Deborah Tan, Opinions

What To Do When You Can’t Shut People Up – Deborah Tan

What is the first thing you do when you read something that doesn’t agree with you? And, if you read a rude comment made about you by a complete stranger, what would you do? Deborah Tan says, “Do nothing.”

“Don’t believe anything this article says. The points are all over the place,” said a Facebook comment I recently spotted about an article of mine.

“Deborah Tan, you stupid wh__e!” a guy whom I’ve never met in my whole life wrote on his Facebook Wall.

“Your whining is pathetic. What do you want, woman?” demanded another.

“She refers to herself in third-person in her opening paragraph and then the whole article is written in the first. Sorry, I can’t get over that,” observed someone who had failed to see that my “opening paragraph” was actually a standfirst.

No … not like this.

The Facebook share feature is a poisonous thing. You click on “10 shares” under a story you’ve shared with your friends and then you begin to see how ugly the world can really be.

Many people assume that having written for “the public eye” for so many years, my skin would have toughened up and that I would be one of the last people on this planet to be affected by these insanely harsh comments. They are wrong. Sticks and stones, they say?

When I was in university, forum boards were all the rage. The hall of residence that I lived in had a very robust forum board that residents participated and followed religiously. That forum board was a hotbed of activity. Discussions could be started on anything! From whether we should be so obsessed with IHG (interhall games) to whether a certain student leader just did the right thing appointing someone as a chairperson of a certain committee to whether someone just stolen another person’s girlfriend … you won’t be faulted for thinking we didn’t have classes to attend.

I was pretty vocal on that forum board. And looking back, I can’t help but feel embarrassed by the highly emotional tone and passionate words that I had used back in my younger days. I was at the age where I felt that I had to “add to the fire” and “fan the flames” for a discussion to be worthy of anyone’s attention. I was so wrong.

And it was this memory of my rabble-rousing days that I took with me as I went on to make a living out of writing for magazines, blogs and websites. I still think I have the right to an opinion – even if that opinion may come under attack. What do I do differently now then? Especially when faced with comments that seem determined to shred my self-esteem and character into pieces?

1. Agree To Disagree
Everyone has an opinion and everyone has their right to air it. As long as they can share their point of view rationally, don’t get personal, and don’t use overtly aggressive language, I have learnt, over the years, that we can agree to disagree, and we don’t even have to be rude about it.

2. You Don’t Get A Prize For Proving People Wrong
While many of us may get a certain perverse joy in picking other people’s arguments apart, there really is no prize for proving yourself right and proving other people wrong. Yes, to you, I may have appeared “stupid”, “ignorant” and “uneducated” because I did not “argue back”, but it doesn’t take away from what I have already achieved for myself and how my friends and family see me.

Not all of us have the luxury of an army fighting for us.

Not all of us have the luxury of an army fighting for us.

3. You Learn To Pick Your Battles
Often, there is nothing I’d love to do more than shoot back a curt remark or type something like, “How dare you f**king say that about me?” on some complete stranger’s Facebook Wall. But of course I won’t do that! That would be just creating an ever-growing snowball of hate and anger. I would however respond if I feel I should have explained my point of view better. Our instinct is definitely to defend ourselves but you really can’t shut everyone up.

4. Move On
What can you do, after you’ve read all that hurtful comments made about you by people who have never met you? You do the only thing you can do – move on. Sure, feel free to vent to your Friends on Facebook (be sure to adjust your privacy settings), and bring their attention to the injustices you have been subjected to, but move on. At the end of the day, we take comfort in the fact that there are people who share our views, and that there are people who refuse to be swayed by other people’s opinion of us.

5. You Can’t Make Everyone Love You
For all the efforts you put in to sound rational, objective and fair, you know you will never be able to please everyone. This isn’t a reflection of your “quality” as a human being. I used to get so angry with people, and with myself, if I found out that someone didn’t like me but I realized that was just making me a really horrible person to hang out with.

6. What Do People Want? You’ll Never Know
It’s easy to react and go ask people just what it is that they want from you. They will never want enough and they will always want something you are not. So rather than work yourself to death trying to be the round peg that wants to fit through a square hole, just accept that the square hole will eventually find its own square peg. Your time and energy is much better spent at being the best damn round peg ever made.

Of course it would be a lie to say I am never hurt or offended by what I read about myself and my writing on social media. I could beseech everyone to pause for a moment before they write something damaging about another person. I could ask for your sympathy and beg you to go easy on me. But I won’t. Positive and negative responses are part and parcel of life, and I simply have to be strong for myself and for the ones who love me.


About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, and Suits. She doesn’t fight back all the time but she always remembers to pay back when the time is right. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.