Archives for posts with tag: words matter

I read a post online today that frankly offended me. Did you see it, too? It was so… well, you saw, right? :-\ Lingering outrage is a pretty common reaction. Sharing it. Talking about it. Coming back to it again and again. Writers, advertisers, and media outlets count on it; it drives “engagement” to get people mad or to offend them. Engagement means $$, or so goes the common thinking about such things. It seems to be true.

I didn’t link the post, no. That was deliberate. Why would I need to link it? Are we not offended, equally, by all the same things because all such things are entirely obvious?

LOL You know I’m messing with you there; it’s a ridiculous idea.

My apologies for messing with your head. Here’s a flower. ๐Ÿ™‚

We are each having our own experience, and the fun meme that made you laugh sooo hard that one time? Maybe that was a thing that hurt me to my very core, leaving me shaking and triggered. Isn’t that possible? Isn’t it equally possible to simple reverse the circumstances – you offended, me amused? Sure, it is. That’s the thing about being so individual, and why the idea of “equality” can be so tricky, linguistically. It’s tempting to let the abstract word games obscure our awareness that real people are really affected by… all of it. The words, the choices, the actions, the memes, the assumptions, the reactions, the excuses,ย  – every bit of all of it is part of a very complicated larger whole thing. We are human. We are all quite human. We are each having our own experience. We are unique and individual. We are a lot alike. We are all in this together. We each have to walk our own hard mile.

Are you right about what “is” offensive? Am I? Even if either of us are “right” about something we understand individually to be “offensive”, what is the value of our individual experience relative to the existence of all of the individual experiences of each of the other human beings also having their own experience? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… Don’t kill me. Don’t confine me. Don’t coerce or force me. It’s that “pursuit of happiness” that is such a challenge, is it not? Do I get to pursue my happiness in any way that undermines your ability to pursue yours? I would not expect to. Perhaps you think differently? Then what? And what of being “offended”? If I am offended by your words or actions, but those words or actions in no way do me any damage, risk my life, reduce my liberty, or stop me from pursuing my happiness…? What if it is my actual existence that offends you? Do I no longer have the right to be? It doesn’t follow that such would be the case, does it? We know better than that, at least …don’t we?

Here’s the thing about “being offended”; it’s an emotional experience. If I feel “offended”, that’s mine, and it can’t be taken from me any more than my anger or my sorrow can be taken from me (i.e.; only if I allow it); my emotional experience fully and wholly belongs to me. No one gets to tell me how to feel, how I “should”ย feel, or that my feelings are not “okay”. Having and experiencing my emotions is mine. Changing how I feel? Mine, too. People sometimes do or say things that result in my having an emotional reaction to what was said, or done. My emotions are still my own to experience – and mine to manage. It was a long journey getting to that understanding. Understanding that my feelings don’t dictate reality or obligate others to action was farther still to go. Understanding that my feelings are only feelings – sensations, emotions, perceptions – which are also exceedingly easily manipulated, was a bit farther still.

I generally don’t continue relationships with people who regularly do or say things I find “offensive” or specifically hurtful to me. I am learning over time that ending such relationships is important self-care. It’s not for me to choose someone’s values, or dictate what they may find amusing or acceptable; if I am offended by something, that is a reflective of my own values, and for me to resolve. Taking care of myself isn’t on their “to do list”. Simple enough, generally. Having taken this approach, as an individual, though, I find myself occasionally in the awkward situation of interacting with someone I’ve offended (usually with some thoughtless remark), who clearly has the expectation that I will take steps to “fix” the situation beyond a sincere expression of remorse for causing them upset, and making a point to understand their experience in context. I mean… yeah. I wouldn’t cause offense willfully, with the intent of hurting someone. That’s just mean. That’s not who I understand myself to be, at all. I am, however, capable of causing offense just by being the person I am… depending on who you are yourself, offense could occur. I’ll apologize for offending you, I surely will. Next step is for you to walk away, if there is a fundamental mismatch of values that may cause the offense to recur. Take care of you. I’m not likely going to be changing the person I am solely to avoid offending you, under most circumstances

On another hand, though, I do enjoy authentically connecting with other people, and I don’t enjoy hurting them. So, when I learn that something I am likely to do or say, particularly with any regularity, or by any preference or defining characteristic of self, is reliably offensive or hurtful to others, I take a long close look at that, and ask myself if that is who I truly want to be, and does it really reflect my values? Because it matters. Because I do care. Sometimes, I even care enough to change who I am, or how I express myself, in order to be a better human being, just generally. Sometimes, upon reflection, whatever the potential offending moment is doesn’t seem to be a thing I want or need to change, for myself, and I choose instead to stand firm on those values, understanding that my choices reflect my character, my values, and define who I am. I recognize that not everyone is going to find me likable. That’s okay, too.

