I visited a discussion forum recently that suddenly started getting quite contentious. Of course, walking into situations like this is not unusual. Unknowingly we may stumble on a situation that is little heated, a bit ugly, or even worse. Or, we may find ourselves in an exchange that starts friendly enough, but either gradually or suddenly becomes nasty. Given that these situations arise uninvited, it is important to be conscious of how we respond to them.
Self-Awareness can avoid a verbally violent response
When faced with these situations, with a little self-awareness, it is relatively easy to avoid our immediate urge to jump in with a fierceness that matches or exceeds that of the others. One can normally avoid returning venom with venom and avoid the goal of silencing the newfound opponent, sending them home with their tail between their legs.
One reason this hyper-aggressive reaction is relatively easy to avoid is that when it is used, the situation rarely (if ever) goes the way you imagine. Instead it just becomes an even uglier and more stupid fight. Second, we can avoid the reaction by simply acknowledge that being a jerk, even to others exhibiting that attitude, is wrong.
Drawn in by the need to be understood
Because of the above when I ventured into a discussion forum the other day, and the and I saw that the snarkiness was building, I was able to avoid this simple sort of verbally violent response. However, I did allow myself to get drawn in. I allowed myself to get drawn in, not by the hostile intentions that would result in a verbally violent response, but from my “need” to be understood.
Here’s what happened: After stumbling into a thread that was beginning to get hearted, I posted and commented on the hostility.
Ok, lets pause right away. It is clear that I have already failed to act skillfully. I saw a hostile situation and weighed into it. Fine, it happens, but why did I feel the need to comment on the hostility? At first glance you may believe, as I did at the time, that this was an attempt to defuse the situation. Upon reflection, however, that is silly. How many people have you ever stopped from being hostile simply by telling them that they are being hostile. It doesn’t work!
By entering into that discussion with my comment I was clearly saying, “I’m smart, I have seen and assessed whats happening here, passed judgment, and am prescribing a new path.”
Not surprisingly, my comment elicited a response from another writer whom I thought misunderstood me. I also felt this response was a bit hostile to me. So, what did I do? You guessed it, I chose to respond to the follow-up post.
Lets pause again. For the sake of argument lets assume that my assessment of that post was correct (a dubious assumption, but it simplifies the point I’m getting at). I confess that despite my urge to respond the perceived hostility of the remark I recognized that doing so would be wrong. I recognized that doing so would only make the situation worse. Finally, I recognized that responding to her hostility directly was to act from the wrong intention, and would not be right speech.
Good job, right! Well, no. Feeling so good that I had identified my reaction to the perceived hostility and corrected my course of action I acted even worse. I responded from the “need” to defend myself and my laudable intention. I felt the “need” to show the other person that, even if I erred in my action earlier, I had, essentially, a pure heart.
My actions were always about me
In all of these actions on my part I was focused on myself. I focused on demonstrating that I saw the hostility and that they probably didn’t; I focused on the perceived insult to me in the responders post; I focused on how excellent I was to not act from that perceived insult; and finally, I focused on showing the forum that I was right all along.
I got drawn in! In the end though I got drawn in because I stayed focused on my own ego, my own sense of self. I stumbled on a hostile situation and responded essentially by taking arms to “defend myself” instead of truly being concerned about the hostility on the forum. I acted without compassion, from a sense of ego, and thus cast myself into the emotional hurricane of being in a pissing match with people I’ve never really gotten to know.
And I pay the price in a loss of my serenity, a loss of living in the moment.