Guest blog by Michael Howie from The Fur-Bearers
Every advocate has been there: you make a comment on a news article, or on a social media post. You’re calm, articulate, and provide citations to back your position. You click ‘send’ and nod confidently to yourself, knowing you’ve contributed to a great intellectual debate that will turn hearts and minds to a more humane ideal.
Then the ding.
‘Lol, granola tree hugger sukz.’
If you’re anything like me, you feel an immediate rage swell up. You’ve been dismissed and laughed at by some anonymous individual, who likely enjoys kicking puppies. Maybe the last part isn’t true, and you’re projecting. But nonetheless, you need to respond and show them that you’re smarter, justified, and speaking for what is right.
Right about here is where it goes to crap.
You’ve entered into an endless cycle. You’ll get angry, you’ll eat a whole pizza, you’ll get depressed, you’ll fall asleep watching Star Wars (the Phantom Menace, if you’re unlucky), and wake up with a sore neck, drained, covered in cold pizza grease. To top it all off, the jerk you were arguing with probably won’t even remember you.
By giving into anger and getting into a comment war, you’ve wasted time, energy, resources (because your emotional well-being is a precious resource), and a perfectly good pizza/movie night.
The anonymous nature and instant response of the internet – particularly social media sites – gives an outstanding opportunity to sadists, bullies, and generally angry people to ply their trade. There are also people who simply do not agree with you, or whose experiences have led them down a different path. The vast majority of people who oppose your comments in a public forum will not be swayed by your rhetoric, regardless of how well-phrased it may be. You’re feeding this disturbing hunger of theirs by sacrificing yourself, and doing very little for your cause. You’re giving in to anger.
If you’re one of the many people who believe righteous anger is a fuel, you’re partly right. Anger is a good motivator. But it cannot sustain and it should never guide. Even two men on the absolute polar opposite sides of the violence:non-violence spectrum agree on that.
“Anger cannot be overcome by anger. If someone is angry with you, and you show anger in return, the result is a disaster. On the other hand, if you control your anger and show its opposite – love, compassion, tolerance and patience – not only will you remain peaceful, but the other person’s anger will also diminish.”
“No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
One man whose life is dedicated to compassion and peace, the other who is still considered one of the greatest military strategists of human existence, and they both think anger is kind of dumb.
But I still struggle with this, even though I was brought up with “never make a decision when you’re angry” Leadership Dad. I understand the logic, the physiological response mechanisms involved, and even the philosophical basis. But I still get angry when dismissed by mean people on the internet.
When I recognize my anger in these cases, I fall back on a meme (because it IS 2015, after all) we shared over at The Fur-Bearers a while back:
Think before you speak…
T: Is it true?
H: Is it helpful?
I: Is it inspiring?
N: Is it necessary?
K: Is it kind?
This exercise is beneficial in three ways, I’ve found. First, it forces you to really consider your potential response, and maybe even your entire argument. Are you actually communicating your point well, and remaining as compassionate as possible?
Next, it forces you to step away from the issue for a minute. I used to tell the reporters who worked for me to get up and take a walk if they were getting frustrated with a particularly difficult assignment; if you get stuck and start banging your head against your desk, you’re not going to write a brilliant article. You’re going to write crap. Taking a breath, focusing on something else, and resetting your brain can lead to some great results.
Finally, and this particularly plays into the social media aspect, it gives someone else a chance to pile on. Whether it’s someone who supports your position jumping on the troll grenade, or another bully adding fuel to the fire, it should jolt you into recognizing the situation for what it is: lose-lose.
This, too, is where the original lesson was formed. After getting into an e-mail battle with a municipal councillor over a wildlife policy, I was advised by my smarter half, that “you presented your information, you did your job. But you can’t fix their ignorance.”
Addendum: following review of this draft, this quote was provided by my smarter half: “Yes, some people are just trolls and general assholes. But others are going to be vocal in opposition to your opinion for numerous other reasons, many of which are legit and valid (to them, at least). To just brush them off as trolls is uncompassionate and simply wrong.
“But your reactions to all forms of opposition should remain the same, basically. Provide the info, offer to expand further if more information is desired. And that’s it. The absorption and commitment to further learning is on the shoulders of the individual.”