The Life-Changing Power of Shutting Up
I want to share a lesson I’ve been learning over the past twenty years, slowly and poorly. It fits alongside my motto, which I’ll get to near the end. But first this disclaimer. I didn't write this about anyone else. I wrote this because I’ve been using it so much recently, and so people can help me stick to it.
Okay, enough burying the lede . Here’s the thesis statement:
Nobody else needs to endure my negative thoughts.
I have never come out of a situation where I was negative to or about someone else and felt better. Any time I have been disdainful of another person has ended with me wishing I had kept my mouth shut. Turns out that hurting people, even when I think I’m right, even if they “hurt me first”, just makes me feel worse, and made their life worse in the process. It has never changed their mind about the thing meaning “whatever I disagree with in their conduct”, it only changed their opinion of me, and rightly so.
So does this mean I no longer have negative thoughts? Of course not! Does that mean I’m bottling all these negative thoughts up? Sometimes. But I’m trying to deal with them in a nondestructive way. I have two methods that work (this essay should in no way be taken to mean that I’m actually good at any of this. I’m still practicing what I’m preaching and I still need a lot of practice.)
First: See their Point of View
This doesn’t mean agree with them, but I try hard to understand why a good and rational person would think in a way that, to me, seems bad or irrational.
By the by, this is one of the proven benefits of reading long form fiction; people who read develop empathy and the ability to sympathize with others.
One part of seeing others’ point of view is trying to get to know people outside of the issue or arena where we disagree. I am friends with people who, based on one specific topic or axis, would be my opposites. But people are deeply complex and if I let myself learn more about these people I often find far more common ground than contention.
Second: Recognize My Anger as a Disease, Not a Symptom.
It is very easy for me to think “that person made me angry”, but I am trying to tell myself the actual truth: I made myself angry. Nobody else can do that! Anger is a choice. Some situations make it an easy choice, but I’ve yet to encounter a situation that makes it a right choice.
Especially egregious and regretted are the times when I have been angry at someone for being happy. I want to throw myself at their feet and beg them to forgive me for those moments. I’m trying to do so.
So instead of expressing my anger, or bottling it up, I’m trying to let it evaporate. I imagine that anger is a substance, move it away from my heart, let it evaporate off my skin, sublimate away. It doesn't matter, it doesn't have to be a part of me.
Mantras Against Anger
As I said earlier, I’m not great at this yet. I’m trying. So here are the things I tell myself over and over as try to practice these things:
- It is better to be kind than to be right. (a motto I learned from my dad)
- Such power there is in clear eyed self restraint. (A quote by James Russell Lowell that is my guiding star)
- How do I know that I’m right? What if they are right and I’m wrong?
- Does this mean thing need to be said?
- Am I the right person to say it?
- Is there a kind way to say it?
- Is this the right time?
- Do they actually need to hear it, or am I just trying to “get it off my chest?”
- If it’s the latter I need to remember that “getting it off my chest” doesn’t mean I am allowed to dump it on someone else's.
I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting 100 Days To Offload.