Confronting poison

November 1, 2011 in General

Don’t take anything personally.

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.

When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

A good friend of mine posted this online yesterday, in response to a few other friends being pushed into meltdowns of various degrees due to the actions of others. He also admitted that it was advice that he himself needed to take on board as much as anyone else.

I appreciate the above as a self-defence mechanism, but I do question its value as a universal truism.

We all have people in our lives and communities who act destructively with their words and actions, and whether or not they’re projecting their own reality, other people will be affected – much as when someone sneezes without covering their mouth they put everyone in their radius at risk of infection.

I’m talking here about people who systematically act with rudeness, superiority, and unkindness towards others. The type of people who talk behind others backs in poisoned whispers, sometimes in the guise of passing on “helpful” information when they really should be discussing their problem with their target in person.

Why do we indulge these people?

It’s very important, particularly those of us with experience of mental illness, to continue to learn skills to build our resilience to deal with difficult situations and people so our days, weeks, and sometimes months don’t get derailed by the actions of another, actions which may be written off as insignificant.

But it’s also important to remember that in this world there are incredibly small things capable of doing untold damage: viruses that wipe out millions which are only visible through a microscope, a cyanide pill that fits under the tongue and extinguishes a human life within seconds.

These aren’t just projections of reality, they are reality.

What matters is not the size of the thing or action that has caused harm: it is the effect caused and the toxic sludge left in its wake.

We all know that difficulties in a friendship or a relationship that are left to fester through poor communication will result eventually in an explosion of resentment that has little to do with the triggering event.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times over the years that Dean and I have both stood, yelling at each other in the kitchen only to realise that the dirty cups left on the bench have nothing to do with what we’re really upset about.

The solution is constant, open communication about feelings and needs. At a broader, community level this becomes more complex as it involves more people. More personalities. More issues, more politics.

None of this excuses bad behaviour.

With the technological revolutions in the last century, we’ve become ever more adept at making smaller devices do more powerful things. No-one but the most visionary of science-fiction authors could have seen in the middle of last century that the hand-held computers and communication devices we call smartphones would be so ubiquitous by the twenty-first.

As human beings, we are infinitely more capable and intelligent than a smartphone. Look at the computing power that’s being harnessed to try and simulate it:

“The brain contains on the order of 20 billion neurons that are connected by roughly 200 trillion synapses. IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer has 147,456 parallel processors, each with about 1GB of working memory. This has enabled them to simulate about 4.5 percent of the human brain. That only leaves an estimated 732,544 processors left to add in to equal the processing power of 1 human brain–a task IBM says it will complete by 2019.”

I’d like to think we can eliminate toxicity in our communities well before 2019, and we can start to do so with some very simple actions.

For every inappropriate outburst or bitchy remark, there are two responses to break the circuit. One is to call that person out on their behaviour, the second is to ask them if they’re ok.

Even if they’re not ok, that does not excuse bad behaviour, or exempt them from needing to swallow some humble pie and apologise for the emotional damage they have caused.

The 80/20 rule or pareto principle has been widely used in business applications, but if you look at the world around you, you’ll notice it fits with many aspects of life:

80/20 rule: for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

In my observation at a community level, 80% of the misery caused comes from around 20% of the people.

Those of us in the 80% enable the 20% by not confronting them, but instead giving each other hugs and saying that everything will be ok. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

It doesn’t. Those in the 80% will eventually wear out in the face of continuous undermining, no matter how strong they are. And the 20% group, with their unresolved issues and endless supply of exploding pus, will not be helped either.

Earlier this year, we learnt that asking “are you ok” can be one of the most important questions to ask a mate in terms of their wellbeing and starting a conversation. Learning to say “that’s not ok” is just as important, for both the bullies in our communities and their victims.

Confronting poison

One Comment

    1. Craig says:

      I’ve learnt that the best strategy is to turn your back and not acknowledge the infantile behaviour of bigots, whether homophobes or ableist bigots who don’t seem to realise that inclusive communities mean just that.

Confronting poison

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