My swearing, and sarcasm, are good examples to use to illustrate my point.

I swear. I swear rather a lot. I sprinkle my writing and my speech with swearing. Feels naturally expressive, and I use it as a sort of verbal punctuation. There have been times in my life when individuals of varying closeness have expressed a distaste for, or even been offended by, my swearing. I reflected on that long, and often, and chose not to change, other than refining the way I do use such language to be more limited, more specific, and less likely to be a direct attack on another person.

Sarcasm, on the other hand, once flowed from my lips like a singer’s song, and as it turns out, I’m also a bit “tone-deaf” in that form of speech. I can dish it out, but don’t understand it reliably when I hear it, and did not understand when I was much younger how easily people can be hurt by sarcasm, or how easily confused if they don’t recognize it, or at the extreme edges of the verbal form, how little difference there may be between sarcasm and, say, gas lighting or deceitfulness. It has a lot to do with whether or not the listener realizes what they are hearing is sarcasm. Turns out quite a few people, including me, often don’t recognize sarcasm when they hear, or read, it. I reflected a lot on sarcasm, and how I used it, how I received it, how I understood it – and how commonplace it is that someone else doesn’t realize what is being said could be being said sarcastically, resulting in misunderstanding. I chose to change. I rarely use sarcasm, even as humor, at this point in my life. Now and then, and usually without realizing I’ve done so until too late to reconsider, one might still hear sarcasm from me. It’s rare. Very rare. More common is to hear sarcasm in my speech and misunderstand me – because I wasn’t being sarcastic, I was perhaps, just… wrong. Or thinking I was being funny (I’m not that funny, and I have a very weird sense of humor based, primarily, on wordplay, and the layers of meanings of words). These days I try to stay very deliberately away from sarcasm. It’s hard to do well without hurting someone.

When do words matter? When don’t they? Language functions by agreement. Communication is most effective when we understand each other. We build healthy relationships most easily when we don’t use language to hurt each other. Explicit clarification of our position is more readily understood than implicit acceptance of assumptions. These things seem obvious to me. They resonate with me, personally, as fundamentals of speaking, of listening, and of being heard. I found it worth changing, to make use of these principles with greater ease. There are still verbs involved. I’m quite human. I still find it necessary to “check myself” now and then in a moment of frustration, or annoyance. Still, I have a good idea of who I want to face in the mirror each day, and what her values truly are. I make mistakes. I can begin again. I become what I practice. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m quitting Facebook. I use the active verb form because it is, like so many things, a process. You see, I’m not walking away angry, or reacting to outrage, or taking a revolutionary stand against Big Data… I’m just done with the negative changes to my cognition, to my brain chemistry, and, frankly, to my relationships. Social media hasn’t improved our relationships so much as given us a perception of connection, a veneer of the superficial imposed over the framework of real connection. The depth and authenticity are being lost. More memes, less original content. More shared articles I’ve already read elsewhere, fewer shared actual individual observations, opinions, or commentary. More advertising – a lot more advertising – and I’m no longer comfortable with the trade-off for what is, at its heart, nothing more than a hyperlinked address book of sorts, with pictures. So… I’m quitting Facebook. We’re breaking up.

It’s weird, but then, so am I, I suppose. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve put a lot of thought and consideration into this, and it’s been a long time coming, supported by rather a lot of content and reading that touches on the subject of “what is social media really doing to/for us?

I don’t actually want to lose touch with friends – old or new – or close family members. That’s not the point at all. So, I have been contacting friends in batches, letting them know I am breaking up with Facebook, and updating my contacts to enjoy a future of actual conversations (I know, right? So weird.), and email, and pictures on Instagram, which I’ve decided to keep (at least for now). It’s taking some days just to do the data entry involved with this break up – like other break ups, there’s paperwork involved. lol

I remind friends of where my blog lives, mindful that sharing it on Facebook won’t be a thing anymore. I redirect fans of my artwork from my Facebook page, to my WordPress art blog. I update my contacts as friends reach out to share their current details.

