We’ve all encountered someone who has inappropriately attempted to goad us into reacting to them. It could be something said directly to your face, heard through a third party, texted via mobile or posted on social media. There are just so many ways to say inappropriate things in the digital age!

I’ve had this happen to me twice within the last 48 hours, and I think how we manage these encounters can determine how emotionally healthy we are.

In the first instance, I was texted some incredibly harsh and judgmental words, amounting to no less than an attack on my character.

The second time was an unsolicited political comment on a completely innocuous Facebook post.

How do you respond when someone attacks you, either publicly or privately? The general reaction to something that pushes our emotional buttons is to react emotionally. But I’ve discovered a better way which helps me maintain equilibrium and not get caught up in others’ drama.

Whenever someone does criticize of me, depending on how much I value the source I will seek to discover if there is even a grain of truth in their words. I want to be honest with myself and seize upon growth opportunities when they come my way.

Referring to the first instance, the text message was clearly an emotional reaction that had no legitimacy. It didn’t take me long to spot that the sender was reacting to not having their way in a situation, and so they lashed out.

My buttons were being pushed. And when we react to our buttons being pushed we are actually surrendering the power we have to respond thoughtfully, rather than react emotionally.

One of our human flaws is the need to “be right.” But being right doesn’t always lead to being happy. Sometimes we can be content with being right without having to prove it to others.

In this case my options were to:

1) Defend myself against the false accusations and make my case for why this person was wrong. But what would that serve? If this person has already made up their mind that their truth is THE truth, I’m not likely to persuade them otherwise. It would just turn into an argument. And I don’t want to fight.

2) Fight back. See #1. I don’t want to fight. And I don’t want to hurt the other person by saying something that I would regret.

3) Say or do nothing.

I choose #3. I didn’t need to defend myself and I didn’t want to fight. To me, it is far more empowering to let others think, feel, believe and/or perceive whatever they want about me or about the situation. As the saying goes, what you think of me is none of my business!

When you choose to not react or even respond to false accusations, you are empowered to release the other person. And you demonstrate that you won’t be controlled by their reactions. After all, most often a verbal attack is designed to engage you into a battle that can’t be won.

The other instance took place just a short time ago. After thinking about writing this piece based on the first encounter, having the second one happen really drove home my desire to express my thoughts.

I made an incredibly non-confrontational Facebook post that was akin to a Seinfeld post… that is to say, it was about nothing.

And yet an acquaintance (whom I haven’t seen or spoken with in years in person) took the opportunity to grandstand with a smarmy political statement.

It immediately became obvious to me and I sat there looking at the comment, thinking “why?”

This individual breached a boundary and I could have reacted a number of ways.

1) I could have engaged with this person and responded with my own thoughts about their conclusions. But is it really wise to engage with someone so predisposed to an opinion that they would post an in-your-face political comment on a post that had absolutely nothing to do with the topic? Of course not. It would be foolish.

2) I could have fought back and stooped to the same level of primal discourse, which is to say, attack. But why? This happens regularly on social media. People yell at each other, call each other idiots, curse at one another… and nothing good comes of it. Ever.

3) I could ignore the comment. Sometimes I’ll leave comments like this and allow others to engage with the commenter. But this is MY wall. And it takes a lot of nerve to come into my house and start pointing fingers. It also takes a lot of self-righteousness. I posted about the Righteous Indignitus virus epidemic recently, and it was staring me right in the face.

4) I could delete the comment. My wall. My rules. If you came into my home and spoke to me like that I’d ask you to leave.

So I deleted the comment from my wall. And in this case I sent the commenter a short DM that said “Hope you are doing well, but I’m not taking the bait. ”

You don’t have to take the bait, either.

There is no rule that says you have to engage with people who attack you. Even if their method of sharing is crude, we are still responsible to look for any grain of truth in what they are saying. Again, don’t pass by an opportunity to learn and grow.

But if after doing so you conclude that this person is just having an emotional reaction, recognize that it is their problem. You don’t have to play by their rules or dance to their music. In fact, by not doing so you are building a stronger character for yourself.

Sometimes leaving people to sit in their own words, actions or behaviors without responding can give them time to think about what they did. And sometimes it can lead to an apology. Other times they will just double-down on what they accused you of because it is easier than looking in the mirror.

There is a world of difference between reacting and responding. Remember that reacting is based on emotions. It is usually immediate and rarely in the best interests of anyone involved in the dispute.

But responding is thoughtful and deliberate. You can’t control other peoples’ emotions. You shouldn’t let them control yours.

But the bottom line is that you don’t have to defend yourself against false accusations (unless there are legal implications). You don’t have to prove anything to other people if you are content with your own behavior and decisions. And you don’t have to take the bait.

