, I can’t find any key on my keyboard that says ‘control’”) or asking simple questions that they can’t answer (“Where are you calling from? Oh, really, Walnut Creek? What time is it there? What’s the weather like?”) You get bonus points and valuable cash prizes if they swear at you and hang up in disgust.
So, after I had finished waxing philosophical about preciousness and brokenness, Cyril asked “so what about the guy who called you on the phone and wanted to hack into your computer? Isn’t he precious?”
Now Cyril, like most of the young men in our group, is thoughtful, insightful, funny, charming, intelligent, good looking, and single. (The girls and other young men are all those things too, except for the part about being single. NOTE: If there are four or five single girls who have graduated high school and have suddenly acquired an interest in our gathering, we meet on Mondays at my house at 7 PM. Contact me for directions).
Cyril also has the ability of speaking truth without using a lot of bull crap. It just sometimes looks like bull crap, because he always says it with that charming smile of his.
At first, for just a moment, I thought about defending my behavior, but I immediately caught myself. This young man…this “kid”…was right. I needed to change, especially if I wanted to live out biblical commands like “love your enemy.”
Then, just to prove that God is a genius when it comes to comic timing, a scammer called the very next day. “Sir,” he said, “my name is Nancy.” (Yes. He. Nancy. Both of those.) “I am from Microsoft….”
As he launched into his spiel I found myself tempted to slip into my default tactics, but before I could even start, I remembered Cyril’s challenge. I sighed and glanced wistfully at the “control” key.
“…we have found a virus on your computer and…”
“Actually,” I said, “I’m not worried about it.”
“Sir, if you don’t allow me to gain access to your computer, hackers can steal your information.”
“No,” I replied. “I don’t think that will happen. Actually, I’m more worried about you. What can I do for you?”
There was a pause. I could tell this was not in his script.
“Sir, if you will locate the Windows icon near your ‘control’ key…”
“No, I’m not going to do that. Like I said, I’m worried about you. What can I do for you?”
“Sir, there are several malignant viruses on your computer…”
“No, you and I both know that’s not true,” I said. I realized at this point that I had offered to do something for him, but there was really not much I could do.
Here is where the story starts to get weird.
“Would it be okay if I prayed for you?” I asked.
“Sir, I need you to locate the key that looks like a window in the lower left-hand side of your keyboard.”
“OK,” I said, “I bet there’s someone listening to you, right? So if you want me to pray for you , just ask me something about my computer again, and I will know that means ‘yes,’ ok?”
A longer pause.
“Sir,” he said, “if you do not remove the viruses from your system…”
“Got it,” I said.
And here’s where the story gets weirder, even for me. I started to pray for him. Out loud.
“Dear God,” I said, “bless Nancy. I don’t think that’s his real name, but you know what his name is. And I know you love him. I know he’s trying to steal from me and cheat me, but that’s okay.”
As I prayed I suddenly gained this strange ability to imagine life from his perspective. Crammed into a hot smelly room filled with hundreds of other callers, probably required to fill a quota. Even his bosses are trolling him, the new guy, tricking him into using a girl’s name. I doubt he’s working only eight hour days. I’m sure he sees very little of the money he manages to swindle out of his victims.
“He’s just trying to feed his family,” I tell God, “and make a better life for himself. I’m sure he’s not doing what he wants. He doesn’t want to lie and steal, so God, please lead him to a life where he can do the things that you have created him to do. Let him know how much you love him. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
He didn’t utter a word as I prayed for him. Five seconds after I ended my prayer I was positive he would start swearing at me.
After ten seconds I was certain he had hung up.
Finally he spoke again. “Sir, if you would look at the lower left-hand side of your keyboard…”
It might have been my imagination, but I’m almost positive that his voice was thick with emotion.
“No,” I said, “I’m not going to do that. But thank you for letting me pray with you. Have a good day. God bless you.”
I hung up.
I never would have had that conversation if it weren’t for that little Monday night community, gathering and eating baked goods and laughing and wrestling with thorny topics. Even us older guys can learn something from someone else, even if that someone else is a “kid.” Cyril helped me be a better person, even if it was just for the five minutes I spent talking and praying with “Nancy.”
Because as satisfying as trolling scammers feels, this felt much better.