…I scroll through my Facebook feed a few more times, aware that this is symptomatic of one of the reasons I’m breaking up with Facebook; it is a huge drain on my bandwidth, without any legitimate reward. Rarely any new information gained. Too many opportunities to be immersed in drama, and negativity. Relationships colored by propaganda, trolling, and mutual outrage. Spelling errors. Russian troll bots.

…I’ll miss the pictures. Pictures of moments I did not share with my friends… possibly because it didn’t feel necessary to participate; I knew I’d see the pictures. :-\ Yikes. Yeah. Time to move on from this bad long-term relationship, Facebook, you’re no good for me. lol

Looks like I’ll be getting back more time to write… ๐Ÿ˜‰ Definitely a new beginning, right here. ๐Ÿ˜€

Even on the days I feel strongest, most well, most balanced, healthiest, most prepared to adult on all cylinders, even if I feel like a super hero – I’ve got my Kryptonite. We all do. When I am mindful of my limitations, my boundaries, and skillfully setting and managing expectations with others, I can plan around all that. Kryptonite is different; it’s that emotional weakness, trigger, or character flaw that trips one up most often, sometimes quite unexpectedly.

What’s your Kryptonite? Mine happens to be frustration. :-\ Life would seem much “easier” without it. lol

My day started easily. Gently. Rather routinely. The commute was effortless, and efficient. I already had my weekend plans sorted out. My day is locked into a plan pretty comfortably, too. I got into the office feeling relaxed, and ready.

Fat fucking lump of Kryptonite sitting right in my inbox. LOL

Breathe. Take a step back from that shit. Remind myself none of this is personal, really, almost never. At all. Another deep, relaxing breath. This? Not about me. If I make it about me, then it becomes toxic – and I “lose my super powers”. lol Metaphors work for me.

I get a fresh cup of coffee, return to my desk, and get on with things. Re-set. Restart. Reboot. Do-over.

Begin again.

I got off work yesterday in a good mood, tired, enthusiastic about the walk through town and over the bridge at twilight, and looking forward to a quiet evening at home. The commute wasn’t merely uneventful, it was also a miracle of coincidence and great timing. I arrived home, still smiling.

Some enchanted evening...

Some enchanted evening…

What follows is a cautionary tale about emotional health.

As I waited for dinner to cook, not wanting to wander off or be distracted, I picked up my phone, and opened my news feed. I noticed there seem to a be lot of articles about hate, hate crimes, and the general mistreatment of human beings toward one another. I dove right in and read one, then another, and another… over minutes, I read several. I was also cooking, and pretty focused on that. As minutes passed, I found myself no longer smiling. Feeling somewhat discontent. Generally a bit aggravated. A few minutes further on, I was feeling annoyed. Irritable actually. I sat down with dinner, finding fault with small things that typically don’t bother me at all. (Damn, are the guys next door going to be so noisy all evening? Seriously? Is that a leaf on the floor from where I came in, earlier??)

I ate my dinner in a mood of aggravation and discontent. It seemed a mysterious change, and it was some minutes before I connected my roiling stew of negative emotions looking for a fight with reading the news some time earlier. Then I did make the connection. I put down my device. I tidied up the dinner dishes feeling a bit thoughtful and pre-occupied. Had I really made a point of willfully turning a lovely mood sour by my own hand? What was I thinking? I sigh, recognizing the temptation of turning my negative emotions on myself, rather than helping myself into a better emotional place with at least the same effort I brought to wrecking the pleasant mood I was in, in the first place; it’s easier to be hard on myself than it is to change.

I gave the news a rest, and renewed my commitment to not treating myself so badly in the first place. News retailers are in business, and business is focused on profit, and what is profitable is holding consumer attention, and what holds consumer attention is… outrage. Yep. We gobble up news about hate, about fear, about the outrageous and “what is wrong with the world” – and then wonder why we’re angry, outraged, or frightened. We’re some fancy fucking primates – not all that smart about some things, but damn, we’re fancy. We write news, put it in front of other primates, sell what we can – and write more of that. Think about that for a minute – if the point is sales, and profitability, and what sells are the stories about hate, doesn’t it seem quite obvious that more stories about hate will be written? I’m not saying that the world isn’t full up on hate these days, but I am saying that whether or not it were, if stories about hate are what sells the most views, clicks, and subscriptions, then aren’t there going to be just a whole bunch more stories about hate? To read. To be consumed. To set an impression of the world we live in, generally?

