Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Level 38

I wake up to an unfortunate habit. While it isn’t the first thing I do within a few minutes of being awake I grab my phone and check Facebook. I normally follow this with a quick run through Instagram. I finish out my social media wake up with Twitter.
This morning I rolled through the usual variety of vague family updates, memes, and political rhetoric. I rarely comment. When I do it is often a huge mistake. Still, I often think to myself,” Self, I wish I could do something about this.” It isn’t that I believe I can fix racism, bigotry over sexual preference, biased thinking, or just wrong people being wrong in their thinking. I want to fix the impact these things have on the people I love.
Sometimes that is a very sad thought. For those of us who live with feeling a connection to our friends, even the friends we rarely speak to, seeing outrage is painful. Not being able to meaningfully intervene causes a sense of helplessness and starts to taint my worldview.
Today I realized I am a level 38 human. I have been playing the game a while. I am familiar with the levels and boss fights at this point. That experience does give me some ability to help newer players navigate the labyrinth a bit. I do understand not everyone wants to use hints and tips much less the strategy guide, but I can make it available anyway.
Social media presents an opportunity to object to a lot of things. When someone says or does something dumb and objectionable it seems to take off like wildfire. If you need examples of this just look at President Trump’s twitter. He is a polarizing figure at the very least. We have zero control over what he does, but we certainly do have control over how much attention we pay or react to it.
“If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do you no harm.” – African proverb
In the mid-’90s one of the churches on our ride into town put a message on their billboard that really ate my Mom up. It read,” You cannot be thankful and depressed.” Spoiler alert, My Dad and I both suffer from depression. The sign was wrong. It was also probably not well thought out when it was a message being delivered by a church. I remember my Mom saying,” How dare they be so judgemental!”
She wrote the church a long letter telling them point by point why their message was wrong. She ranted and raved every time we drove by the sign. Weeks after it was down she still was angry about it.
Who suffered more for the sign? I suspect Mom’s letter was probably not taken very seriously. So far as I know she had never set foot in the church. She certainly never went there after their well-intentioned blunder. The message may or may not have come down because of her letter. I have my doubts. Still, I would say that prior to her passing, if you had brought up that message she would still be angry about it. She very much internalized her outrage. She made it personal and kept feeding the flame long after the “event” was over. In the terms of the above proverb, she created an enemy inside herself.
I think social media makes it easier to fan the flames of enemies like this. It also can be used to do exactly the opposite (such as the purpose of this post). It is entirely possible to love people in a general way even when they are spreading hateful propaganda, outrage, being divisive, and stirring up resentment. I am a big fan of letting people say and feel what they say and feel without letting it affect me. Enlightenment doesn’t happen to a crowd. It happens in the heart of the individual, and with any luck, that person is able to spread it to others.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
All the levels I have gained in this life does not make “being the change” any easier. The purpose of my rules and strategies is to move me toward being the person I want to be. I love philosophy for that very reason.
I think that our modern world is full of outrage and obsession. People hang on every word of controversy. We are quick to trumpet opinions online if they are going to spark debate. We forget that debate and conversation are two different things. Typically a debate has sides and a victor. In a conversation, ideas are exchanged with the goal of everyone involved gaining understanding. Social media seemed to need less debate and more conversations.
There is a break between reaction and thought. A reaction happens immediately and may not always reflect the deeper truths of the person reacting. You see reactions on the news often. One of the ways I have “leveled up” is to control my reactions.
Just like everyone else I get upset when something strikes me wrong. I feel a reaction. The way I avoid (most of the time) expressing my reaction is to mentally count 10 of my breaths before saying or doing anything. I tend to just stare blankly while doing this and let the silence stretch into discomfort for the person who has caused my reaction. Sometimes this causes enough social tension to settle the matter without any need for reaction or response on my part. When I have to respond then I have had some space to consider my words or actions.
“A moment of patience in a moment of patience prevents one thousand moments of regret.” -Chinese Proverb
 The place where this doesn’t work is when action is necessary. If I see someone being hurt I am going to intervene. This isn’t always the wisest course.
Once upon a time, I was walking into the Wal-Mart. I saw a twenty-something couple loudly arguing beside their vehicle. It upset me and I was embarrassed on their behalf. I find public displays messy.
I went in. I bought whatever I needed. I came back out. The fight had escalated to red-faced shouting. I was dropping my bags in the truck when the guy backhanded the girl hard across the face. She went down. I promptly charged across the parking lot, spun the guy around, punched him in the gut to double him over, and then kicked him back onto his butt. I was angry enough that I was about to proceed to beat this scum bag into submission when the girl tackles me from behind beating on my back and telling me to stay away from her man.
I was confused. I was bewildered. I was so shocked I wasn’t even mad at her little fists thumping me on the shoulders and back of the head. I even had a moment to realize that people were staring at me now as the attacker. I extricated myself as quickly as I could and ran away. I drove home expecting the cops to chase me down. My reaction was poor. That couple is probably married with ten kids to this day thanks to that time they defended themselves together in the Wal-Mart parking lot. In their view, I was the bad guy. Thankfully, I realized my mistake and got out of there. Perception is reality.
I don’t regret my actions. At the time I was justified in my own mind. I acted in accordance with my morals and beliefs. I operated under the axiom of,”You never hit a female.” I doubt that would have kept me out of handcuffs had the police showed up. Thought instead of reaction might have prevented some scratches and bruising on my part. Also my actions didn’t have the effect I intended.
That is the moral of the story here. When you post a cause you are championing, more so if you constantly are posting that type of thing, some people will agree, some will disagree, and some will just start ignoring what you have to say. Causes shouldn’t divide people. At heart, people should come before issues. There is nothing wrong with letting someone being wrong as long as they aren’t causing actual harm.
I will close with two quotes.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Uncle Ben
and
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” – The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America
Taken together these two disparate quotes say that whenever change becomes necessary it is the responsibility of those who are able to act to make things happen in the right way. All of the outrage and talking in the world means very little if there isn’t action behind it. Sitting behind a keyboard full of outrage and anger does very little to bring about change. Channel those feelings into positive actions and the world will begin to improve around you.
It can be argued that you could inspire others to change with your words. I am trying to do that now in an almost hypocritical way with this post. I do accompany these words with my actions daily. Do you do the same or do you just beam negativity out into the universe and go watch TV?

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