Sometimes the most important and valuable thing I can do is simply: nothing. Don’t engage, step away, leave it be.
Back in the day, the times I needed this little gem most was when I was embroiled in a real life argument with someone. Bobbing in a row boat the middle of the lake with my brother, the two of us screaming at each other while strangers watched horrified from the shore. If only I’d had the maturity to shut up and row us to a spot where I could walk away, or even just jumped out and swum away (this was before cellphones – so it would have been a fairly inexpensive solution).
But I was young, and silly back then. As I grew up I went through a patch of flinging myself head on into confrontations. The anger and vitriol fizzing and burning in my blood. Thankfully I began to realize that my vicious reaction to the behaviour of others did nothing to change them, to solve the problem, or even to make me feel better for having vented.
And so I started to teach myself to walk away. Yeah, I wouldn’t get the last word, or be able to shout my “correct” way of thinking at the person in the wrong. But I also wouldn’t have to deal with an escalating situation which my input would do nothing to calm.
I realized that I don’t have to be right. I don’t have to be vindicated. I can smile quietly and walk away and leave the other person spitting bile alone. And I’m happier for it. I feel sorry for those I leave behind trying to do damage control, but in most cases that’s a choice they make. Most of the time, they too can walk away if they want to.
With the advent of social media, however, this is a lesson I’m repeatedly having to come back to. So many times a day I see people spewing online about the topic du jour. They get angry, they shout, they blame, they accuse. And sometimes it’s obvious they’re “wrong”. Or at least, in my opinion, they’re wrong. Everything in me wants to add my two cents – wants to point out that their argument is illogical, that they’re being far too dramatic, that they should just relax a bit and put down the pitchfork.
But then things would just escalate. I’ve seen it happen to other people, and I don’t want to be swept up in that particular avalanche. It’s tempting, so tempting to make a sarcastic remark – to sub-tweet the shit out of someone. To get all passive aggressive all over the place. But sometimes the fall out from that can be even worse than straight up telling someone you think they’re an idiot.
So I bite my tongue. I allow myself to compose my rebuttal in my head. I spend the 45 minute drive home arguing with an imaginary person. I sometimes even type a long reply, read it through a few times and then delete it. Because more often than not – the best way to calm down after seeing stupidity on the internet is to just vent privately, get it out of my system, don’t get anyone else involved and then happily get on with my day.
Right this moment, I’ve popped my cellphone back in its pouch and I’m ignoring Twitter for the next few hours – because honestly, if I don’t I’m going to get worked up. And I may just lose control and unfollow a few people I consider actual friends because I just can’t handle their opinions at the moment. It’s better that way for everyone. Besides, they didn’t actually ask for my input, they’re just churning out their opinions (albeit in a public space) and perhaps that’s their 45 minute car ride, their chosen way to exorcise demons. The only difference is they paste it out there for anyone to read, whereas I just offer muted entertainment for the people in cars around mine, as I rail behind closed windows. For all they know I’m singing along to death metal. It really is better that way.