Track and trash: Beware of the “word stalkers”

It happens every Presidential election cycle, regardless of party affiliation: Once someone becomes a genuine contender, every word s/he has uttered, in any speech or writing, becomes fair game for criticism.

Opponents will scrutinize every pronouncement for phrases that can be isolated and used against the candidate, even if it means intentionally taking those words out of context or twisting their meaning. Egos, resentments, and insecurities go into overdrive. We’re seeing plenty of this in the current GOP nomination battle, but these practices are hardly the province of one party.

In addition, certain members of the general public — a small group, I hope, but prolific nonetheless — begin relentlessly criticizing the candidate online. (I assume they are the same bottom feeders of the Internet who anonymously post hateful things about anyone or anything they don’t like.)

It’s one of the many reasons why political discourse in America has become so ugly and empty.

Not limited to politics

Of course, these practices aren’t limited to the political realm. They occur throughout the world of ideas and information.

It means that perceived leaders in their fields must be on their guard, without appearing paranoid. Once someone is regarded as an authority, it’s a fair bet that some others will deeply resent her success. They may make it their mission to follow her work closely, criticizing and undermining it whenever possible. Their intent is not to engage, but rather to tear down.

When these behaviors become obsessive and targeted, the term “word stalking” is an apt one. And the Internet, for all its wondrous power, aids the word stalkers in hounding the objects of their anger and resentment.

Silver lining (sort of)

If you find yourself on the uncomfortable receiving end of such unwanted attentions, congratulations, it means you’ve “made it” to some degree. Let me explain:

In his marvelous 2008 book Tribes, entrepreneur and author Seth Godin identifies three things that organizations and individuals do: React, respond, and initiate. Initiating, says Godin, is “what leaders do.”  They see a need and act upon it, thereby causing “events that others have to react to.”

Those who initiate, however, also attract the word stalkers who have taken reacting and responding to an obsessive level. Yup, it can get a little creepy, and it underscores the adage that if you want to enter the public arena, it helps to grow a thick skin.


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Seth Godin: Who reacts, responds, or initiates?

5 responses

  1. Try googling any of the recent discussions of the abuse you get for “blogging while female.” Warning: it’s brutal, violent, and in too many cases, too close to home.

    • I’ll give that a try, Lisa.

      I keep wondering: Has the anonymity of the Internet triggered something awful in these folks, or did they have other ways of expressing their obsessive antipathies before the online world?

      • Good question. Given the extremely graphic, hateful violence with which many female bloggers I know of have been threatened, I’m not so sure I want to know the answer.

  2. Hi David
    This is a little off of the topic but i wanted to put something out there in hopes of gettng some encouraging responses. It has been a year now since i lost my job due to workplace bullying and the emotional progress is slow. I see a psychologist once a week, he is excellent. I am very frustrated because over the last year there have been many great job oppurtunities that i would qualify for, yet i feel broken and too emotionally fragile to even try. Ten years of severe bullying has made me very disconnected from the working world as i knew it when i was at the top of my game. I wrote in my journal a few days ago when i woke from a dream about work the following: I think one of the fundamental components of my occupational collapse is i started feeling like i was being watched all of the time and stalked even when my boss was not present. It began to preoccupy me about 6 years ago, made me doubt my abilities, i could no longer concentrate on my work. It is still happening now, she is still in my head. I feel it will be like this until all of the lawsuits etc are settled and i can put it all behind me. Am i expecting too much a year out? Very difficult time right now, i cannot enforce enough why workplace bullying needs to be stopped, the damage it does is horrific. I was in Albany for lobby days again recently and met with Senators and legislators again, I told my story again several times, we picked up more Senators etc. Most lawmakers have been shocked at what i experienced, yet i feel guilty for not working and feel i should have recovered by now, I would be interested in any input during this difficult time.

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