Tag Archives: conflict

Community and conflict

Most of us in English speaking countries do not live in tight knit communities where people depend on each other to survive. As a consequence, unlike most of our ancestors we can afford not to be too invested in the idea of community. When things go wrong, we can just move on to another space. What this overlooks of course is the deep feeling of unrootedness and un-belonging that comes from changing your social context to deal with conflict. We might not need our communities to survive the winter, but we do need them for emotional wellbeing.

It’s easy to see conflict in personal terms, and understand it purely as being about those directly involved. Two people appear to fall out, and so we take the moral high ground by not getting involved, not taking sides, not asking what happened. If one of the people involved pulls away and leaves, we shrug, and say it’s a shame, and carry on with life. We all bear the losses quietly, because this is normal. We all bear the impact of the original problem, directly or indirectly.

One of the things this does is to tacitly support bullying and abuse. If one person mistreats another and we all nobly sit on the fence and refuse to pass judgement, we enable misbehaviour. It is the victim who will be pushed out. The person who was acting out will do it again, and probably get away with it again. This is not in anyone’s interests and does not make for a good community.

If we recognise that all relationships are held in a wider community context, we can look at them differently. It does not seem so acceptable for a community as a whole to react to a conflict by shrugging its shoulders. It becomes necessary for the community to find out what’s going on, make judgements and take action. These may be small measures to smooth over troubles and build bridges. There may be larger moves called for to challenge unacceptable behaviour. It may be necessary to identify what is intolerable.

If someone bullies, exploits, abuses, controls or otherwise mistreats a person, it is not because of something inherent in the victim. It is because the abusive person is an abusive person. They can and will do that again. If a person lacks the experience, empathy or insight to navigate relationships well, they will keep having the same problems – either because they don’t hold the boundaries they need, or because they don’t deal well with others. Either way, it helps when the people around them respond to this and take on some responsibility for fixing it.

I’ve been in communities that shrug shoulders over conflict. I’ve watched people leave those spaces in all kinds of states of distress and discomfort. I’ve been the person who leaves. I’ve also been in spaces with people who take responsibility for the wellbeing of the community as a whole, and who wade in when things get difficult. I’ve seen problems solved, and people challenged in good ways, to do better. I’ve seen vulnerable people supported, and socially awkward people helped. I’ve seen confidence built, and boundaries fostered. I’ve seen wellbeing improved, and the communities in question grow stronger for making the choice to act in these ways.

Leadership and conflict

This is a scenario I’ve seen play out repeatedly in Pagan organisations, and which I assume happens other places too. It invariably causes a lot of trouble and distress, and I am absolutely certain that it could be handled differently.

In the beginning, two people get into conflict. Most usually this starts privately, but because both people are members of the same group, it either gets taken to that group in some way, or spills over into it. It can be a falling out, a communication breakdown, it can be one person harassing or bullying another. At this early stage, it is seldom possible to see the shape of the thing from the outside.

A person, or people with leadership roles and power say “ah, but it didn’t happen on our boards/facebook page, or at our event so we aren’t responsible for sorting it out.”

Where there is bullying, at this point the victim has no choice but to leave while the perpetrator often stays. I’ve said it before and will say it again – doing nothing is not a neutral stance, it is a choice that supports and enables bullying and abuse.

Where there is conflict, it may well spill out into the wider group. Leaders may not pile in, but friends will. You can end up with two sides and a deepening divide. You can end up with more people leaving because they don’t like how it’s been handled. If it really goes pear-shaped, you can tear the entire group apart and bring it to an end. By which point it most assuredly is on the boards, facebook page, and at any real world events and it is night on impossible to bring it back under control or sort anything out.

I think the problem stems from the current human fashion of seeing our lives as fragmented. What happens in one aspect of our lives, we suppose, won’t impact on another. I’ve seen this logic implied even when the police have been involved. We come to our Pagan groups as whole people, and if we fall out with other people, it has an impact.

