Friday, October 28, 2016


This election season has been so divisive, with so many twists and turns, it makes roller coasters look tame. Let me be clear: I DO NOT LIKE ROLLER COASTERS, actual OR metaphorical ones. The cognitive dissonance, the finger-wagging, name-calling, the media pile-ons, the live on TV tell-offs… I hate to tell you America, but this election makes are butts look big. And by butts, I mean our culture. Reasonable discourse has been thrown out the window not just by Trump, but by the culture that WE co-created which MAKES TRUMP POSSIBLE.

If we didn’t have a culture of online shaming and bullying, we might not have Trump.
If we didn’t have a culture of aggression towards women, we might not have Trump.
If we didn’t have a culture of accusations with no regards for proof, we might not have Trump.
If we didn’t have a culture of deep-seated implicit racism, we might not have Trump.
If we didn’t have a culture of economic inequality BY DESIGN, we might not have Trump.

But we do. We do have a culture where people shame strangers publicly in online forums. We have a culture where adults AND CHILDREN are using social media to bully other people not just whom they know, but people who they DON’T know. We have a culture where, when women are asked, “Have you ever been assaulted?” the answer is usually which time?

We have a culture where people read headlines and share articles WITHOUT HAVING READ A DAMNED WORD of the article. And without having looked at the source, the kind of news they report, and thought about what kind of slant they might be presenting the news with. We have a culture which has thrived on implicit cultural and structural systems that are rooted in, and perpetuate, racism. 

We have a culture where we value the haves (of course their money must mean they are successful, which means they must have earned it). We have financial and governmental systems in place to protect the wealth of the wealthy, while letting those with fewer resources suffer because, by extension, if the wealthy have ‘earned’ their status, the poor must have ‘earned’ theirs as well. 

We have a culture of brutishness, selfishness, and incivility. We, Americans, are assholes. Now before you get all defensive (who am I kidding? You already are. I ALREADY AM), please look at that list I just wrote up there. NONE of us is immune to this. Have some of us committed bigger sins than others? Sure. But who am I, and who are YOU to judge that our own actions weren’t equally as awful? 

I hate to quote the bible, but I’m going to do it. Let them without sin cast the first stone. There’s a reason why this metaphor is so powerful, so timeless. Those who live in glass houses…. And it’s not for nothing that we speak of a glass ceiling. It’s this invisible barrier, just like the invisible bubble that we have around ourselves, which we all like to pretend doesn’t exist. 

But glass houses exist. Glass ceilings exist. We act as though we are immune to the tenor of discourse and don’t participate in it, we act as though women are treated equally to men, even when we know that we are not. We jump to conclusions based on headlines and here say without doing our due diligence. We all— yes ALL OF US— have implicit bias which is not only meant to otherwise people, but also to shore up our own identities, systems, and self-worth. And we ALL know that the economy is not an even playing field, and that the decks are stacked against those with less in favor of those with more. 

So let’s all (yes, ALL) of us take a deep breath, and look for ways that WE can be better. Ways we can change the culture, and stop tearing each other apart. Refuse to take part in petty discourse (even though it feels satisfying at the moment, it rarely results in anything more than hardening of positions). 

People on the right AND left have been finger pointing, calling each other stupid, decrying the other side’s opinions. As I said to a friend the other day, “there’s no Mason-Dixon line for idiots.” They are north, south, up, down, in, and out. And guess what? You and I? We are probably idiots too. And it’s a quick hop, skip, and a jump from being an idiot to being an asshole. 

So yes— do better, want better, expect better. But don’t be an asshole to other humans while trying to further your ‘cause.’ Be assertive about your arguments, but be well-informed AND well-intentioned. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

You want to win an argument? Here’s how.

It seems like we are ALL spending a lot of time arguing with other people these days— whether it’s about the current election, about issues that we feel strongly about, or whether it’s about something as “simple” as which way to run a fundraiser for the school.

There is never ONE best way to deal with conflict. To tell someone who is an introvert to “just go out to parties and socialize more” doesn’t solve anything. Likewise, changing someone’s conflict style isn’t likely in the cards. But, there ARE lots of things that we can LEARN to do which can help us to relieve our inner turmoil, and perhaps— just perhaps— get others to see things our way.

Take it back to preschool

When I was in high school, one of my best friends had a way of arguing that really cut me to the core. If I said something about someone else which was grossly unkind, or treated her in a way she didn’t appreciate, she would say “That is NOT OK.” 