I put myself in a gentle time out and spent much of the evening meditating. It was a significant improvement over reading the news. I ended the evening feeling soothed and balanced. Hate in the world is not eased or relieved by fear, or anger, or more hate. Awareness that hate in the world is an issue is something to cultivate, but succumbing to it myself is to be avoided. That seems practical and obvious (to me). I don’t need to read even one more article about some human being treating another badly “because Trump” – I am aware that human beings mistreating each other is a problem. It was a problem before the election, and it will likely continue to be a problem after the next four years is behind us; some people choose some really vile verbs. Hate exists. Fear exists. Anger exists. People having those experiences are probably having them in fashion that seems justified, reasonable, or even appropriate to them in the moment. There are some hateful things going on. There are some scary circumstances (and scarier people) in the world. There are good reasons to be angry, and things worthy of being angry about.  It remains a worthy endeavor to treat people well, nonetheless – including the person in the mirror.

This morning I woke to the alarm. A new day. A chance to begin again. I don’t start with the news. I renew my commitment to myself to choose what I read with great care. Sensational headlines get my attention; that’s why they work, that’s why they are written that way. It’s generally enough to read the headline, sass it silently, and move on. Advertising and color commentary masquerading as actual news can be distracting – and emotive. I remind myself to avoid it. Hell, at some point, continuing to read and reread the same tired bullet points spread across media outlets, being used to stoke new outrage and keep reader engagement high, actually takes time away from taking action on causes that matter… in some cases, the very causes that are so engaging to read about. (How many news stories have you read about DAPL? Have you taken a leave from work to get out there and help? Donated money? Written letters to congress? Any verbs at all – or just reading along? How about the lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan? Local homelessness? Foreign wars? Just saying; there’s plenty in the world that could use some well-chosen verbs.)

I’ll point out that all the same choices and practices that soured my mood could be made more selectively, more skillfully, and used to build a great mood from a bad one: intellectual distraction, investment in a specific emotion by choosing experiences that tend to reinforce and enhance it, repetition, and mindfully engaging that emotional experience deeply.

Today is a good day to put down the news, set aside the outrage machinery, and choose some verbs. If the point of life is to live it… why would I be spending my precious limited lifetime reading the news, anyway? ๐Ÿ˜‰

There is so much we get to decide for ourselves, so many options on life’s menu to choose from moment to moment, day to day, over the course of a life, lived. We choose a lot of stuff. We make a lot of choices. Many decisions are in our hands. There is something we don’t get to decide; we don’t get to decide if we’ve hurt someone else. They get to decide that, as the person who feels hurt. Period. End of discussion. Non-negotiable. We only know our own intention, and we’ll lie to ourselves about that, if it suits us. (Yes, you too. Yes, me too.) We tend to make ourselves the protagonist in our own narrative – and “the good guy” as well.

Yesterday I hurt my traveling partner’s feelings. I wasn’t sure how initially; I was feeling pretty fucking hurt myself, as it happened. He’d managed to hurt my feelings, too. He brought his hurt feelings to my attention immediately. I felt crappy for hurting him, angry that he’d hurt me, and resentful that he “got to it first”, resulting in also feeling that I had no legitimate opportunity to speak up about my own hurt feelings with him directly, without undermining the sincerity of my apology for hurting him. It was a less than ideal situation for good communication, or affectionate support. Still… I muddled through, and stayed true to one understanding of emotions I have learned I can count on; when we feel hurt, whatever the circumstances, we want the person we perceived has hurt us to acknowledge our suffering, and the part they played in it, and if possible we want them to make it right (or at least to apologize sincerely without making excuses). It’s an important part of treating others well to be able to apologize wholly, to mean it, and to handle that quite separately from our own hurts. That’s hard sometimes.

It's hard to unsay the words.

It’s hard to unsay the words.

I don’t always recognize that I’ve hurt someone. I don’t always understand why they are hurting. If they are hurting, and they tell me they are hurting, I accept that the hurt they are experiencing is truly their experience; it isn’t up to me to decide for them what hurts. No amount of comparison to my own experience, or other experiences, can serve to define, clarify, or place limits on the experience of someone saying they are hurt; it’s their experience, no one knows like they do. Let’s put another period right there, while we’re at it – this is also a non-negotiable on life’s journey; we don’t get to tell someone else how they feel. Just stop doing that shit. (I still catch myself, sometimes, and it usually begins innocently enough as an attempt to connect, to understand, to empathize… doesn’t matter much how it begins, if it ends with me telling you how you feel, I am in error for doing so, regardless whether I am coincidentally correct about your emotional state.)