I think one of the things that leadership means, is stepping in when things go wrong like this. Step in as soon as the problem is visible, and listen to all parties. If it’s the sort of thing that calls for police involvement, support the victim in getting the police involved. If someone is out of order, tell them – explain to them what’s gone wrong and why and what can be done about it. If communication has broken down, be the bridge, get things moving again. If it’s the kind of thing people should just be able to deal with and get over, listen to both side and tell them this, and it might help. People are more likely to accept that judgement if you hear them out first. A little witnessing and taking seriously can do a lot to deflate a conflict if you get in early.

Community does not mean giving up on people as soon as things get challenging. Community does not mean ignoring bullying. It does not mean turning a blind eye to problems. If we’re a community, then problems arising within the community affect all of us, and we all have some responsibility to respond, regardless of whether we lead. As for leadership – that doesn’t mean getting to do the things you want to do and ignoring what people want from you. Good leadership means looking after your people, especially when things go wrong.

Guilt and creative challenges

We may feel guilty about not undertaking other forms of activism, we may feel our art *should* be able to do more and be frustrated that it can’t. The climate is not a good one in which to be a sensitive and creative person.

This is another case of knowing something with my head and having a lot of trouble feeling it with the rest of my body. There is more to activism than focused noise-making. We can’t spend our lives being against things, and fighting, that’s exhausting. We also have to imagine, and build. However, I think a big part of why I’m struggling on this score right now relates to another point I raised in the original post: Angry, hate-laden, nihilistic attitudes are everywhere.

I can’t imagine anything powerful enough to challenge that. How do you break through to people who are only invested in not giving a shit? Or people who are dedicated to hate? Which leaves me feeling I have no choice but to give up on a whole swathe of people – many of them young and shaped by campaigns of deliberate misinformation. I can’t make myself responsible for dealing with that, even though the question of how to respond to right wing radicalisation has been on my mind a lot for months now. And if we don’t all take responsibility for dealing with it, what happens?

My advice to people dealing with conflicts in Pagan circles has always been, ‘don’t fight them, simply put an alternative out there.’ When Pagan groups clash – over ways of working, ideas, use of spaces, and over egos, nothing good comes of feeding the conflict. Stepping back and simply offering an alternative is better in all ways than running some kind of hate campaign against people who are ‘doing it wrong’ from your perspective. Maybe many of our current cultural issues are the same. Calling out criminal behaviour – racism, sexism and abuse – is always the right way to go. The rest of the time, offering an alternative…

No one is obliged to care, or feel compassion, or be generous. No one is obliged to value the things I value. No one is required to worry about ecocide. If I want people to care about the things I care about, I need to lure them in, and I know that hard campaigning of any sort often doesn’t work. In fact it only works when addressing power – eg petitioning a government. Feeling guilty because I cannot save people from themselves, and I cannot save the rest of us from the consequences of that… isn’t working.

I am experiencing bouts of paralysis in face of all the hate and misery in the world. Maybe I need to deal with this by making more space to work through my own negativity – my own rage, fear, resentment, frustration. Not by attacking other people, but by processing this for myself so I can find a far side of it and come up with something better.

As strategies go, this one is still very much a work in progress, but ‘in progress’ is a good deal better than ‘frozen’ so, I’ll take it for now.

Not Getting On With People

We’re all peace and love and light, yes? The idea that we are, and that we should be, causes no end of trouble and I think sometimes adds to conflict. The reality is that there are many people in this world who do not get on with each other. It need not mean that either party is a terrible person (some people do terrible things though, this is a real issue). Sometimes, some of us rub each other up the wrong way. Sometimes we’re too similar to find each other bearable. Sometimes we bring out the worst in each other.

If we don’t feel obliged to be all peace, love and light, it’s possible to just acknowledge the problem and step away from each other. Distance is a great cure for friction. It doesn’t even take much distance – a little facebook unfriending, a little staying away from each other’s blogs, a little physical distance in other situations.

I spent years struggling with the mad belief that I should be so lovely, so infinitely flexible, accommodating, helpful, patient etc etc that everyone would like me. Everyone.  Never mind how inherently nauseating that would be if I managed to pull it off – the human equivalent of a beige carpet with the inevitable stains covered up by equally beige rugs. The day I realised it was fine if people didn’t like me, my life got a good deal easer. I don’t have to please and appease everyone. I may be a people-pleaser by nature, but I can choose how and where to do that.

