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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, April 11, 2008

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate

by capper

A couple days ago, Elliot Stearns posted the question, "Why does the Left in America hate America?" I posted a comment with an oversimplified view that there was a communication problem.

The next day, Jay put up a similar post, remarking on the loss of civility in people's postings and comments. This loss of civility has even caused yet another blogger, this time Patrick, to ban a commenter, mickey, who has a bad habit of making things personal with people with whom he disagrees. Owen Robinson, who also posted on the loss of civility had banned mickey a long time ago.

People, in general, often have a hard time expressing themselves in appropriate ways. In Jay's post, he mentions two bloggers who feel that this is the only way to get their point across. All they are really doing is blocking whatever message they wanted to express. If a person is insulted, they are not very likely to be receptive to the rest of the message. In my personal experience in real life and in the blogosphere, people are apt to me more receptive to what I have to say, if I don't call them a name or otherwise insult them. I, likewise, am more prone to pay attention if my dead mother isn't insulted, or I am called a name.

As I had mentioned in the comments thread at Elliot's site, I used to facilitate a anger management group for adolescent boys. The first thing I had to do was get them to understand what anger was. Anger is an emotion that is spurred by a real or perceived threat, harm or slight. The other normal responses to such a stimulus would be fear or sadness. However, in society, people are afraid to show signs of weakness so they try not to show fear or sadness. They chose, consciously or subconsciously, to go with anger.

The other thing I had to help these kids understand was to put what they deemed as threats or slights into proper perspective. Obviously, if someone is trying to cause you physical harm, you are going to want to fight to protect yourself. Someone calling you a name, or looking at you funny, is not on the same level, and does not merit the same response.

The hardest part was helping the kids learn to discern when they were feeling angry, what was making them feel that way, and thinking before acting and/or speaking in response to that stimulus. I think part of the reason that this was so difficult is that people don't like taking a close look at themselves in an honest fashion.

An excellent example of this would be the child that gets caught misbehaving, and then gets punished for it. First of all, the child is upset because s/he is being punished, which by definition is usually an unpleasant and averse situation. Secondly, the child, whether they realize it or not, is probably feeling shame for their behavior. But because shame is often considered to be a sign of weakness, it is covered up with anger. Then the child tells the parent that they hate them, or they take it out on their toys, etc.

Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of people have a hard time moving on beyond this point. The adult who is caught breaking the law yells at the cops and calls them names. He or she is upset due to the threat of punishment, and lashes out in anger.

The blogger who makes a dumb comment, and gets called out on it, lashes back, often in a personal matter. He or she is threatened by the loss of face or the feeling of shame.

I think one of the biggest threats that people feel is the fear of the unknown and the different. This is where racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice stem from. Instead of facing their fear of the unknown or the different, and possibly making some unpleasant discoveries about themselves, they chose to fall back on anger and lash out at people, hurling invectives and smears at a person, a gender, a lifestyle, a belief system or a race.

To get back to Elliot's question, I don't think that these people, in general, hate America. I think it is a specific part that they don't like, but in the heat of their anger, they get carried away and start saying or doing dumb things. The same can be said for the other examples as well.

Now, keep in mind these are not universal truths. Sometimes anger is justified, such as when someone is presenting an immediate threat, or when someone does something that goes against the norms and morals of society, like a rapist, child molester or murderer. Sometimes the person cannot control their emotions, due to a mental illness or traumatic brain injury.

Nor am I saying I am above any of this. I get mad too, and sometimes I say and/or do stupid things. I am just sharing my thoughts on the matter. Thanks for reading, if you haven't already gotten bored and moved on.

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