Search all the books that matter most to you, there are still verbs involved. :-)

Search all the books that matter most to you, there are still verbs involved. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve gotten decently skilled at some of the emotional intelligence stuff… It hasn’t necessarily eased the journey in any noteworthy way. lol I am quite human, and struggle most with emotions within the context of my most passionate intimate relationships like pretty nearly everyone else. I’m okay with that, it is a process and there is no lack of love. I felt sad to have hurt my traveling partner’s feelings. Keeping my sadness to the side, without disrespecting my own emotional needs, I made myself commit to listening deeply, however much his words hurt me (there was nothing abusive about them, just painfully frank, and striking directly at where I also hurt most, myself, in that moment). In listening with great care, and great compassion, I stayed open to accepting that I had hurt him, regardless of my intent. I apologized. He lashed out, hurt and angry, and I apologized again for hurting him, while I wept private tears. My morning felt pretty blown. My head ached. I felt heartsick.

Perspective matters. I often find it here. ;-)

Perspective matters. I often find it here. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I took the space I needed to care for my own heart. That was a mixed effort for some time. It got easier after my traveling partner had time to give consideration to the morning, himself, with a clear head, and unencumbered by his own hurts. He apologized to me. We mutually acknowledged the misunderstandings, the miscommunications, mistakes resulting from the order in which text messages were received or read, the way key words and phrases evoke emotional reactions, we reinforced our value to each other, and took time to say soothing, caring things. We moved on.

Be love. It's a choice. Love is a verb.

Be love. It’s a choice. Love is a verb.

Did I hurt my traveling partner’s feelings deliberately? No. I wouldn’t. It’s not my way and I find no value in willfully treating people poorly. Did I hurt his feelings at all? He said I did, therefore that is his experience; my own, in that moment, is not relevant to his experience – even if I am also hurting. (Those are quite separate experiences.) It’s hard not to respond to my lover’s pain with my own pain – but it’s not productive, generally, to do so.

Our own pain easily manages to feel like the worst pain we’ve ever known (and generally without regard to whether we’ve ever hurt worse in the past, in other circumstances). Our approach to the pain of others is differentย – we want to fix it, to help, and we most certainly don’t want them hurting, we try to make it go away, or try to ignore it. As silly as it seems to read it in print, we behave as though we can use our words to re-craft our experience omitting their pain. It just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes people hurt. Sometimes we are the reason why they are hurting. The result, too often, is that we put our own pain ahead of the pain of others and end up imagining our pain hurts worse, when we cannot possibly know that, and can’t validate that assumption even by asking. The kinder choice is simply to be compassionate about pain, and to apologize when we’ve hurt someone. In mutually supportive relationships among equals, this is a reciprocal practice.

It’s still super hard though; if I feel hurt I want that attended to, and letting it go long enough to care for the pain of another is one of the more difficult practices I practice. Sometimes the result, as with yesterday, is that after that hurt person is cared for, they return that care and soothe my hurt in return. Sometimes that is not the case, and I must care for myself. The thing about that… it’s okay. I’m getting pretty good at caring for myself, and when I must, I can count on me to do so pretty skillfully. The most important thing is to refrain from treating myself badly while supporting someone else. Yesterday I managed it through a haze of tears over text communication… I don’t know that I could have done it with as much success in person. I’m still very much a student. I need more practice.

I keep practicing.

I keep practicing.

My traveling partner and I enjoyed a splendid fun evening, later on, and not “as if nothing had happened” – that’s a place I don’t personally want to get trapped. Instead, we enjoyed the deeper intimacy of two human beings, fully human, loving each other humanity and all, awake and aware, present with each other. When we greet each other our embrace wrapped us both in warmth and affection, and the shared understanding that we’re really there for each other – even when we’re the ones bringing the pain. Those sincere reciprocal apologies built on respect, consideration, compassion, and openness, delivered with awareness, and accepted with heartfelt relief make a huge difference. We go forward stronger. Love wants a good apology without reservations, and without excuses. It’s okay to save reasons for another moment, a different conversation, some other time.

This morning I sip my coffee, content and calm. No lingering tears, no “emotional hangover”. It’s nice. It’s been a long journey to get here. There is further to go. Today is a good day for housekeeping, and becoming the woman I most want to be. Today is a good day to practice loving well.