Giving myself permission not to like everyone has been liberating. I do not give myself permission to hassle, troll or otherwise give people a hard time though – with the exception of politicians and other people in places of real power who may need calling to account now and then. Other flawed, messy people doing their own things might not be to my liking. I allow myself to move away from them. The endlessly dull people, the mean spirited, the controlling, the self-important, the uncooperative and so on and so forth.

I have learned to walk away and try to make as little fuss as possible. When the focus of my irritation responds to me in the same way, its fine. We might even be able to grudgingly respect each other from a safe distance. If they stay out of my face, they can expect I will do the same, because conflict is exhausting and I don’t enjoy it in the slightest. I would rather have a quieter life.

Of course it’s not always that simple. Some people enjoy a fight, and the frisson of conflict. Some people get a kick out of drama, and the scope for being centre stage. Some people need others in their lives to act out specific roles for them so that their stories continue to function. Being cast as someone else’s villain, someone’s oppressor and abuser is awkward if you really don’t want to play. Refusing to put any energy into a conflict is often the most productive way, because the person who feeds on drama and needs a fight doesn’t get much out of the person who isn’t really doing that.

Would that I were an ocean of smooth calm, unsusceptible to waves, but of course I’m not. I have buttons to push, I can be wound up, harassed to the point of losing my temper. If I feel I’ve been treated unfairly, I don’t always manage to go with the conflict-reduction methods. I know from bitter experience that simply removing energy from a situation can mean setting up someone else to be the next victim of the same process, and I don’t always feel at ease with that. Sometimes I get cross, because anger is a necessary part of holding boundaries.

Getting angry with a situation allows us all to hold a sense of self intact and place the problem squarely outside of us. It can be a vital survival skill. Holding the edges is a good thing, but it’s so easy to let defending the boundary turn into attacking the (perhaps imagined) aggressor, and from there it isn’t such a huge leap to doing unto others before they can do unto you, and becoming the problem.

It is ok not to like each other. Another person’s dislike does not invalidate any of us as people. It’s what we do with the dislike that counts.

Paths of peace and conflict

It’s human to disagree, and inevitable some of those disagreements will become serious. On the other side, peace, and conflict resolution are generally offered as part of a spiritual path. We are to practice love, compassion, and reconciliation. One of the things I have learned over the years is this only works if both parties want to resolve and reconcile. If you’re dealing with a user, a power seeker, an abuser or someone else of unpleasant inclinations, reconciliation just opens the door to more hurt.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to decide if reconciliation will bring peace, or further wounding, is to examine the price tag. There is always a cost to making peace with someone else. Some costs are perfectly acceptable – admitting any way in which you were genuinely in the wrong, for example. Sometimes we have to recognise that other people mess up for reasons, and they aren’t awful people even if they did something hurtful. We’re all learning, we’re all finite, we all make bad calls, or don’t know enough and so forth. If the price tag is that you just let go of this and give the person a second chance, because they’re sorry and it seems genuine, it’s a fair price to pay.

Sometimes the price tag is a painful working through of what went wrong and why. When mistakes or issues on both sides collide to create a problem, unpicking can hurt, but is possible, and is often worth going through because so much can be learned from it.

Other price tags are available. When you’re going to have to be really sorry, and really repentant, and have that wrong thing you did brought up over and over, reconciliation is expensive. When you think there’s shared blame, and other person will only accept making you responsible, reconciliation is hard, and perhaps futile. When you feel deeply hurt, or wronged, and your pain is treated like an attack on the other person, reconciliation can be dangerous. Being pressured to accept the damaging behaviour of someone who has more power than you, is dangerous.

If you’re in the wrong, there should be space to explain how you see things – many of us make innocent mistakes for honest and human reasons. Room to explain is important, especially if you’re going to accept responsibility, not deny it. If the mistake is honest, then the price tag of acceptance should lead to a much more comfortable situation and viable ways forward. If it doesn’t, ask questions.

