Saturday, 30 July 2022

Without Anger or Contempt (edited August 2)

This is a comment I wrote, as listener/participant in a very thoughtful and insightful conversation (sadly cannot be fully reproduced here, and anyway, I'm not completely sure such things have the same usefulness if one is not actively part of them.)

Still, here I put into words a thought I've had in my mind for a while, and I might as well leave it as a breadcrumb. 

It may be idealistic, but my hope is to get to a place where someone can say any or all of the following to me, explicitly or implicitly: “You are wrong, you are ignorant, you are foolish, you believe the wrong things, you are making mistakes, you don’t deserve to be accepted by society” (that one is extra hard) and I can hear it without anger or offence. And I mean ACTUALLY NOT take offence, not just brush the comments off with snark or counter argument (I can already do that; it has limited usefulness). One cannot help being hurt by contempt or misunderstanding, especially depending who it is coming from, but I aim to be able to hear it without anger, specifically.

I would like to be able to say, without being defensive: “Yes, I am ignorant, and not very bright a lot of the time, and I make many mistakes (not false humility, completely true!) but I’m still here, an intrinsically valuable person, with responsibilities to others, and I’m figuring it out, and I will go on figuring it out, whatever it takes.”

Simple right? Just totally requires a reboot of most unthinking assumptions and probably an entire life transformation, but that’s how I know I’m alive 😂

Edit: My friend Diana took the time to write some personal comments in response to my comment. She is happy to let me share them, so here are a couple of her insightful responses. I'm very fortunate in the people I have to share ideas with and who are willing to share their vulnerability and learning process.

Part 1

"I think I've spoken here and there of my anger problem and my defensiveness, how I have trouble not being angry when I feel someone has shown me disrespect or said or done something very unfair. I was hyper-sensitive to slights so that I often perceived them when they weren't even there. At the same time, I had stifled many of my softer emotions, making me weirdly oblivious to how people feel and why, and of the fact that how I made them feel matters. So I was dialed way down on the empathy and dialed way up on perceived insults.

I tried to work out why this made me so angry. Because what is the threat to me, really, even if someone intentionally insults me, particularly rude people online, many of whom were strangers. What is the threat, exactly?

I've been shown disrespect. But so what? Really. Who cares and why do I think it matters at all?

That person believes something about me that isn't true, is another thing that used to make me feel compelled to take the bait and be distracted by personal attacks. Then I realized that people believe things about me that aren't true all the time and I can't stop them from doing so (or they believe things that are true about me that I deny); the fact that I know about it doesn't make this incorrect assumption *matter*.

And it isn't going to do much good, if any, to try to tell them how they're wrong about us. People judge us based on our behaviors for the most part, exactly the same way we judge other people. It's rarely convincing to assert our self-image as the real us, over their own perceptions of us and interpretations of our behavior.

So that's part of it, understanding that. But it wasn't enough to make it click for me. What did was to stop and trace each attack or perceived attack on my character or the quality of my opinion to its source. Is the person really meaning to attack me and how might I know? If I don't know, why don't I treat it as though there's no attack at all?

But let's say I do know, a person is intentionally being rude in some way. I ask myself how their rudeness hurts me. That's when I see that it does not hurt me but it does hurt them. It makes them look small and desperate and practically announces their own fear and low self-esteem, in reality. That makes me wonder what they're afraid of and what happened in their childhoods or lives to make them want to hurt others, and why they never developed more adaptive, cooperative coping behaviors. Because that isn't the kind of role models they had, is my guess. They never learned how to behave more appropriately through no fault of their own.

I believe their defensiveness comes from a deep, unaddressed (and often outright denied) childhood fear. The fear was never addressed because they developed the maladaptive behaviors to keep themselves from being hurt further.

Basically, I see all rudeness as a reflection of a person's own flaws, having nothing at all to do with me.

I had a long discussion about how this works with a friend of mine about 20 years ago. He was a young 6'4" black man at the time. He was also educated, very intelligent and very skilled and normally, quite polished and professional. (We were lieutenants together in Alabama.) He told me that if some redneck drove by and hung out the window and hollered "N!gger" at him, he'd pull the man out by his shirt and beat him silly. I remember asking him why. "Because he insulted me. He insulted my entire race." Yes, but so what? Are you a n!gger? (Deliberately provocative question.) He said, "Hell no!" So what does it matter what he calls you? "You don't just call someone that and get away with it." What do people watching think? "Probably that he's a racist jerk." And does it make them think his label for you is accurate? "Of course not."

