Through the years I’ve often said, “You can tell as much about a person by his enemies as by the friends who gather around him.” As with many other statements, however, I’ve come to understand that I was not entirely correct.
You can tell much more about people by those who personally despise them, than by those who love them. Friends usually have little to say because they know those close to them and don’t think they need defending, but enemies of a decent person are relentless and vocal in their efforts to take their target down because they have only conjecture and rumors.
This is universally true, but those in the public eye draw more attention than others by virtue of being heard and seen more often than most. Had I been guilty of even one of the things of which I have been accused at times, I wouldn’t have survived more than 30 years in a fishbowl environment.
Fortunately, it takes more than an unsubstantiated accusation to convict a person of a crime, or even get him fired. Rumors won’t do the job, nor will guilt by association -- and that’s fortunate for those of us who regularly irritate people by expressing opinions that run contrary to what the majority believes.
My earliest avowed enemies – those who used to regularly send vicious letters on paper -- have generally dropped away for one reason or another. At least, I think they have. When newspapers began to give readers space to post anonymous opinions, I picked up a lotof determined critics, and I’m not alone. Some of them write hundreds of comments a year, not sparing anyone who appears in print.
In the beginning, I was indignant, refusing to read comments unless someone e-mailed them to me. My criticism of the policy and my editors was harsh at times.
Eventually, I realized I was wrong and I now view the comments as a part of the landscape and do read them, but I don’t dwell on the nasty stuff. I have learned that the things of which I am accused say more about the character of the commenter than they do about me. Besides, I take comfort in knowing there will never be a hall of fame for anonymous, spiteful commentators.