Real reconciliation not only deals with the immediate conflict, but reduces the scope for conflict ahead. This is to be welcomed. Peace for the sake of peace can be really short term, sowing the seeds for the next round of conflict. Peace can allow perpetrators of unpleasantness to carry on unchallenged. It can increase the vulnerability and suffering of victims. When we can make peace with each other’s foibles and short comings, the world is a better place. When making peace allows the bad stuff to continue, the desire for peace becomes part of the problem.

Of heroes and dragons

We know the imagery. The hero (of any gender) turns up with a bloody great weapon and slaughters the evil beast, and saves the day. There is much rejoicing. From our earliest fairytales onwards we are taught how good it is to put down the bad guys, and that a hero is someone who destroys monsters. In real life, it doesn’t always work out so well.

“I feel so proud of myself for standing up to you.” “I’ve been wanting to say this to you for a long time now.” Two different scenes. Two different furious, self-righteous women who have just taken down a dragon. The dragon in question is evil. It makes awful demands. Its words can be inferred as being critical. It is not happy with how things are and it said so. It is such a selfish dragon! It was long overdue taking down a peg or two, and they pause to take pride in a job well done. They are triumphant. The dragon is crushed.

The dragon in question is not actually dead, but slinks back to its cave and cries, and feels dreadful. It picks over everything it has said and done, testing its perceptions against the accusations and wondering if it really is that awful, and if it really did need taking down. It looks at its dragon face in the mirror and wonders what is so innately wrong with it and why it is so hateful. What has shocked it most is the sense of how pleased the dragon-fighters are. They are so certain that they have done a good thing, bravely taking down its monster self.

Sometimes it pays to try and look at a story from another angle. How much do you have to hate a person, or feel jealous of them in the first place to enjoy crushing someone else’s spirit? Where are we in relationships when landing a punishing blow on our designated dragon feels like such a win and a source of pride? Where are we in our humanity when seeing someone else crawl off, wounded and confused, feels like a victory? How can that possibly be a win?

We don’t have stories about negotiation. No one says ‘maybe if we stopped cutting down the dragon’s forest and replacing the deer herds with our cattle the dragon wouldn’t bother us.’ None of the fairy stories of old tend to suggest that the dragon may have had feelings and needs too. When we take other people and turn them into dragons so that we can righteously fight them off, we forget that they are people too, and that there were other feelings and needs in the mix. The dragons want things that are not convenient, not comfortable or welcome. Does that make them monsters to be fought? If your dragon is trying to kill you then yes, you fight it off. If what your dragon said was ‘I could really do with some help tidying up’ or ‘I wish you felt you could be honest with me’ then putting on the armour and preparing to do battle is not the best response.

All too easily, we turn into monsters those who are merely guilty of being inconvenient, or not doing enough to feed our egos.

I’ve been the dragon. I’ve watched people glow with pride when they’ve wounded me. I’ve seen people delight in taking me down a peg or two. Or feeling proud of putting me on the floor, because they stood up for themselves, and this is automatically a good thing, in their minds. I’ve crawled back to my cave enough times to try and work out where I went wrong, and years on, the scars from the dragon-hunters remain, and the more recent ones still bleed sometimes. And yet there are other people for whom I am no kind of monster at all.

I try not to stay in spaces where I am cast as the villain and set up as the bitch to be taken down, the ice queen, the monster. I don’t want that role in anyone else’s life. I don’t want to provide anyone with something to test their metal on, I don’t want people trying to prove things by cutting me down to size. It took me until this winter to realise that maybe I do not deserve to be someone else’s dragon, and that maybe the problem in all of this is not actually me.

Messing up, with your community

It’s vitally important to be able to make mistakes. It’s very hard to be functional, alive and active without that possibility and virtually impossible to learn if you aren’t allowed to get it dreadfully wrong now and then. However, fear of making mistakes can make a lot of us unwilling to step into the swirling currents of life and have a try. In staying safely on the edges, we miss out.

One of the things I do with workshops, is make a space in which there is no ’wrong’. Doing harmony and chanting last week, I explained that there are soft, melodious harmonies, and there are crunchy, edgy exciting harmonies. There are no ‘bum’ notes. Not really. It’s a good deal easier to open your mouth when the sound emerging will be acceptable. I run bad poetry for the same reason. One can be naturally bad, or hone it as a comedy skill, either way it’s safe to have a giggle. Worst case scenario, someone accidently writes a good poem. That’s not a disaster.