He still wouldn't back down from that, though. He felt in his heart is was important to risk being thrown in jail for assaulting someone who called him a name. I pointed out that all he'd do is behave like that man just said he thought he would behave. If he reacts, he only proves the man right. About two weeks later, he brought it up and told me he'd changed his mind and thought I was right after all but he still wasn't sure he could do it, just walk away and ignore that kind of challenge. Alas, young male blood. There's something in the code of manhood that says they feel compelled to assert their dominance or something, I guess.

So I see it as [the rude, aggressive people] telling the world what kind of person they are, which further thought reveals to me is damaged too, and that's why they try to hurt others. It isn't about me at all. They are wounded animals, scared and lashing out at anyone who comes too near, that's all. I feel for the wounded child I believe they are, the one that was hurt so badly that they wanted to hurt others too. And I am not angry. I can instead be understanding and compassionate.

A related thought: all of the things you listed, the insults people hurl, all of them are just a basic defensive maneuver, an attempt to distract people from the point and make the discussion about you. It's an airplane dropping chaff to distract ground-to-air missiles, is all. They're trying to red herring you, but discussion of ideas shouldn't ever come to questions about a person's morals because they disagree with us. Discussions about ideas can be done effectively with no personal information being exchanged whatsoever, as a matter of fact. When people get personal, it's a simple, usually-effective tactic to get a person to defend themselves instead of their ideas. So I have largely learned to see red herring style attacks for what they are and ignore them as harmless distractions. (And it's fascinating to watch how they respond, let me say.)" D.B. - June 30, 2022

Part 2

"When we say or do anything that communicates our arrogance or contempt, we give our rivals the excuse they are looking for to disregard what we say.

People don't want to listen or think in general. It's hard work. We *really* don't want to think about the beliefs that form the core of our sense of reality, or question our own beliefs, but we should. We look for reasons we don't have to bother, that a person can safely be dismissed or ignored, and we like it when we get it too. It takes the pressure off to maybe seriously consider what they have to say and (egads) perhaps change one's mind.

So I don't give them that excuse. I don't give them any reason, legitimate or illegitimate, to disregard me, and do my best to in fact earn their regard and possibly their respect instead.

I also learned to see my own beliefs not as truth but for what they are: my own best guesses about how to most effectively and accurately interpret reality. I recognize beliefs about the nature of reality as being deeply personal to each of us, as well; we don't let others tell us what is real and we don't let them force us to adjust our sense of reality, and that is probably as it should be.

We change our minds slowly about how we understand and interpret reality. Fast changes seem to create confusion, chaos, and mental imbalance. We need to take it slow, to be confident of the efficacy of a new paradigm before discarding the old ones. (This is one of the best reasons to not try to argue people into changing their minds, IMO. This process is by its very nature slow and happens only after we doubt ourselves.)

And here's today's martial arts analogy. 🙂

Consider that at the moment, you are untrained to protect / defend yourself. For all practical purposes, you've never set foot in a dojo; when you feel threatened, you react to the default modes you picked up as a child and have more than likely refined over the years. Those are the only tools you have for dealing with personal attacks, so of course you use them and have trouble trying to imagine how to more effectively react and why.

When you begin training in the martial arts, you study what sorts of attacks people will use, which are feints, and which need to simply be stepped inside of, or whatnot. You train yourself to respond to those attacks in effective ways: deflection and counterattacks and joint locks and throws. You learn new methods and practice them until you do them without thinking. (This is true, by the way. I've been in a street scrap and I recall nothing until they pulled me off of him. I did not know what was happening but I responded as I'd trained to...clearly.)

The same approach works for this. You try different sorts of ways of responding to aggression and insults. You experiment. You discover ways to avoid the fight (the only way to win), and ways to make it happen on your terms. When people take a swing, where they once might provoke wild swinging and clawing, they might find themselves on their backs now, wondering what happened and how they lost control of the exchange.

That's what I'm training to do with disagreement, basically. I refuse to have any acrimonious exchange on the other person's terms, *ever*. If i can help it. My power lies in my ability to keep my perspective and thus keep my cool. " --D.B., June 30, 2022

Edit 2: this comment from Fr Stephen Freeman, from a completely different thread, seems relevant to me, so I’m also going to include it! 

"If we love another – it (they) are a gate to paradise. If, however, we hate another, they become a gate to hell (Hades). I’m not thinking in this case of eternal hell-fire (that’s another matter, I think). But hatred (anger, bitterness, envy, etc.) distort how we see and relate to someone else. We turn them into our tormenters (whether they know it or not). So, Christ commands us to love and forgive even our enemies. Of course, the soul often needs lots of healing before it can actually do that – so we pray, “Lord, have mercy.” 

That’s the simplest way to think about this." -Fr. Stephen Freeman, July 29 from "A Particular Scandal"

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