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Published in Interesting Stories


  1. rose1943

    Very well writte, you’ve covered it all. Good points that ‘some people just have to be right’. No matter what you say, they have a need to correct your statement waiting for you to argue back. Never take the bait from that type. You’ll never win and why bother anyways. They’ll find someone else that they feel is vulnerable for their nitpicking. I read a statement in a book years ago saying that it’s like a tennis game with them. They will serve you the ball expecting you to hit it back. Let them serve it but don’t hit it back. Thanks for this blog, Joel. It’s a good one. A universal subject most can relate to. (I just ended that sentence with a preposition, maybe someone will notice?)

  2. starlette

    Hi Joe…..its very easy to react to anything bad concerning ourselves, family or friends……..but like you say you would probably just end up trading insults, which I guess would give satisfaction to the person bad mouthing and lead absolutely to no satisfactory conclusion……… takes all kinds, and why some people do this who knows………I have learnt to not react and say and do things in haste, now………. even though I may go to bed seething and fuming I will sleep on it and rationalise it next day, I usually decide my time is to precious to waste it on someone who is deliberately attempting to goad me …………jog on mate I am not up for this game…….

  3. Scorpio

    Ignore every single episode of negativity. Don’t allow obnoxious people the satisfaction of knowing they have distressed you.

  4. foreveryoung2

    Great blog. As one gets older one becomes less vulnerable – at my age now (75) I don’t give a damn – anyone can say anything about me and it washes straight over my head – if that’s all they have got to do in life, that’s their problem. I have great friends and we can say anything to each other without becoming offended. I don’t need any more friends, especially those so called “friends” who carry on like school yard brats. Yes, ignore them.

  5. roseinbloom

    Joel, thanks for a useful blog. I write a lot and talk a lot and I try hard not to offend. I rarely get a negative response to my blogs here. I did get one which was undeserved, bit I want free comments even though a comment is different from my viewpoint, so I just ignored the negativity, but I did send a private message. If I am offended in a public space, I may or may not respond but I won’t sink to a level of name calling or vulgarity. As they say, “consider the source” and sometimes people make themselves look crude, rude, and more than a bit stupid. I have another quote. When you fight with a pig, you both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it”. I rarely need to defend myself, but in some cases, I find it appropriate. If I have conflicts repeatedly with a person. I will avoid that person to the extent possible.

  6. Rockflower

    Interesting blog Joel so thanks for risking your opinions in the digital jungle. after your unfortunate experience. I think that those of us who are older do think that on the whole, people have become nastier. I think we can lay the blame on the opportunity of anonymity that the digital world offers people to be rude and unkind without facing their victim. Although anonymity was not a factor in your your recent experiences. I think the attitude that, I can hit out, say what I like , it is my right……. This is all part of the lack of etiquette or good manners that people used to live with once upon a time. There is this attitude that etiquette and manners are a kind of prissy affectations which go getting cool people don’t need. It is forgotten that these rules of etiquette were slowly built up over a couple of thousand years, to help people live with their neighbours in some harmony and peace. Manners if you like , are the oil that lubricates the mechanics of living within any society.
    My believe is that if a person attacks your whole persona , it should be done personally either in person or by personal letter. If you feel you have nothing to reproach yourself with and they are wrong, you have the choice to reply or not. If you decide to reply, first you neutralize the emotion , yours and theirs. Answer each of their complaints logically, as you see things. You are not asking anything of them just state your case. Keep the message for at least one or two days, so you can re-read it and fine tune it before sending it. At least they know how you feel and if they don’t like it that is their problem. Keep a copy LOL. But you can ignore the matter if you prefer.
    The person taking a swipe at you in social media…… sounds to me as if that person was holding a historical grudge against you or they were envious in some way. It seems mean spirited and somewhat cowardly, if they have a problem with some thing you have done or said they could always politely ask you about it and work it out . Then again some people do not have a social filter and they think they are being a wit, smart or something.
    Both your people were ignoring a basic rule…….Do as you would be done unto…. That is a powerful rule when you think about it. I can do a kind of modern version of this… are thinking of doing something, taking up a deal, and there is a little dither in the back of the mind. Ask yourself…..would I be upset if the details of this were printed across the front of the Daily News! Another basic rule….. If you do something wrong…..own up to it immediately, the original mis-step is never as bad, as the attempted coverup. That is what causes the grief. Now politicians should have this tattooed on their person.
    I used to read comments that follow articles in on-line newspapers, I don’t so much now because so often I’m disgusted by provocative mean comments. There must be legions of disappointed, miserable cowardly people just thinking…… can I upset some people today! Anyone in public life is deemed as fair game and women in public life are prime targets. We all meet some wonderful people, who always do the decent thing, are kind, give of themselves and are totally straight forward. Cherish them they are gold nuggets.
    So no you do not have to take the bait, you never have to sink to the level of your accuser or attacker, there is however great satisfaction in rising above them.


  7. lo1234

    Excellent. Have been baited quite often.. Not worth commenting. Some people don’t deserve a comment. They aren’t worth it.