It’s easy, in a workshop space, to create some room for people to play, and for the messing up to not even feel that way. That’s a really happy thing for me, and generally people seem to enjoy it.
A lot of how we feel about failure depends on our community. If the people around you will respond by helping you stand up again, pointing out the bits that were promising, or improving, if they commend you for having a go, and help you feel brave rather than stupid, you’ll do it again. Eventually, the odds are you will get somewhere. If, on the other and, your community is standing around waiting to score points off your failure, to ridicule, and discourage, then you’ll not risk it, try to hide it and generally feel bloody miserable about it. I know what sort of space I want to be in, and what I want to give to those around me, and it is permission to have another go.

Slaughter a song in public, and nobody actually dies. However, there are situations when our messing up matters a lot more. When we go as professionals into life and death situations, when we make choices that shape other people’s futures. Messing up a relationship and accidentally breaking another person’s heart is not so simply resolved as a burned attempt at cooking a meal, or a picture with some really dodgy perspective. There are things we should be afraid to fail at, and things we need to feel shame over getting wrong. So often in my experience, this has not been the case. Professional image is more important to many people who have one, than actually doing the right thing. Holding on to status, importance and self-belief is more valuable to many of us than compassion. Jo over at Octopus Dance has been pondering this one too – http://octopusdance.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/namaste/#comment-888 why are we so unkind to each other? Because so often we are afraid of our own failures and shortcomings being exposed. Rather than put effort into not messing up, we put effort into justifying ourselves and blaming others, and when we do that, our communities suffer.

And then there is the not rejecting entirely the people who fail us. I do not advocate forgiving those who deliberately abuse, but recognising the humanity of those around us. Giving second chances. Holding spaces in which it is possible to relinquish pain and move on. Several of the relationships I hold most dear have been tested to nearly breaking point by circumstance and error, and it was what happened in the depth of crisis that really defined trust and connection for me. The easy option is to walk away. I do that sometimes too, when I hurt too much, or when I have no reason to think there is any point trying.

It takes courage to own our mistakes. I’m so very glad of the people kind enough not to blame me for mine, and who were there to try again, and who listened to explanations and helped me learn how to do better. I am a very flawed and sometimes failing thing. Many of us are, but sometimes when we put those clashing, wounded notes together we end up with something that sounds like a very powerful kind of music.

Druid community

There are a lot of places online where Druids gather to talk, and there is a lot of diversity in Druidry. One of the things that depresses the hell out of me, is when debate generates into angry shouting. It does this rather a lot. As there are a number of different, well established approach to Druidry (as well as all the individual stuff) this more-druidy-than-thou attitude doesn’t seem that well founded. Even in conversations about how Druids are supposed to be peacemakers, we get it wrong. It makes me sad.

However, I’ve seen this week a Druid group over on google, where on the whole some quite strenuous discussion has happened without descending into the other stuff. This inspires me. It is important to be able to debate the hard topics, to be able to hear ideas that do not fit with our own. I think it is healthy and important to be challenged, to be required to explain your thinking, show your evidence and deal with people you don’t agree with.

It’s pretty easy to be a peaceful Druid when there’s no conflict available. That isn’t actual peace, it’s just a convenient setup. Real peace is being able to handle conflict without it getting nasty or destructive. This is where we really test ourselves, really find out if we can walk our talk. It doesn’t mean we have to agree, or like each other, or persuade everyone to think the same. It really comes down to respect, and being able to acknowledge that my truth may look different to your truth, and that we can live with this.

I get excited by challenges to my thinking and people who know stuff that I don’t. It’s part of my on-going love affair with being a student. I want to understand. That means encountering stuff that initially makes no sense to me, and rather than rejecting it, trying to engage with it. I get a real buzz out of those. So yes, I have tried to figure out why so many Druids don’t seem to get all excited when they run into someone with a different perspective. I think there are two factors. One is that we are not, as a community, taking manners seriously enough as an issue. It’s all well and good being passionate and plainly spoken, but that can be done without actually being rude to people, I think. Encountering rudeness is a big turn off when it comes to tackling alternative perspectives. The other part is more a protective/fear issue. The more you have invested in your beliefs, the more uncomfortable it may be to have them argued with.

