For the past 24 hours or so, I have been sitting with an uncomfortable feeling. This feeling was brought on by a typical interchange that happens in our society. A back and forth communication. Nothing special.
Yet the pure mundanity of it in and of itself is partially what I find so disturbing. The fact that it is not considered special, that it happens so often without deeper reflection is disconcerting; it is evidence of a trend in a society toward spending much of our time in our own, protective bubbles, a virtual world.
I have been on both sides of the exchange. I might be even go so far as to say that there are no sides.
In my reflections, I have realized that I experience something relatively similar to this most recent event nearly every day.
I believe that these events pass with relatively little incidence as a result in part to the choices—how to respond or to simply not respond at all.
With practice, I am now able to stay relatively calm in highly tense, verbally violent situations. I may weep later, but in the moment I keep my feet firmly grounded. I tend to apologize for my part in situations that have grown heated for one reason or another. I despise the feeling that is inspired by such exchanges so greatly that I would prefer to talk it through, apologize, and clear the air than to hold onto the anger energy any longer than I have to.
Let me say right now, I am not the most easy-going person. I am incredibly sensitive. I take things very personally. I agonize over instances or things I have done that may have caused pain to another being.
Let me also tell you that I am not perfect, unless you consider imperfection as perfection. I am impatient. When put on the defensive, I can easily response in kind. I learn quickly how to push people’s buttons, and I do it. Sometimes, I take a devilish kind of joy in doing it, though later I often feel guilty.
I have learned over several decades of the importance of choosing one’s battles. Life is short, and I have wasted a lot of time, energy, and anxiety over situations and individuals with whom a battle can never be won.
In recent years, I have started to rethink what it means to “win” or “lose” these battles and if this is even the right kind of language to be using.
I recall a friend in Alaska offering advice to me. He was familiar with my predicament, having experienced his own version. He said to me, “Marieke, you always need to have an exit strategy.”
I took his advice literally only a few months later, after combining it with advice from another friend, who told me, “play their game; make them think they have reassimilated you; then, get the hell out of there on your own terms while you are in good standing. They can’t touch you then.”
I wanted to communicate the hurt I had felt from being mistreated, alienated, and wrongfully identified as a “problem.” I did not feel like I had been the problem at all, especially after learning from others who had experienced something similar that I was simply one of a long line of individuals who were treated in such a way that they eventually gave up the fight and went elsewhere in search of a more supportive environment.
Instead, I said nothing and simply disappeared.
Perhaps, this choice could be considered a “forfeit.”
The emotional battle continued long after my physical forfeit. I could not let go of the anger I felt from this injustice. I wrote about it at length and talked to family and friends.
When I said I was still frustrated and angry, a friend said to me, “Oh yeah? How is that working for ya?”
Slowly, I began to realize that I was wasting my energy on people who did not deserve my time, at least not in this unproductive way. As long as I insisted on holding onto my anger, I was keeping both my self and those I felt wrong by in prison together.
Truly, the world does not need any anger perpetuated. There is enough bouncing around already.
In my most recent discomfort, I spoke to a wise friend, who told me this:
At times, life can feel like a ping pong game ball with balls filled with fear. In this game called life, we throw these balls back and forth at each other. It would seem that the object of the game is to keep the balls in play. The easiest thing to do when a ball of fear is thrown at you is to react and throw the fear ball back. The real object of the game is to not perpetuate fear by responding to an attack. The spiritual response is to recognize that you do not have to respond to an attack at all. You can simply take the ball out of play.
While there is a part of me that wishes to push every possible button out of a desire for sweet vengeance, I know that this will not bring me peace or happiness.
So, my desire is to drop the ball and put an emotionally safe distance between this person and me. I really want no part in whatever dysfunction or unhappiness caused someone to forget that I am a person with feelings and to find temporary respite from whatever they may be struggling with in their own life by lashing out with aggression.
An apology would be nice; I have to say that I nearly always feel better making peace with someone for whatever misunderstanding or miscommunication led to heightened tension between us.
Somehow I think that the propensity to apologize is derived from self-work. Those who have lashed out at me regularly with some form of aggression, entitlement, violence, etc. may require a great jolt to their system before turning inward toward the kind of deep self-reflection it will take to make a great behavior change. They may experience some deep sadness in this exercise, along with some stormy weather, before there is peace once more.
What I really want from all of this is to return to equilibrium once more, to breathe deeply and sleep peacefully at night.
What I really want is simply to live.