Some changes to my approach

Last weekend I attended a blues dancing event in Minneapolis (video to come soon!) – a weekend full of great friends, great dancing, great workshops and competitions. I’m always extremely happy when I get back from such events; they’re good for the soul.

Over the weekend and for a few days thereafter, I found myself avoiding my blog subscriptions, mainly because there’s so much negative stuff in there. Evil corporations, human rights violations, conflation of church and state… I just wasn’t in the mood for it. For a few days I also avoided posting about any controversial issues on Facebook, or starting any “fights,” as it were. Again, I was simply in a happy mood and didn’t feel good about the negativity.

This got me thinking. How can we demonstrate concern over issues we care about without getting bogged down by the negativity of it all? How can we fight against things that are bad without unpleasantness filling our minds? My answer – when I was ready to post again on Facebook – was to focus on affirming what I wanted the world to be like, rather than focus on denying the negative state of affairs I’d just read about. Instead of just saying “This is bad and wrong and stupid,” I said “This is bad, and this is what would be better!” I think it made a difference in my attitude.

Atheists often tout humanism as a logically positive complement to atheism. Whereas atheists spend so much time denying the claims of religious people, speaking about humanism gives us a chance to make positive statements about what we value and what we care about (not to say that atheist = humanist, but there is much overlap). I haven’t always put much stock in the importance of making logically positive statements, but I’m beginning to think it’s an important thing to do, for one’s own sanity.

What methods do you have for fighting the negative while still staying positive?

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5 Comments

Filed under Dancing, Humanism

5 responses to “Some changes to my approach

  1. A few months ago, after getting in a number of bitter facebook fights, I decided to change my approach to facebook discussions, mainly because I realized I was not enjoying these fights (I enjoyed fighting more in my youth).

    First off, I tracked down some suggestions on how to have a civilized discussion. One is an excellent youtube video called “how to want to change your mind,” which makes suggestions like, imagine if the statement made were made by someone you highly respect, and, frame the discussion as a collaboration rather than a debate. I try and force myself to actually think about what the other person is saying and consider the possibility that their statement should make me reevaluate what I’m saying. I try and respond to what people are saying, rather than trying to beat back their points. I try to not get into the mindset of “winning.”

    I also am much quicker to eject myself from fruitless debate. One of the questions I always ask myself now is, even if I could convince this person (which I almost certainly can’t), what difference would it make? If I persuade a casual facebook acquaintance that I am right and they are wrong, so what? I acknowledge to myself that there is no real point in winning.

    Recently, I had a number of discussions regarding Obamacare. In one, two people who didn’t like Obamacare made some very solid points that made me rethink some of my position. We responded to one another’s comments politely, asked questions, all came away with a better understanding of one another and ended by all saying we really weren’t sure what was right. I felt good about it, and came away with a more nuanced view of the legislation.

    At the same time, I had another discussion with someone who made sweeping statements, rejected anything from anyone that conflicted with his set beliefs and spoke pretty much as the voice of God who knows all things. His response to disagreement was to simply restate his points. Instead of getting sucked into a long fight, I just ejected from the discussion, because I could feel myself tensing up and wanting to fight and I now consider that a signal that it’s time to leave.

    I can still get contentious, and I really have to keep an eye on my emotions and not let myself get sucked into a competitive mode of thought, but when I succeed I feel good about it.

  2. Just stumbled on this, and it reminds me strongly of a conscious choice in behavior I’ve made recently. I had started noticing myself getting more and more worked up about things that I cared about, frustrated at my inability to inspire sweeping change instantly, and frustrated at others at not feeling similarly. It became a sort of negative spiral, and I needed to break out.

    The simplest solution I found was: stop complaining. And suddenly, all of this energy I had been using to hold on to my frustrations until I could unload them on the next unsuspecting friend was suddenly freed up to be channelled into something much more positive. Affirming my views, as you stated, or acting towards a preferred reality. Much better :-).

  3. Reminds me of a political discussion I had with a good friend recently, when he was about to post some subjective, inflammatory Anti-Republican cock-and-bull–and I encouraged him to not. Not because he didn’t think it, and not because he wasn’t right, but because how he framed it (NOT what he said) was about to make or break his ability to connect with his audience.

    By the end of the discussion, he had picked up my main points: If you want your opponent to listen to you, think like they do; appeal to their values in your arguments, not just the dry facts. And finally, never have your goal to be for you to change their mind–the goal is for them to take in your information in full, and change their own mind.

    (As a woman who blogs all too frequently, believe me, sir, I hear you.)

  4. KB

    I agree in the difficulty of keeping negativity out of your life when you get so involved in the issues. I do a few things,
    #1, as you know, step away from the conversation when you start getting too wrapped up in it. If I start staying awake at night thinking about the argument, it is time to stop.
    #2 set spaces of time to just let loose every now and again and release that built up agitation that results from feeling like you are debating with a wall. When the NPR fades off the radio on my way to our main office 45 minutes away, it is my hobby to listen to the christian talk shows (it is either that or pop country music… ugh) and just spend the whole time yelling at the radio. It is stupid, I know, but somewhat cathartic. When I step out of that car, I’ve already forgotten the inane statements mentioned.
    #3 I consider myself a Buddhist flavored atheist for a reason. I’m atheist by religion, but a lot of the meditative practices espoused in some strands of Buddhism are quite effective. I practice Kyudo, Japanese archery, which is very much like a Zen/Shinto walking meditation. It really helps to clear your mind about things, and focus on your movements, breath, and center yourself. Maybe Kyudo isn’t the right thing for everyone, but I suspect other forms of meditation could have similar effects.

    • I keep meaning to do more meditating, but I never make it a priority! Kyudo sounds nice because you’re actively doing something physical at the same time. When I was in Japan, I just banged on a drum… :P

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