There’s a saying that goes, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Now, those of us who pride ourselves on our steadfast cynicism discarded this phrase long ago and replaced it with something along the lines of, “Those bastards need to know what’s what.” Enter social media, which gives us the power to execute our cynical rage, and boom: We’re giving our tormentors exactly what they want. (Our torment. They want our torment.) Well, the buck stops here.
The only way to silence these anger-mongers is to ignore them. That means when Ann Coulter calls President Obama a “retard,” and then does it again because she enjoyed the outpouring of rage so much the first time, the best thing we can all do is swallow our wealth of rage and ignore her. When Donald Trump uses his apparently valuable time to turn a “bombshell” into a cry for the President’s college records and passport application and an excuse for him to take credit for Obama releasing his “long form birth certificate, or whatever it is,” quell the angry dragon within and breathe. When Bill Maher twists Mitt Romney’s social policy into a pointed, vicious takedown on all women (via an old film clip in which a main character questions whether or not women are human beings), take a chill pill.
Responding to these reaching ploys for publicity only makes them valid. And here’s a tip: Putting the perpetrators’ names on Twitter, hashtag or not, contributes to giving them importance in the social media sphere. When we get riled up and fire back, the only thing we’re doing is making ourselves feel better while buoying the instigator with all our anger. And guess what? That means he or she will do it again. (Just look at Coulter and her repeated R-word use.) Our voiced anger may feel like it’s helping, but really it just plays like a Sally Fields Oscar acceptance speech on repeat in their heads. I’ve done it! They like me, they really like me!
Of course, there is an exception to every rule, and lucky for us, we’ve got a shining example of how to handle one of these anger-inducing situations. As you may have heard, Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens responded to Coulter with an open letter addressing her use of the “R-word.” Stephens' message is straight-forward, well-written, and thoughtful. He combats Coulter’s ignorant use of the word with knowledge and even a little compassion:Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult? …I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.
Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.
Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.
Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.Stephens' response lives outside of the “shut it down” rule because it does two significant things: it de-politicizes the issue and it provides knowledge instead of promoting anger. Our barrage of tweets, angry Facebook statuses, and fiery blog posts have accomplished the opposite.
So, as the election comes to a close and opinions continue to diversify and heat up, let’s remember the new answer to the ubiquitous question, “Someone’s wrong on the Internet/TV, what should I do about it?” Next time, try this solution on for size: “Spin it forward, or shut it down.”
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: iStock]
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