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 ’s authority.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.