Do You Poke The Sleeping Bear or Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

I learned recently that Marie Antoinette never said the phrase commonly associated with her: “Let them eat cake.” Historians have known for years that this callous comment, thought to be directed at hungry peasants before the advent of the French Revolution, was attributed to Marie Antoinette by pro-revolutionists hoping to attack the Queen’s authority. bearvsdog

Have your detractors ever put words in your mouth or attacked your ideas in order to discredit you? When this happens, do you poke the sleeping bear with a retaliating reaction, or do you just let sleeping dogs lie in the hopes that others will trust your intentions and integrity?

Unfortunately, I tend to the former. I am, after all, a feisty Italian-American woman who inherited her father’s short fuse along with his verbal acuity. My friends describe me as passionate, and my husband nicknamed me “fireball” when we were dating. Alongside these lovely characterizations some unlovely qualities come out when I’m attacked. I practice ongoing temperance in this area, and I get extensive practice.

I began college in mid-life wanting to become a counselor (I know what you’re thinking given what I just shared about my personality. Don’t worry. I chose writing, instead). Group projects were required in every class. And, in every class, students complained about them. I didn’t like them either. As a non-traditional student, I was a perfectionist and usually did most of the work.

One particular project left me with a taste not even coming close to cake. To summarize, I was blindsided by a group member, also a non-traditional student, who had gone to the professor accusing me of plagiarizing her essay – the individual part of the assignment.

Thankfully, the professor investigated and found no cause of plagiarism, because I had not plagiarized. In fact, as I pointed out to both professor and accuser, I lived to write and had just won a student award for excellence in creativity. Privately, the professor confided to me that she believed the accusing student had panicked because she was failing the class.

This didn’t assuage my anger at the unfair attack. I got in my accuser’s face with my red face, pointed my finger and said, “Whatever goes around, comes around,” or something equally ominous said with venom.

I did not let sleeping dogs lie. I poked furiously. Granted, this bear wasn’t sleeping, and many would agree I was justified. But, it ruined my week, raised my blood pressure, and interrupted my sleep. Notice I used the pronoun it in my previous sentence instead of she. Because she couldn’t do anything to me without my permission.

Soon after, in a totally different setting, a stranger made an unfair accusation against me. I believe at this point, I looked to the heavens and said, “What’s up, you trying to tell me something?” But not before I got in my new accuser’s face with my red face. It was a complete misunderstanding. Yes, my lessons are slow in coming.

There is, of course, a compromise between poking the bear and letting the dog sleep. Here is my crash course in Sleeping BEAR 101:

  1. Be prepared for an attack. I think one of the reasons I react the way I do is because I never see an attack coming. I’m not telling you to walk around always on the defensive, but don’t live in utopia where only puppy dogs and rainbows reside. The fact is you will get attacked, often unfairly, especially if you enjoy a high position on the leadership ladder.
  2. Exhale. Yes, you read that correctly. Say nothing immediately after the attack but breathe. In fact, inhale deeply for three counts and exhale slowly for five counts. This will give you time to formulate your response and reestablish internal homeostasis.
  3. Ask questions and listen intently to the accusations. It may be an attack, or it could be a request for clarification from someone whose delivery needs an overhaul.
  4. Respond calmly. Do not react with emotion. I envy introverts who seem to know this instinctively. But calm your insides, too, or else you’ll just activate an ulcer.

So, the next time someone tries to discredit you with a “Let them eat cake” attack, remember BEAR. Then, you, the dogs and the bears will all sleep like babies.

Kristine Ward
Kristine Ward is a freelance writer, blogger, and mentor. She is a member of Better after 50 Writers, The Women of Midlife bloggers, the prestigious Atlanta Writers Club and feels blessed to have found one of the most gifted, brutally honest critique groups in Atlanta. She blogs about spiritual growth issues and believes that if we can tune out the world's voice and listen to the still, small voice within each of us, we can have a meaningful, two-way exchange with our personal God who desires this intimate conversation. She is currently searching for a literary agent for her memoir Zigzagged Path to Wholeness.
Kristine Ward
Kristine Ward




  • April 14, 2014


    Hi Kristine. First off , I enjoyed your post, so this is not an attack! In my experience, though, I always have found it wise to take the latter approach. You even touched on my reasoning for this: People that know me understand my intentions. 

    I am also one of those people that can think of finely nuanced retorts – AFTER the fact. 🙂 Which means that my initial reactions come off as rather lame and too defensive. I have also learned in school and sports it’s the one that retaliates that usually winds up looking guilty. That’s a lesson my two boys have both learned. 

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

  • April 14, 2014


    I relate to this story so much, towards the end, it had me in stitches.  Which is one of the many reasons I got into personal development; ’cause otherwise, I’d be in the funny farm, where life isn’t so beautiful all the time, though the company…. could be. — Thanks for such a wise, and fun share.

  • April 14, 2014


    I knew this was going to be a winner when I saw that Jen had chosen Magnus to take part in your graphic! Oh my gosh! I am so thrilled to hear all you shared! Sheesh, most of the time you would think I was the only person on the planet with a pointy stick at the ready!
    I have a tendency to react very badly to any kind of an attack. Or, more importantly IMO, and kind of “perceived”attack. To me, allowing the attack has always seemed like leaving the corral gates open and wondering where all the horses ran off to. Now, some may feel that (and very well may be correct!) it (the attack) should just be ignored, because to respond may be “beneath” me or that those that know me should very well know that I Walk the Talk ~ However, if you allow the attack to go by without harsh and immediate correction- who knows what the smell of fresh blood might bring next.
    As I have grown, both in age and my own experiences, I have become better at the 4 steps you mentioned and a whole lot less likely to come out of the corner swinging and I know that this is the better way and certainly a better example for others…. but seriously? I wouldn’t count on it. LOL!

  • April 15, 2014


    AliRodriguez  Ali, they’re coming to take you away! Haha!  🙂

  • April 15, 2014


    marksalke AliRodriguez- LOL – The men in their white coats are still trying Mark!  🙂

  • April 16, 2014


    Fantastic advice.  I am exactly the same way and I have to tell myself to stop and consider that maybe I misunderstood or misinterpreted the comment or remark.  The same advice applies to email especially, which is a horrible conveyor of true thoughts and feelings.  Be VERY SLOW to respond to an emotionally (anger, mostly) evoking email.

  • April 17, 2014


    Good advice. I laughed when you said “I envy introverts,” because as a hopeless introvert I’m usually the one envying extroverts. It usually takes me time to internalize what someone has said or done. By that time, the moment has passed but I’m still reliving it. It takes a certain talent to address an issue as it happens. Enjoyed your article.