It landed like a punch straight to the gut, and it really upset me. I talked to her about how it made me feel, and I realized that it had a very powerful effect on me. It is one of the most direct ways of verbally stopping someone in their tracks. And the reason I think it’s so powerful is because of its simplicity. It sounds like something a preschool teacher would say to little Joey when he’s actively biting his classmate. 

Other things which work similarly: “That is unkind,” or “That’s not how we talk about x.” Again, firmness, and standing your ground that you have boundaries, and there is behavior going on that you are unwilling to accept.

Use your strong, kind voice

Both those things are key— strong AND kind. When you are addressing others (especially others who are behaving badly), you need to be forceful, and yet kind. That doesn’t mean you have to be solicitous, or to agree with them. It simply means that you don’t get down into the mud. Mudslinging might feel great at the moment, but it immediately alienates the other person. Yes, you may say “They started it first!” However, as your mother said, if everyone jumped off a bridge, would you, too? 

Mudslinging does nothing to convince the other person, and actually weakens YOUR position. Do you want to be treated with respect? Do you want to have a meaningful discussion? Do you want to change people’s minds, or even just agree to disagree? Then DO NOT DO IT.

What does winning look like?

Think about someone/something you disagree with. What is your ultimate goal? Is your ultimate goal to change something, or is your goal just to feel like you’ve won? Because, spoiler alert: If you feel like you’ve won, you actually haven’t. 

No matter what anyone says, there IS NO SUCH THING AS WINNING AN ARGUMENT. There is helping someone to see your point of view. There is helping someone else to think through THEIR point of view. There is working together to make change, or even compromise. But if your goal is proving yourself right without actually doing the work of trying to understand where someone else is coming from, you’ve actually lost. 

Yep— that’s right. Even though you schooled Grandpa, you didn’t change him. Your goal in speaking to other human beings should not be to humiliate them. It should be to find common ground.

How do you find common ground when it seems like there is none?

People who say things that are offensive to you often have a reason for their beliefs. It may not make rational sense to you, but there is a reason that they cling to it. Whether it’s just habitual thinking, whether it’s based on a misunderstanding of facts, whether it is a distortion of facts to fit their own story in their head… we ALL have emotional investment in our own point of view. 

When people say things that are hurtful to us and/or that we think are misleading, one of the most potent things to do is ask that person


Whether you agree with them or not is not the point— the point is trying to understand what emotions are running the show. Without knowing what emotions are running the show, you are missing key information which will help you identify the facts, opinions and arguments which THIS PERSON needs to hear.

One of the most potent ways to get someone to see another perspective is by asking them to look at the opposite opinion. To, in a sense, play devil’s advocate to their own argument. Ask them to put themselves in the other side's shoes. 

Take, for example, that you have a friend who is a really picky eater, and they drive you nuts with their critique of your food. Ask that person to have a chat with you. Start by showing compassion. “I know you have stomach issues. I really try to imagine how hard that must be for you. But yet, it's really hard for me, too. How do you think I feel when you tell me that you can't eat anything I make?"

Give someone the benefit of the doubt

I know, this is a hard one. Let’s face it— there are lots of buttfaces out there who don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Yet I think the actual number of those people is probably a lot less than we would all assume. I will say this to you, just as I say it to myself: YES, THERE ARE DEFECTIVE HUMANS. BUT MOST HUMANS ARE NOT IRREPARABLY DEFECTIVE. Many humans have bad coping systems. Many humans have erroneous beliefs which fuel their disdain for other humans. But most humans are not evil. Most humans are not only capable of finding human connection, but they actually crave it. 

I’m not saying it’s all going to work ALL of the time. But I really want us to consider how we speak to one another… even (or perhaps especially) the people we disagree with. If we actually want to BE the change we wish to see in the world, that’s going to take some tough listening, and doing the emotional work. 

It’s ok to say “I can’t right now,” or to disengage. It’s also ok to re-engage. It’s ok to talk to those with whom you disagree and say, “Can we set up some ground rules about how we talk to each other? I really would like to hear your opinion, and I would like to have a conversation with you.You need to feel that I am respecting you, and it’s important to know I am being respected as well.

Go forth and engage in meaningful conversation. Or, sit on the sidelines, and add a word of support for someone else while they’re having a tough conversation. Be a force for positive engagement. Lord knows, we all need more of that!

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Take it Down a Notch!

This year has been a real whopper. My anxiety about the state of the world has been through the roof. Even more so, my anxiety about the way we treat each other on the internet, and how that bleeds over into how we treat each other in real life. 

