It's been a month now since American pop culture witnessed three consecutive bursts of public anger. Serena Williams, wielding her racquet as a weapon at the U.S. Open, kick-started a week in which Kanye West stole the microphone from young, doll-faced Taylor Swift at the MTV Awards, and ended with Congressman Joe Wilson shouting down the President of the United States like a British heckler. Seemed like every time we checked the Yahoo! homepage, another icon had blown a fuse. Suddenly it seems we are on the verge of retreating to barbarism, screaming at each other when we don't get our way. A lot of us felt like Marilynne Robinson in The Death of Adam: "I miss my civilization, and I want it back!"
But what interested me about the WW&W triad (Williams, West, and Wilson) was what could be learned from their mistakes. We've all been in situations like that, albeit not as public. Every day our equilibrium is disturbed in ways not entirely dissimilar from theirs. We get called on the carpet for something we didn't do, just like Serena got nailed for a foul she didn't think she committed. We get disappointed when we feel like the wrong people get rewarded, just as Kanye felt when his pal didn't receive the moonman. And we all grow angry over our government not working as well as we'd like, just as Joe Wilson did.
The real question is how can we respond in ways that don't add rage to our world, presently engaged in more conflicts than ever before? It's all connected - your everyday anger contributes to the global fury. Here's my Kick-Ass Advice that WW&W might consider if they're faced with challenging circumstances again:
KAA #1: Learn to take three breaths, even when you're breathless. Have something you say to yourself that buys you time. (I am a peaceful person. Or: I can handle this. Or: I am not going to let this person make an ass out of me). Think of something that brings you instant calm--see your child, envision your pet, hear the sound of running water. Create a space between the incident that has riled you up and your response to it. It is in that space that you have a choice, the choice about how you want to react. This is not easy to do when you're hurt, angry and/or riding your righteous horse of indignation. But if you care about diminishing the level of hostility on this planet, it is a moral obligation. And it benefits you too!
KAA#2: If you blow it, and we all do, apologize quickly. However, do not apologize until you can assume full accountability for your actions. Qualified apologies stink! How many times have you heard an apology start nicely and then fall apart with a thinly veiled excuse included? "I'm sorry...if you were offended." Or "I apologize...if that's what you thought." Or "I'm sorry...that you chose to hear it that way." No excuses needed! WW&W all got this one wrong. Who can forget Joe Wilson standing in front of that bank of microphones saying, "The Republican leadership has asked me to apologize, and so I have done that." Hmmm. Not so convincing! Imagine how powerful it would have been if he'd looked straight into the camera and said, simply, "I was wrong. I'm sorry." Period.
KAA #3: Share your humanity. Acknowledge the source of your anger. Be vulnerable. Joe Wilson did make one statement that was revealing. Why did he scream at the president? "I let my emotions get the best of me," he said. Exactly! Spot on, Joe! Any outburst is the result of our being out of control, letting the chaos of the world seep inside and make chaos in us. This is particularly difficult when you're a competitive person in a competitive environment. And we want our athletes to be competitive! We want our politicians to be passionate! We want our entertainers to be unforgettable! And we want to be committed employees, parents, citizens, too! But we have to be in control of that passion. We have to learn to be fervent without judging the other person. Why? Because judgment festers hatred.
These latest public meltdowns remind me of how poorly our culture prepares us for such moments. Imagine how much money WW&W have spent on media training. But nowhere in that education it seems, or in the education of any of us for that matter, is there a designated sphere to train us how to be better humans when life tests us to the max.
Learning conflict resolution is the primary path to sustainable peace on this planet. (That, and resolving the inhuman disparities between rich and poor.) We will always disagree about something. That is a given. The challenge is to be able to respond in a way that is resolute, yet peaceful. Our current president was certainly born with--and has cultivated--a remarkably calm response mechanism to differing points of view that is remarkable to witness. For most of us though, choosing peace in the face of life's injustices takes work, education and lots and lots of practice. Peace is, after all, a muscle, not an ideal. Just imagine if, starting in first grade, Peace 101 was right before English and just after history. We'd not only know how to read, write and think well, we'd know what to do when the crap hit the fan.
Life is filled with crap! Kick-Ass Advice will show you how to shovel it and emerge the victor.