We live in a context full of religions and politicians all claiming a monopoly on truth. Anyone who isn’t strident can seem wishy-washy, undecided, not properly dedicated to their cause. And yet, step back a moment and it should be obvious that mostly none of us have any hope of truth monopoly. The bigger the truth, the harder it will be to grasp. Is my truth really at odds with your truth? Are we in fact groping the same elephant without realising it? (I love that story). I want to know what the elephant looks like. So if I can attach your bit to my bit, I will probably still be way off the mark, but now instead of a big flappy thing, I’ve got a flappy thing attached to a ropey thing. It’s still wrong, but it is a bit less wrong, and I’ll keep looking, keep wondering.

In the meantime, if I find I’ve irritated someone online where I didn’t mean to, I don’t get cross with them, I say sorry. I find it remarkably effective. If I’m not sure I understand what they mean, I don’t get cross, I ask what they mean. If someone misreads aggression into my words, I don’t get cross with them, I apologise for not having been clear enough, assure them that I’m not hostile, and try again. Why? Because just arguing with people is dull and pointless, and I’m not interested in scoring points or proving I am more right. Actually, being less right is more interesting, it means I get to learn something.

Where people are polite, show respect, actually listen, the conversations are amazing. We really could do more of this.

The consequences of anger

Plenty of religions (and Yoda) discourage anger, but we don’t talk much beyond vague ‘bad karma’ and ‘god doesn’t like it’ ideas about the consequences of anger. There are times when rage is a good and needful thing, enabling us to change perceptions, change our lives and so forth. There are times when dramatic upheavals and huge responses are called for. The trouble is that the anger lingers on long after the moment has passed. The echoes of historical injustice, the memory of pain, can keep us trapped in a moment that has actually gone. I know because I’ve done it. Then there are the smaller things that people let themselves get angry about, and can still be bringing up years after they happened. I don’t think I do that much, but I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and yes, that makes me angry. It’s so easy to get angry with someone else’s anger, too, and escalate the thing up into something truly hideous.

I feel anger as a physical tension in my body, and there’s a definite relationship between it, and anxiety. A lot of my anxiety has to do with the things I am also angry about. I don’t want them to happen to me again. I don’t want to be a victim. I’m angry because I am afraid, and afraid because I am angry and round it goes. Live there and it will make you very, very ill. My experience of angry people suggests that a significant number (but not all) are angry defensively, trying to protect themselves from wrongs and threats, real and imagined. When the threats are real, the anger can be useful. When the threats are imagined, the anger is as dangerous to the person holding it as to anyone else. Someone who has got into the habit of feeling afraid may no longer be able to tell the difference. There are people who are determined to cast themselves in the victim role so as to justify lashing out in anger against others as well.

There are people who seem to enjoy being angry. It can, after all, feel powerful. And yes, the righteous anger that throws off the chains of slaves and brings down tyrannies is a good kind of power, but that can get addictive. Of course when we are angry we want to believe that we have the moral high ground and are entitled to hit out, with words or fists. We want to feel good about manifesting our rage. Movies are full of examples of ‘heroes’ who do just this, reinforcing our beliefs about how good it is to crush the opposition. Only it isn’t good. It leads to retaliation and feuds. It leads to broken relationships that cannot be fixed. As soon as you get into win/lose scenarios, everyone loses.
It’s not easy stepping away from what you firmly believe to be righteous indignation. That hunger for justice, that need to have your pain recognised, the desire that other people should do something about it… I’ve seen what it does. I’ve yet to see someone come out of the angry place actually happy with the outcome. It’s not about the winning, it’s about what the being angry does to you. It robs you of peace. It keeps you revisiting all the things that hurt. There comes a time to put it behind you, learn what you can and move on. Where that place is will vary depending on person and circumstance of course, it’s not for anyone else to dictate who should be ‘over it’ by now.

