What to Do When Someone Calls You a Nutbar (Or Just Plain Insults You)

by Melissa Karnaze

Kevin O’Leary did what mainstream journalists and political pundits do best — he insulted his guest.

On October 6, 2011 American journalist Chris Hedges expressed his views on Occupy Wall Street on CBC News Network’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

As Hedges explained:

“[I]f we don’t break the back of corporations we’re all finished anyway, since they’re rapidly trashing the ecosystem on which the human species depends for survival.”

O’Leary retorted:

“Listen, don’t take this the wrong way but you sound like a left-wing nutbar.”

Hedges replied with artful articulation, just the right amount of deflection, and unfettered focus on the facts.

The Hedges smack down of Kevin O’Leary

Hedges didn’t attack O’Leary in retaliation, but his response came across as a smack down. (You can watch a video here.)

That’s because Hedges merely held his ground (and exposed where O’Leary went wrong) by doing five things extremely well (under such pressure and attack):

  1. Taking it personally (before getting over it)
    • Hedges was offended by O’Leary’s remark, and it’s because he got so offended that he decided to continue speaking his mind on the interview, instead of descending into argument.
    • If Hedges had tried to “brush it off,” he could have lost sight of his goal. Instead, he responded to the verbal attack by better channeling his efforts, and taking the time to highlight O’Leary’s decent into what he referred to as “character assassination.”
  2. Keeping sight of his goal and staying on topic
  3. Expressing his view with passion
    • Hedges eloquently expressed his views because of how emotionally invested he was in the topic. It looked as if he juiced the insult to get even more in touch with his passion: “[T]hose who are protesting the rise of the corporate state are in fact, on the political spectrum, the true conservatives, because they’re calling for the restoration of the rule of law. The radicals have seized power and they have trashed all regulations and legal impediments to a corporate — a reconfiguration of American society into a form of neo-feudalism.”
  4. Holding his boundaries through self-respect
    • When Hedges confronted O’Leary for insulting him, O’Leary (to change the topic) asked if Hedges was at least left-wing. Hedges responded no, and O’Leary interrupted him, asking if he was then centrist. Instead of biting an interruption-disguised-as-a-question, Hedges held a boundary: “Can I finish?” It meant: “I won’t expend effort attempting to answer your question if you interrupt me again.”
    • In his final statement, Hedges said that it would be the last time he would go on the show. He set the ultimate boundary of not wasting time on such an interviewer with a clearly belligerent agenda.

Back to you

You can learn a lot from Hedges, beyond the realm of political “debate.”

Anytime someone insults or indirectly to censors you, you can follow Hedges’ example, or following these four steps.

1. Take it personally

No really, take it personally. Because you have to take it personally before you can get over it. You can’t just say to yourself, “I’m not gonna take this personally.” Your emotions don’t lie, and you can only suppress them for so long.

Taking it personally means that you care about whatever topic, stake, or relationship is at hand. And the only way to do your part to improve a situation is to, first of all, care.

2. Keep sight of your goal and stay on topic

If you lose sight of your goal, your adversary wins. Make it a winning situation for you. Find a way to use your emotions as powerful mobilizers to stay focused on your purpose.

If you express yourself, stay on topic. That’s the way, after all, to keep sight of your goal. The reason you got insulted was that you spoke on topic — perhaps a topic hard for the attacker to talk (read: not argue) about. Don’t let the insult veer you off course. Make it a reason to stay even more on course.

Or, decide that you don’t want to continue engaging with someone who may only be interested in bringing you down to their level. In that case, change the topic or leave it. Walking away from unnecessary battles is a form of self-respect.

3. Express your view with passion

If you do decide to continue expressing yourself to someone who’s descended to character assassination, do it with passion. Speak from your heart and make your views known. No one can successfully argue against opinion.

4. Hold your boundaries through self-respect

Which is what this is all about: self-respect. Even if someone doesn’t respect you enough to discuss issues rather than bash your character — that should have no bearing on how you treat yourself.

For instance, continuing to argue or defending yourself unnecessarily sends a message that you don’t value your time and opinion (enough to disengage). You can only take so much time in one lifetime. Do you respect it?

Back to the smack down

During the interview with Hedges, the title bar on the TV screen read: “Occupy Wall St. Goes Main St.”

In my view, it’s conspiracy theory going mainstream, because talking publicly about conspiracies isn’t “just for nutbars.”

Expect to see more social media highlighting exchanges such as the shut down of Kevin O’Leary.

Media’s shifting, as “news” sheds it’s own monopolization of the shaping of social norms.

What do you think?

About how Hedges responded to O’Leary, how you respond to your own O’Leary’s, insults sanctioned by “news,” Occupy Wall Street, or anything else on the topic at hand?

Feel free to share your thoughts below.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Willy October 17, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Hi Melissa,

I’ve had lots O’Leary experiences in my life and admittedly have at times played the part myself. I know there are various types and flavors of O’Learys out there. The type I have the most difficulty responding well to are what I like to refer to as “Sucker Punch” O’Learys. I find I am easily thrown by words used to distract me from what is really going on (an insult, a rejection, a trap door).

It’s a comment like “Listen, don’t take this the wrong way…” followed by a what are really nothing more then a series of false compliments. I have quite a bit of difficulty discerning true from false signals and left with a feeling of being stuck in not knowing what to do or worse responding in a most self-destructive way (taking what is said in the wrong way; believing this person (who I want to like me) likes me but really doesn’t).

How might a Hedges in this sort of situation respond?

Thanks Melissa,


Melissa Karnaze October 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Hi Willy, can you give an example or two of a “false compliment” (the term is new to me)?

Willy October 17, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I think you are a great and amazing person so would like you to consider us friends. My response: wow, great! Acknowledging in the affirmative and then never hear from them ever again.

I think you are really intelligent and I am attracted to people who are like that. My response: same and then same.

I think your skills are superior and great experience but unfotunately, the position was just filled.

I manage to get up from the floor but too late, and never have a chance to call them on the BS.

Willy October 18, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Well I feel compelled to answer my own question so here’s a shot. Lots of people (me included) often times hear only what they want to hear. We miss what is really being said (or fail to read in-between the lines) for at least a couple of reasons: we understand what is really being said but don’t counter because we don’t want to make waves (IOW we let them cross our boundaries) and/or we deny what is meant because it’s easier to accept the lie – it makes us feel good albeit superficially. All because we are not paying attention to what we know is really true. We build a construct around the lie and fall right into it – head over heels.

Melissa Karnaze October 18, 2011 at 9:36 pm

I would say that’s one good answer.

You may never be able to verify a statement like: “I think you are really intelligent and I am attracted to people who are like that.” In which case, you might not overstep a boundary by calling someone out on it by naming it an insult.

But you can learn to only trust such statements if you have good reason, if trust has naturally developed in the relationship.

As you say, it’s much easier to ignore an unpleasant intuition about the state of a relationship than to read between the lines. I like how you found an explanation that made sense after sitting with it for bit!

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