In the film The American President, President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is repeatedly attacked by rival senator, Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss), and in the face of these character attacks, he chooses to simply “not dignify it with a response.” His staff pleads for him to stand up to the guy, but he’s convinced that answering to him is meeting at his level. Until the end of the film, when he makes the decision to address the press with a kick-ass-takin’-names impromptu speech, where he answers to the accusations, setting the record straight with efficacy and aplomb.
Is this the way it works? When should you–or your children, friends, whomever really, when, and in what circumstances, should you– stand up for yourself and dispel the rumors? When is the high road the wrong road? We’ve all struggled with this at some point in our lives, had people cough up lines about “yesterday’s news,” urging us to just ignore it. It will all go away eventually, and of course, it always does, and if you’re one to bite your tongue, it goes away and you’re left knowing some people got it really wrong. And then you have to ask yourself if you care. And then, why do you care?
Once upon a time ago there were sites, plural, dedicated to hating me. Now, the “once” in “once upon a time” isn’t really accurate because I’m sure they still exist. I looked at them once in a while but never once, ever, commented. I never posted under pseudonym coming to my own defense. I never responded. Ever. No matter how angry or hurt or wrong I thought they might have been. I made the choice not to respond. I’ll get to the why in a second.
There was a case of someone I knew in the periphery of my life, who took offense when I didn’t want to befriend him. He was unbalanced, sad really, and took to calling me vicious names and wrongly documenting my life, diverging his take on things, painting the picture he wanted people to see, more incongruous than a Magritte. The press notified me asking if I wanted to comment, to clear things up, and I all but said “no comment.” I said I wished him only good things. There was my chance to clear it all up, but I didn’t. High road. Why? Well it certainly wasn’t because I didn’t have plenty to say. It was because, really, what would have been the point? When telling your side of things it’s just giving people something to throw more shit at. No matter how right you may be, people who want to vilify you will, despite the evidence. Why? Because it’s entertainment. Because it gives them something to do.
I’ve never been one to read a tabloid, but it’s impossible to exist without knowing Britney shaved her head, and I do feel bad for her, for anyone, honestly, who’s attacked so publicly. “Yeah, but it comes with the territory” is a sad little excuse for people to be atrocious. “When you put yourself out there, you ask for it.” I assure you, no one who puts themselves out there asks for it, but they get it, and the more they’re in the public eye, the harsher the lashing. I’m not here to comment on the ills of it because I too have been entertained in the same small way. People subscribe to it for entertainment’s sake, even when it’s your life. But it really isn’t ever about you.
I was able to step outside myself and see all the really mean things that were happening for what they were: entertainment. For everyone involved, both the hater and the hated, the rumor/situation/sites/all of it seems much bigger than it really is. When it’s about you, suddenly, it’s a big deal. It’s all you can think about. You hit refresh and drive yourself crazy with what to do. Let me say it again, for ALL people involved, you’re making much bigger a deal out of it than you should. You think it’s this huge thing, but it’s not. It’s called having a sense of proportion, and it’s so so easy to forget this. It’s why I say, GO OUTSIDE. Go to the gym, get a manicure, see a movie, realize there is a life outside your dramas. And eventually you’ll realize–with some distance, but eventually–that none of it matters. And that makes it easier to not respond.
People will love you, will absolutely HATE you–people who don’t even know you!–because it gives them something to do. So eventually, when I refused to respond to any of it, people got bored of the saga and things became “yesterday’s news.” I never once defended myself or said one harsh word about any of the people who were inexorably attacking me, or heartlessly creating their version of snarky humor at my expense, not because I couldn’t. But because adding “a side”, albeit my side, by giving my information, meant people would continue to take them, sides. And while part of me believed, “But if I tell my side, then people won’t believe her/him/them,” the rest of me realized, “Yes, yes they will.” No matter how convincing you can be, people will respect you less for it. And fueling any of it would make it worse.
I sometimes respond to harsh comments in the small moments when I forget it really is just about entertainment, when I take it personally, because really, it’s only human, and any one of us would eventually feel the same way, that need to defend ourselves and respond to accusations. I pull a Shepherd and set the record straight, but I’ve learned when it comes to the public, blogs, press, gossip, it’s best to let it run its course without me. Besides, we all know how I feel about running…I’d sooner give blood to a first-year medical student who cannot find the vein.