Keeping your ego in check is easier said than done. For a great example of what I mean, consider Jimmy Kimmel’s actions last week, after he delivered an emotional 10-minute-long plea to strengthen gun control laws. “No American citizen needs an M-16, or ten of them,” Kimmel said of the horrific shootings in Las Vegas by a gunman whose weapons purchases broke no laws.
“It’s a public safety issue,” he said of gun control, likening it to the way high-rise fires have recently been addressed.
Kimmel’s message was certainly heard: After all, he has a popular TV slot format as well as social media at his disposal.
And, certainly, having a social media presence — whether you’re a late-night comedian or entrepreneur — can be a huge advantage. If you’re trying to make a positive impact, your message can help people. Moreover, you can hear back from them, address their specific concerns and refine your message, in response.
But social media has its drawbacks, as well. If you’re expressing your opinions online, not a day goes by without someone challenging you, making fun of you or rudely calling you an idiot (check out celebrities reading “Mean Tweets,” also from Jimmy Kimmel).
It doesn’t matter which platform you use: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, even Amazon. There’s always going to be someone who disagrees with some of what you say, and someone who takes things to the next level by adding expletives or attempting to invalidate your core mission — even your very personhood.
Of course, we’re all human: The first thing we want is to do attack back and explain our position! Or . . . flip the other person off, as Jimmy Kimmel did.
Kimmel’s emotional pleas
Kimmel has a large platform, due to his successful late-night show, his massive online following and the goodwill he’s earned in Hollywood and with the public at large. The guy can attract A-list celebrities to participate in his comedic sketches, often making light of their real-life selves. But the comedy was put on pause recently when Kimmel’s own life and political philosophy became the topic of his opening monologue — twice.
In fact it was unexpected to see him choke up during those monologues twice within the span of a month while he tackled sensitive issues (the first revolving around universal health care, after his infant son was born with a heart defect — the second being the Las Vegas tragedy).
Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s perfectly okay to be candid. If anything, being transparent is a welcome sight in our culture, where people are often discouraged from revealing what they’re truly thinking or feeling.
Moreover, with gun control, Kimmel addressed an issue that definitely needs addressing. The event in Las Vegas — Kimmel’s hometown — was horrendous, and we’re all feeling the same pain, regardless of what side of the gun debate we’re on. But sadly, it was only a matter of time before someone with a point of view different from Kimmel’s came along to take advantage of his crying on national television.
What happened next was a poster campaign in which a street artist calling himself Sabo depicted “Cry Baby Kimmel” with rather biting images he scattered around West Hollywood. Biting images are something that Kimmel, as a public figure, is no stranger to, since he does the same thing to other people night after night. Comedians often take jabs at politicians and entertainers, so one would expect a thick skin.
But what happened next was that Kimmel responded — big-time. He had himself photographed sitting in front of one of the posters giving “the finger.” He then gave the photo to the Hollywood Reporter.
And here’s where a lesson for entrepreneurs angry at their own detractors lies.
In short, striking back at negative comments and posts can be a dangerous game. In Kimmel’s case, he was able to take this renegade artist’s work and use it to further promote his political position, in this case the gun-control website Every Town for Gun Safety.
He also did it in a way that was provocative and authentic to his voice and brand.
But, if you’re not Jimmy Kimmel with the resources he has at his command, such a response can backfire if you don’t do it thoughtfully and purposely. It can make you look overly defensive and unprofessional.
Let’s face it, you’re running businesses, not a late night talk show.
So, as an entrepreneur, how do you respond to detractors?
Whenever you address your own audience, remember that for the most part, you’re preaching to the choir. Your fans are a self-selecting group, so it’s probable that most of them share your political views. On the other hand, you cannot change the minds of your detractors as much as you think. If anything, you are likely to cause them to defend their position more fervently. This is especially true if you belittle an argument or misrepresent it to make your own point.
For entrepreneurs, I don’t see a huge benefit in making an official response the way Kimmel did, where the possibility exists for a huge downside. When you lead with emotion, you open yourself up to an unavoidable flurry of attacks. And, that’s not the end of the world. But when you respond in the same manner, you give credibility to your opponents, and in the process, the focus on your issue — in this case, gun control — may be lost.
So, how do you fight back against an uncouth attack on your person and your core values? Here are some thoughts.
My advice is to do what you have to do to make yourself walk away from those potentially damaging digital devices. Decide that you are going to “sleep on it,” or write a letter to yourself and then throw it away. Find a way to avoid being dragged into an unproductive squabble that is only going to generate more resentment.
This is incredibly hard to do. Nobody said it was easy. But if you manage it, you will soon find that the attacks have no power over you. You’ve already stated your point of view and your message is out there, so there is no need to sacrifice your credibility to the other side of the argument by engaging.
We all are sensitive to our feelings and we don’t like it when someone attacks us. No matter how popular or successful we are, it’s always going to hurt! But if we truly want to lend credence to our views, we have to learn to take the high road. I still remember the Amazon reviewer who said a cheeseburger was more filling than the first edition of my book One Simple Idea. At the time I was annoyed. Looking back, I now find the comments funny as hell.
Fighting back with silence is a much bigger statement, because it shows you are confident in your position. It also makes it clear that you care about the issue, but you are above the bickering. Your statement can stand on its own two feet, without your having to resort to insult in order to defend it. You will not change anyone’s position by arguing.
Besides, in most situations, your followers will come to your defense, so you don’t have to say a word, and you’ll look like the bigger man.
Thank you, Jimmy Kimmel, for this very important lesson! With any luck, President Trump is reading this article, as well.