I was watching Homeland last night (season 2, episode 1), and someone asked Claire Danes’ character, “Who do you think you are?”
I was so jealous. I am so ready for this question. But no one ever asks me it. I hear it in movies and on television all the time, and I can recall hearing it once in real life, but never has that question been directed at me.
Unfortunately, Danes’ character failed to recognize it as a rhetorical question, as so many fictional characters do. Instead, she treated the question like an indictment. An attack on her decision to be at a certain place at a certain time. She went on the defensive and ultimately lost the verbal battle.
What she should’ve said was something like this:
“Who do I think I am? Look, I may be bipolar and no longer privy to this country’s deepest, darkest secrets, but I know exactly who I am. I’m Carrie Matheson, damn it. Former CIA officer who has saved countless lives countless number of times, including the life of the Vice President and other high ranking United States officials, even though even I don’t know that I averted that potential disaster. I also happen to be the only person smart enough to know that Nicholas Brody is an al-Qaeda operative, and by the end of this season or maybe next, I’m probably going to kill him and save more lives. Who do I think I am? Is that really the best you can do?”
Rhetorical questions are sneaky. They can trip up someone even as skilled and savvy as former CIA agent Carrie Mathison.
As I’ve written before, you need to train yourself to listen for them, and when asked, you must answer as quickly, as literally, and as aggressively as possible.
It won’t always win you an argument, but it’s a great way to blunt your opponent’s attack and have some fun in the process.