I’m alert to signs that people are angry because they are afraid. Sometimes those can be eased with a gentler, more careful approach. I’m not going to be angry with someone because they need me to be more careful with them – that would be pointless, and would entrench the fear. I’ve had people get angry with me on those terms, it achieves nothing good, and creates more misery. If I think someone just enjoys being angry, I’ve learned not to argue because there’s no point, it just makes them worse. Better to walk away and come back if they calm down. I’m not interested in being a whipping post.

My own anger, I am trying to turn into something else. I’m not prepared to let it keep me in an afraid place. Anger can also feed courage. It can be the motivation to stand up and say or do what is necessary – not to strike back, not to lash out or to hurt but to calmly face down and try to fix. The kind of anger that would enable me to calmly support other people who need help, and calmly not escalate things when other people are being bloody stupid. It’s not about supressing the feelings, or not experiencing anger, it’s not letting it run on and not wilfully feeding it to get to some dramatic shouty place, and not enabling the people around me to go their either. Not that I live with anyone shouty anymore, but there’s a whole world out there…

When not to be angry

Every day brings things to get angry about, from human apathy destroying the planet, to global injustices and political stupidity. We need to get angry enough about these things to get up and challenge them. All too often what happens instead is that our energy and rage is focused on much smaller and more personal issues. There have been some great comments here on the blog recently about the importance of assuming people online mean well, and being willing to listen so as to develop our own compassion (Andrew and Sean, and thank you!).

Every kind of opinion and belief is out there waiting on the internet to offend and frustrate you, and any number of trolls lurk in wait for victims. There is simply no point getting angry about this one, it just feeds them. I think we mostly know that, even if we do still get drawn in.

Then there are those situations when the other person goes that bit further, making accusations, getting personal, dishonouring you. Whether those are public situations with strangers, or private situations with people we know, those are hellish, and the desire to wrathfully defend honour is enormous. This is the point at which we may look to our wider community for justice (by which we invariably mean support for ourselves). From observation and personal experience, this is not reliably forthcoming, for all the reasons I was talking about in the Druid in conflict post. Then what? A tattered reputation, recriminations, anger, sometimes bad enough to tear whole communities apart. It’s rare that anyone wins one of these, whether they deserved to, or not.

What happens when we get angry? We assert our case, make accusations, take the dirty laundry out into a public place… The thing is that when you arrange it so that shit hits the fan, pretty much everyone ends up wearing it. Often these things start small, a word out of place, an angry exchange, then digging up some history, and an escalation, often enabled by the wider community, until you reach a point of no return. By the time you’re venting angry words online in defence of your knowledge, skills, status, beliefs… it probably is too late. Part of the trick, I think, is nipping this sort of stuff in the bud before it gets out of hand.

Here’s an example. Last week, in a public forum, someone said something that most definitely implied I was stupid and irresponsible. As it happened said critic had made some wholly wrong assumptions about what I’d just posted. I could have got angry and defensive. What I chose to do was apologise politely for any confusion caused, and then explained. There was no come back, no escalation. I also had the pleasure of making said critic look like an idiot without actually being rude. Win!

I thank people who tell me things I did not know and offer counter-arguments because I am genuinely grateful for those. I learn a lot from the folk who see things differently, and am pro difference, not threatened by it. I don’t get any heated arguments there. I also like offering people free use of the blog to expound on different perspectives. I find that sees off the trolls. It’s very easy to write ‘here’s a total over simplification of the issue’ on someone else’s work, a lot harder to come up with the goods when invited to do so. And of course if they did, that would be win all round, and we’d all learn something.

If someone imputes your honour, and you respond by yelling abuse at them, threatening them or calling them stupid… the odds of coming out of that looking good are slim. If you can draw a deep breath and try to respond with compassion, politeness, and patience so much the better. It’s not easy to avoid being patronising, but worth a shot. If you persistently uphold your politeness, people are much less likely to take against you, less ammo is handed to those who would use it, and sometimes, the whole problem goes away. You have upheld your honour, by acting honourably. I’m amazed how many people seem to miss that one online. Everything we do is part of our Druidry, including what happenes when we’re really pissed off.

Leaving us time to go back to the much more important business of challenging governments and big business and trying to save the world.