We, all of us, are a messy mix of virtue and vice. But virtual worlds may lead us to see people through black or white filters. Instead of character flaws, we see demons. Every human being has some goodness inside them. Somewhere. But in the virtual world, 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: flawed humans, as imperfect as we are ourselves.
There certainly are people and situations that deserve righteous anger: those who hurt for the sport of it; deceivers and exploiters; and those who engage in destructive behavior and thoughtless self-indulgence that causes harm.
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: both the anger and the woundedness 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. When we see them only in black and white. When we do not see them as whole, imperfect people.
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. My instinct is simply to ignore it, mentally flipping the channel.
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.
I do believe in standing up for one’s strong convictions. I am not a member of the spineless school of can’t-we-all-just-get-along. 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. I have no time or energy to waste on this crap.
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 (as I am). 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, and risks making me look ridiculous. 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.
This was written originally about political debate. I am republishing it by request in a shorter form.