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Behaving Badly – Would I Do That?
In the past ten days, we’ve experienced an athlete, an entertainer and a politician openly engage in angry or uncivil behavior. The only common denominator in these three events? Demonstrated lack of people skills and disrespect.
During President Obama’s address to Congress, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “you’re lying!” to the President.
During the US Open, tennis star Serena Williams, angry and openly defiant, threatened a linesman after the umpire made a questionable call.
During the MTV Video Music Awards, rapper Kanye West interrupted 19-year-old Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, grabbing the microphone and announcing that Beyonce Knowles’ video was better.
These three episodes are indicative of this country’s drift into a deepening dark mood that results in open anger, resentment, rage and verbal abuse.
We seem to be gravitating towards a place where anything and everything goes, a place where people skills are unnecessary, where verbal abuse and anger are acceptable and less and less care is actually taken to show respect.
In the world of newscasts and talk shows, and in the world of texting, blogging, and tweeting, many people seem to care less about the “how” of what they say, focusing only on the “what”—”I’m going to say what I want, how I want you, how many times I want you and to hell with anything or anyone else!”.
While not all of society lacks proper people skills, it seems that fewer and fewer people are displaying civility and decorum in their interactions.
More and more research studies by social scientists, socioeconomics, and social psychologists are pointing to the rise of distressing social mood in the United States and around the world. Many say this mood will get much worse before it gets better.
Research points to a natural ebb and flow of social mood (positive vs. negative), particularly noting that in darker times, socially and politically, we experience increased tension and negativity. We seem to be living in dark times.
Bullying, bullying, disrespect, meanness and humiliating behavior are fast becoming the norm. Conversations, discussions and interactions are rapidly moving in the direction where anger, cold-bloodedness, resentment, rudeness and disrespect are the tools one uses to get one’s point across.
And, let’s say this up front. Passion is never a reason to show disrespect, rudeness or anti-social behavior – never!
Why do we do it?
One’s ego-based needs for control, recognition, and security drive their thinking. We live in a culture where many people’s identity (which gives them a sense of control, recognition and emotional security) is based on “what I know to be true”. Agree with me, and we will get along. We disagree, and we are enemies. When you agree with me, you acknowledge that I am “someone”. When you disagree, you’re saying I’m a nobody. This is the kick.
Unfortunately, agreeing to disagree and engaging in constructive dialogue are losing their allure in Western culture, being replaced by a knee-jerk reactivity characterized by a high, ever-increasing level of disrespect, condescension , meanness and personal attack.
The question under the question is: why are they so uncivil? Shakespeare said: “An event is neither good nor bad, only thinking makes it so.”
So, “What am I thinking?” it’s a valid question. “What is going on in me that makes me act uncivil?”
In a word, fear. Fear that I will lose my identity, fear that I will be reduced to the rank of “a nobody”, fear that no one will “see” me. And, in this state of fear, the logical, thinking, rational, executive part of the brain shuts down while the reptilian, reactive brain takes over and prompts the person into a fight, flight, or freeze response. What we are experiencing so much today is the unconscious, knee-jerk “fight” response.
So how does one become more aware of the often self-limiting and self-defeating “fighting” response? Consciously considering what is beneath one’s choice to be uncivil, mean, disrespectful and demeaning. Recognizing that one’s uncivil behavior is about the need to feel “seen” and “heard.”
In our culture of right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, win vs. lose, and me vs. you, there is less and less room for “combatants” to accept differences. So in order to survive as a “someone”, they use ad hominem attacks, threats and “venting” as a way to save their identity – hoping to make the other a “nobody” – and acting from a place. always needing to be “right” – no matter what, no matter how.
The warrior, involved in a reactive state of anger, fear, worry, resentment, defensiveness, feeling “small”, invisible, invisible, unknown and unappreciated – a potential “nobody” – must “act”, to do show and feel confident and in control.
Becoming mindful means choosing to create an environment, an interaction, where one accepts and appreciates the uniqueness of another’s perspective, point of view, position, or premise without automatically assuming a “me vs. you,” “smart vs. stupid,” ” right vs. wrong,” or the “good vs. bad” approach to dialogue.
Becoming self-aware means choosing to step out of one’s intellectual zip code (“It’s all about me and what I know or think.”) and approach discussions and interactions with the curiosity of a “starter’s mind.” a neutral mind, asking, for example. , “How so?” engage, rather than alienate, another.
Becoming aware means taking a deep breath, feeling the body, experiencing (not acting on) the feelings and emotions, not being reactive and asking, “Why would a sane, rational, decent person like me choose to knowingly be disrespectful, rude, belittle and harm another person simply because their “information” is different from my “information”?
Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” So if you find yourself engaging in uncivil, disrespectful, belittling behavior, maybe you’re curious as to why.
Rumi says: “Beyond doing right and wrong, there is a field; I will meet you there.” – and respond from that place, interacting from that part of ourselves leads to respectful, accepting, compassionate, empathetic and civil interaction and dialogue.
We can choose to play that field with our friends, colleagues, and even those with whom we disagree. Or we can choose to engage and fight on a battlefield of words, ego, hostility and lost identity. The former brings happiness, collegiality, cooperation, satisfaction and well-being – mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually. The latter leads to deeper pain, suffering and disconnection on every level.
Insolence, rudeness, and meanness are all about “resisting” someone or something “out there” that one feels threatened and uncomfortable with. Invisibility and rudeness are unconscious, reactive behaviors that stem from fear of losing control, recognition, and safety. Rudeness and negativity are mostly about being right and not happy, or being a “someone making someone else a “nobody.”
The conscious question is “Why do I choose to be reactive, hurtful, negative and uncivil? Why? Really, really why? The conscious, deeper, honest, honest and self-responsible answer will show that it doesn’t matter never with “he, she, it or they” – ever.
Hmmm. That leaves alone – me.
So our $10 food for thought questions are:
Have you engaged in uncivil, demeaning or disrespectful behavior recently? Did you justify your behavior? How so?
How do you generally interact with people who disagree with you?
Do you live life at work, at home, and at play from an “I must be right” perspective? Would you generally be right rather than happy? If so, why do you think this is so?
Do you ever see compromise as weakness?
Do you ever rationalize or justify another’s uncivil or disrespectful behavior? If so, how or why?
Do you ever use “passion” as an excuse to behave inappropriately?
Have others ever accused you of being uncivil or disrespectful? If so, how did you respond to their accusations?
How did you learn to deal with disagreements growing up? How did your parents handle disagreements, either with each other or when interacting with others who disagreed?
Can you imagine a world where it is possible for people to respond to disagreements without being rude, bullying, angry, resentful, or otherwise disrespectful?
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