Carolyn Hax: Better not to try besting heckler

The Washington PostJune 6, 2014 

Dear Carolyn: What to do, as a full-grown adult, when a classless coward makes a loud, public and derogatory comment about your mother (a FORMER friend of hers) after your unknowing mother walked out of the restaurant, where this person and party were seated near us?

And your father tells you in no uncertain terms - as you're fuming and about to confront the situation - not to go over there and not to say anything? Because this former friend's husband, who was seated there and clearly upset by his wife's behavior, is a good and longtime friend of your father? And your father tells you not to say one word to your mother?

Shouldn't my father have defended his wife? As a 40-year-old, was I right or wrong to obey my father despite my instincts to stand up for my mother?

DISGUSTED

If you want to take down a "classless coward," then give her a megaphone and let her dismantle herself.

With no amplifying equipment handy, it's OK just to let rude people think they won, to have faith that people of character know a boor when they hear one, and to trust you won't implode waiting for the vengeful urges to pass.

I understand that a silent exit is not as satisfying as standing up for your mom, obviously, or offering a calm response to her husband.

But please trust that there are other, excellent reasons not to engage with such a person besides fear of making a scene.

One is that firing back would lessen the attention on her poor character. One person slinging insults looks much worse than someone who trades insults with another; best to leave her alone in that spotlight.

And, you risk turning public opinion in her favor. Her husband was "clearly upset" with his wife's boorishness, which is an appropriate and effective natural consequence of her actions. Natural consequences are always preferable to taking matters into your own hands. Had you counterattacked, he might easily have come to her defense instead.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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