It’s an election year again, and I would prefer to hide under a rock for the next year.
No one seems to understand why I hate politics so much. I don’t have strong opinions about very many political issues. I am not particularly loyal to one political party or another. When I tune out of conversations about politics, people tend to assume that I disagree with their views. But that’s not it.
Political conversation, in this day and age, seems to bring out the absolute worst in almost everyone. I hate politics because I hate what politics does to people. Those with strong opinions tend to listen to popular provocateurs who skillfully tap into base emotions and inflame them. They stir up hatred and convince us that it is righteous anger. They ignite our fears by demonizing our opponents, until we become convinced that we are utterly just and the other side is mired in evil (or at least incompetence). We do not see our opponents as they are. Instead we see the demons that zealots have conjured in our imaginations.
It seems to me, sometimes, that politics is not about examining the issues, but about vanquishing one’s opponents, regardless of the merit of their point of view. The thinking seems to be “my side is always right and your side is always wrong.” Don’t get me wrong: I am not a member of the wishy-washy can’t-we-all-just-get-along school. I do believe in standing up for one’s strong convictions. I also believe in honesty—especially self-honesty—which includes the ability to see the actual merits of issues—and people—independently of my feelings about them. If I have learned nothing else in life, I have come to accept that no one among us is purely good or purely evil. We, all of us, are a messy mix of virtue and vice. Every human being has character flaws, some bigger than others. Every human being also has some goodness inside them. Somewhere. If I can’t see both, then I am not seeing clearly.
These thoughts also relate to the so-called “drama” that seemingly is ever-present in the virtual world. The relative anonymity of our world seems to encourage people to say things they would never dream of saying in “real” life, including bold lies and cruel words for which they never have to take responsibility. It also tempts us to leap to conclusions; when we can’t see others face to face, our unconscious tends to fill in blanks with assumptions that may or may not be justified. Furthermore, in the online world our emotions tend to be magnified. All of this creates a recipe for hurt feelings, deception and misunderstanding.
Speaking for myself, drama bores me. It also makes me a little nauseous. It feeds on emotional energy and I have none to spare. Life is too short to waste one minute of it on such nonsense. Just as with political debate, in the presence of drama my instinct is simply to ignore it, mentally flipping the channel.
There certainly are people and situations that deserve anger: the bullies and those who hurt for the sport of it, deceivers and exploiters, those who engage in destructive behavior and thoughtless self-indulgence that causes harm. As I said, I do believe in standing up for myself; I am no mild-mannered pushover. I will protect myself and those I love, and will not submit to such treatment.
But it seems to me that too many people are addicted to the primitive thrill of drama. They seem to hunger for the battle-lust of explosive anger, or the conspicuous display of woundedness from having been wronged. I won’t deny it: such things can feel very satisfying—especially because it seems so clean, when we can’t see the effect of our words in the facial expressions of our target.
As for me, I have chosen a different approach.
I cannot stop anyone from trying to hurt me. I cannot control the behavior of others. I can only control my own. I try to do no harm. If someone claims to have been harmed by me, I try to embrace self-honesty and humility, always allowing for the possibility, however remote, that I might be wrong, and that I might learn something from my opponent. If I have done wrong, I swallow my pride and apologize.
If someone is harming me, I will do what is necessary to stop it—which usually means simply walking away. In most cases, fighting back stops nothing. It only prolongs it. If I choose to participate in their negativity, I give it power. If I turn my back on it, it has no power over me. I just turn away, without saying a word… and without giving any ground.
Even when I have been hurt, I resist the temptation to demonize my opponents. As difficult as it might be to imagine, I do my best to assume that they are people of good will, trying their best, as I am, to live lives of integrity. They may be damaged (as I am) or lacking in communication skills. Their action may have been thoughtless, or misguided. If so, then striking back would solve nothing.
I do not engage in vengeance or payback. I treat everyone with compassion whether they deserve it or not. When you do a small kindness for someone who hates you, they might spit in your face. But sometimes, a compassionate act, even a small one, is infinitely more powerful than an angry one.
And when I have been hurt, I resist the temptation to wallow in my woundedness. All that usually accomplishes is prolonging the pain and spreading it to innocent bystanders. If someone hurt me intentionally, broadcasting my pain would only encourage them. If the hurt was unintentional, the flaunting of bloodied bandages accomplishes nothing. I know how to cope with my feelings in an adult manner, and then let them go.
At all times, I listen, with an open heart, to the words of others, and to their fear, their wounds, their hopes and desires. I listen for the good in them. And I have never yet failed to find it.