Because, actually, many of us interact MORE with each other on the internet than we do with people in the flesh.

I try to practice good media hygiene. I try to only engage when I have something clear and effective to say. I think about another person’s perspective when I am trying to convince them of mine. I try to shy away from ad hominem attacks. 

(Though sometimes I have to write out the attacks and then erase them. Calling someone a buttfaced douchecanoe can be eminently pleasing and rewarding. It rarely, however, has the desired effects.)

I decided to make a list for myself of things that I can do to help manage my anxiety about the world because, let’s face it, when the anxiety strikes, it’s good to have an easy list of things which will help us cope.

Paper, pens
There’s a reason I’m not saying ‘laptop’ or telephone. Anxiety thrives on disconnection. Believe me when I say to you that you need to connect with something PHYSICAL. Pushing a pen over paper (whether it’s to write out your feelings or to doodle or draw) can be greatly cathartic. 

Connecting with your inner flow, your inner thoughts, can help you shift attention positively inward. TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS ON YOUR DEVICES. Tell people who need to reach you how to contact you. Everyone else can wait. 

Not people who you know are self-centered, or people who are going to push your buttons. SAFE people. People who are there for you, just as you are there for them. 

A friend of mine told me about her two-minute dumps (and no, we’re not talking about poop). She has a group of friends with whom she has a pact: when they are feeling ovewhelmed, they can call each other and do a two minute emotional dump. Set a timer, get it all out as quickly as possible. Don’t leave anything in there. It’s like a colon cleanse for your brain. 

Often it gets pretty comical by the end because we realize that we’re trying to do too much, process too much, solve too much, and our minds are like magpies, picking up any shiny emotional thing that crosses our path. Then, let your friend do her 2-minute dump. Sometimes listening to someone else’s problems actually gives you perspective on your own. 

First— don’t throw things at me for mentioning this. OR, go outside and DO throw things. My favorite way to exercise is kickboxing, where in my mind I beat up on all the villains of the world and of my thoughts. 

The first rule of emotional exercise is that if you don’t feel like doing it, that’s usually a sign that you NEED to do it. 

If you’re not a regular exerciser, go for a walk. Make yourself concentrate on certain things— maybe it’s sounds; maybe it’s colors, or textures (yes, I’m telling you to go feel things). There’s a practice called ‘grounding’ which sounds kind of weird, but I’ve tried it before and it’s super helpful. Take off your shoes. Go outside and walk in the grass. If you feel so moved, lay in the grass, or in the sand, or in the snow. Get contact with the ground. Try and concentrate on feeling gravity in your limbs. 

Crafting, cooking, coffee
Drink a beverage of your choice. Pull out some crafting materials. Don’t have materials? Steal some from the kids. Fold paper fans. Do some knitting. Work on your kitten drawing skills. 

Cook up a huge batch of something which you can share with someone else (there’s always someone not feeling well, stressed, busy, struggling. Share your food with other people. They will be thankful, and you get the emotional boost from compassion). 

Do something which takes some concentration, but is enjoyable. Aren’t crafty? Take your own advice and TRY something new.

Salon, spa, or at home relaxation
One of my favorite things is having my hair shampooed at the hairdresser. I get my hair colored every three weeks, and I’m pretty sure that it’s only 1/2 because I’m 50% grey. The other half is having someone rub my head

But, you don’t have to spend money to take care of yourself or your body. Take some time to do your own toenails, or to rub lotion in your hands. Do it with intention. 

Go for the low-hanging fruit. Something you can do easily. I know that we all are over-committed these days. But maybe it’s because we’re over-committed to things that don’t feed our souls. Ask ME to bake something for a fundraiser, and I’ll do it grumblingly. Ask me to submit images for your Instagram account, or to proofread your flyer, and I’ll have it done in two shakes of a baby goat’s tail. 

Do what comes easy to you, and what you enjoy. If things lose meaning for you, or you’re ready to move on, the move on. You don’t have to be the energizer bunny, and you don't have to do ALL THE THINGS. But doing SOME of the things can help you to feel connected and grounded.

Whatever you choose to do— realize it doesn’t all help all of the time, and if something isn’t working for you, try something new. Of course, if you feel like your anxiety is unmanageable, it is probably time to speak with your primary care provider and find a path for dealing with it. There’s no shame in anxiety disorders or panic attacks. But know that there ARE treatments which are helpful and effective, and that you don’t have to feel frightened and alone with it.