Funnily enough, I’m not speaking about a certain US President who has a proclivity for rage-tweeting at 5am. Not directly.
Rather, I am talking about the rest of us who, whether we wish to admit it or not, have taken his actions as permission to be less kind, less tolerant, less understanding, less objective, no matter which side of the political fence we sit.
“Fight fire with fire and the whole world burns” is a phrase that comes to mind.
Do people have a right to be outraged when they feel wronged? Of course, we have a right to FEEL it. Everyone has a right to their emotional response to whatever triggers them. But should we then act on it in an aggressive, self-absorbed or dismissive way without stopping a moment and putting ourselves in the other’s shoes? Well, maybe not so much.
It seems to me that while that aforementioned President of the United States is the current granddaddy of them all in the private-rage-followed-by-public-tantrum stakes, primarily because his public platform is so large, there are plenty of others who are in his camp, even if they don’t share his outlook.
And again, I’m not speaking about journalists, other public figures or anyone who has a large public platform. Not necessarily. I’m speaking about friends, colleagues, associates. Everyday people who we interact with as part of our usual routine, who are having their own phase of “I’m right, even if I’m wrong and I don’t care if that upsets you, because I’m upset and that’s all that matters”.
I have personally dealt with such a situation recently, which was frankly gob-smacking in it’s intensity and unexpectedness, but I also know I’m not alone. I’m hearing similar stories from too many others in my own and related circles. Which has got me thinking.
How do we handle these people? Do we do what I’ve done and just walk away? Do we try to reason? Do we argue back? Do we listen and try to empathise? Do we just shut them down? Do we punish them in some way? What DO we do? And maybe, more importantly, what is causing these individuals to lash out in these outbursts as they are?
I have a temper to match the best of them. I have learned through hard experience that it is a weapon to wield only with great caution. Sadly, I don’t always manage to control it, but I keep trying. Of course, anger is never good to keep in and should always find an outlet, but another person, or any living creature, is not really the best target to choose.
But what about when you feel that there’s no other option? When you feel that only anger will push through your point?
Right now, for example, I’m coming out the other side of being pretty angry. I’m tired and disappointed now, but anger was definitely a driving emotion behind it all. What was I angry about? In a nutshell: Unfairness. Both to myself and to a project I was involved in. One person’s actions was causing major spot fires on a regular basis all over the shop and I was the one on the ground who somehow ended up with the fire hose and had to keep putting them out. Was I angry just with them? Sadly, no. By the time it was done, I was angry with everyone involved. Why? Because eventually, I became the target for the fires and despite putting out all those other fires to protect everyone else, nobody stepped forward to put them out for me.
Did I get upset? Of course. Did I let loose with my own blast of fire? No. I could have, but I didn’t. Why? Because I had to look at the situation and decide what my part in it was and take responsibility for it. Was that fun? Not at all. Could I have played the blame-game and publicly put the responsibility squarely onto the original firebug? Of course. Would that have solved anything? Absolutely not. Why? Because fighting back would have killed something that I still happen to believe in. And I wasn’t prepared to pay that price just to satisfy my bruised ego.
So I walked instead. Reluctantly, chafing a little, but I walked. Do I wish it was different? Of course. But it isn’t and so here we are.
So, what about that anger? Do I still feel it? No. It’s faded now, the sharp pain is now the dull ache of disappointment, and that too will fade in time. I’m not used to abdicating responsibility, that ain’t my style, but then I realised that by staying, I wasn’t actually helping, I was, in fact, hindering. I needed to leave so everyone else could step up. They were ready, I’d given them time to grow and now I just needed to get out of the way.
So I did.
Back to how do we handle those angry people. My answer? With love and empathy. I know, it sounds like dope smoking hippie talk, but I’m serious. Am I saying you have to like these people? No? Do you have to tolerate their bullshit longer than five minutes? No. But you can still love them. Love them because they are reflecting back to you how you could also be if you chose that path. Be grateful that they are acting as a warning beacon for you. Understand that they are in pain. Yes, even that former reality TV star turned politician is in pain, hard as you might find that to believe. And to be in pain and act out is so very human and who among us hasn’t been a total pain in the ass when hurting? I know I am, as my partner can attest.
I guess this post is my long-winded way of saying that my recent experience has reminded me that people usually only lash out due to fear or pain, which can sometimes be the same thing. Insecurity is the biggest driving force of bad behaviour and those who feel a need to demand love usually feel they don’t deserve it. Not that they’ll admit that to you, but trust me, that’s what it’s about. From the schoolyard or workplace bully to the colleague sniping about you behind your back – they are usually fighting their own demons called Fear and Loathing of Self.
“Kill with kindness” is a saying for a reason. Be kind. Be firm, be clear, be resolute, but also be kind. A director friend pointed out to me recently when speaking to him about this recent situation that all people want is validation. To be heard. To be seen. Some want total adoration and rose petals thrown at their feet, but if you find yourself in the company of one of those, I’d recommend just leaving the room.
Or giving them a slap, then a hug, then leaving the room. Whatever response works for you.