So I have something to confess: I’ve been sort of angry lately.
And why have I been angry, you might ask? (Or, maybe you didn’t, but I’m going to complain to you anyway.) I’ve been angry generally, broadly, at the state of the world.
It feels as though the #metoo movement has been losing a bit of its momentum lately, but I’ve been one of those people who refuses to let it die. And as a result of talking about this so publicly, as often as I have, I’ve been hearing a lot of slut shaming and victim blaming comments lately. I’ve had people tell me that women’s issues don’t matter. And for the first time since I opened up about my struggles with mental illness about a year ago, I’ve had people try to insult me by calling me “seriously mentally ill”, making me realize that I cannot own my mental illness without certain people immediately dismissing me as some sort of uninformed, unintelligent, worthless person.
All of this has resulted in me feeling a little bit pessimistic about the state of the world.
And that isn’t to say that I haven’t had rewarding experiences from talking about this issue. I have. I don’t regret speaking out, but the problem is that anger and pessimism is easy to fall into. As the saying goes, “if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”
And normally, I’d say that a little bit of anger is healthy. A little bit of anger stokes that fire in your belly. A little bit of anger keeps you going. But I don’t like this anger that I’ve had lately. This anger is not the sort of anger that keeps me going; it’s the kind that makes me dismissive and rude and sloppy. It’s the kind of anger and frustration that often comes from feeling like you haven’t been heard.
And that’s incredibly important – for both sides of every argument. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to feel as though an attempt was made to listen to their argument and understand and sympathize. Nobody likes to feel as though they’ve been dismissed.
And this anger that I’ve been feeling – it’s the kind of anger that makes it easy to dismiss people. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just stupid”, without stopping to think that they might have a reason for why they think the way that they do. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just a garbage human being”, without stopping to realize that they’re still a human being.
And the problem with saying the sort of things that this anger makes you think is that it isn’t constructive. It doesn’t make the other person feel as though they’ve been heard or understood. It makes them feel dismissed, because they are sort of being dismissed. It makes them angry. And when both sides of the argument feel angry and ignored, it creates a divide. It makes it difficult for any progress to be made, because both sides of the argument have shut down completely. Discussions cannot be had. Greater understanding cannot be reached. Nobody is learning anything, and that doesn’t help either cause. It only creates resentment. So although my recent anger is born from my complete and total dedication to this cause, it simultaneously hurts this cause and turns people away from it.
And, as I said, anger is easy. Pessimism is easy. There is some research that even suggests that we, as human beings, are naturally inclined to focus on the negative. And, more than that, when someone isn’t listening to what we have to say, it can be very easy to ask ourselves why we need to be the bigger person if they won’t be. Why is it okay for them to insult us, to dismiss us, to belittle us, and yet we can’t do the same to them? But the thing is, this sort of anger isn’t healthy or constructive for anyone. It hurts the person who we are dismissing, because they don’t feel as though they’ve been heard. It hurts our cause in the long run, because like it or not, we are representing it, and so we cannot use it as an excuse to mock or belittle people without serious detriment. And it also hurts ourselves, because it makes us bitter and pessimistic and sad. It isn’t fair, not to anyone. It’s easy, but it isn’t right.
And I know that it can sometimes be hard to swallow your anger, especially when what the other person is saying is something that you perceive to be very harmful. But one thing that I have found very useful for getting passed your anger is, quite simply, this: take some time with what they say. Don’t respond to them immediately, because if you do that, your response will be pure emotion. But, rather, think about it. Try to imagine the issue from their perspective. Try to explain to yourself why they might think that way (and don’t run to that default excuse that they’re stupid, because it isn’t true). When you do get back to them with your response, chances are, it will be more logical, more thought out, and more sympathetic.
And maybe they still won’t hear you. That is very possible, and when that happens, it can be very frustrating. But if you listen to them and you try to understand them (not necessarily agree with them if you just don’t), a few things still happen that otherwise wouldn’t:
- You expand your understanding of the issue. You see that there are other views, and you have at least made an attempt to understand the thought process behind these views, so that, if you still don’t agree with them, you can intelligently and thoughtfully explain why you don’t agree with them.
- You don’t make any enemies – for either yourself or the cause that you might be fighting for. The people that you have been talking to still might not agree with you, but at least they feel heard. At least they feel as though a discussion has been had (or at least attempted, in some cases), and at least they are not made to feel stupid and ignored. Nobody is hurt because of this discussion. And, whether you want to hear this or not in moments of anger, that is incredibly important.
We are far too quick to dismiss people in this society – and perhaps part of that is because anger is easy. Listening to people is difficult. It takes actual effort to sit back and think about other perspectives, and I’m not trying to say that we don’t want to put the effort in. Sometimes, it just isn’t our first response, especially not when we feel insulted and ignored.
But putting that effort in, taking the time to step outside of your emotional response, is worthwhile. As I said, a little bit of anger can fuel you, but too much anger will have its consequences.