A few weeks ago, we discussed the notion of "I'm upset because..." following from an earlier discussion that many of us are drinking our own poison, hoping the other person will die. There are several common threads woven through all these articles, and they all have to do with personal response-ability. The first and perhaps most important of these threads is the sometimes-difficult-to-acknowledge fact that you are the one choosing your own experience. That does not necessarily mean you are the one choosing your circumstances, but you are the one choosing your emotional response to those circumstances.
Having just come from the Republican Convention and now at the Democratic Convention, I see the common thread of "I'm upset because..." which is really just another blame and complain game permeating just about every political twist and turn. Sadly, it has become a basic truism that politics today can't seem to exist without heavy doses of "I'm upset because..." coupled with blame and complain.
However, just because politics has fallen into such a lack of response-ability and accountability doesn't mean that you have to join them in the masquerade of engagement and concern when it comes to your own personal life. "I'm upset because" thinking is a great way of pretending that you are engaged in something of consequence rather than actually engaging in actions that will make a difference. The problem with living from upset -- whether it is anger and resentment (that poison you drink yourself), righteous indignation, or simple blame and complain -- is that these powerful negative emotions provide the false positive of feeling as though you are doing something, when in fact all you are doing is venting your feelings while blaming someone else for your upset.
If you access your natural intelligence, you will use your upset or negative feelings not as something to direct toward another, but as a signpost that you still have some kind of unresolved personal issue that needs your attention. This one is slippery in the sense that it can be difficult to grasp that your upset is a function of your own choices and issues more than what appears to be happening out there in the world.
Upset is a signpost pointing to an unresolved issue, something that you are wrestling with internally, something that requires your willingness to ask, "What is it about me such that I find this situation upsetting?" When you can identify that underlying issue, you may then find yourself in a greater state of awareness and empowerment to do something effective about the situation. Feeling upset, or even expressing your upset, may masquerade as something positive, but surely those upset feelings don't change much of anything out there -- they just let you feel even more upset and that increased upset becomes even more proof that you are right!
Are You Engaged or Just Upset?
If the external event or person were truly the source of your upset, then virtually everyone would be upset. It's kind of like going out in the rain without an umbrella -- you will get wet -- everyone will get wet. That's because water is, well, wet. However, when you experience yourself becoming upset, take a look around. Is everyone upset, or just a select group? Again, this can be slippery -- there are any number of important issues that require focused, caring attention. However, upset is a mask for caring -- it lets you express an emotion rather than actually taking action.
Simply expressing your upset or stewing in its upsetting juices does little to effect any positive change. The next time you find yourself upset, you might first look inwardly to discover what it is that you find so disturbing. You may feel quite justified in the upset -- after all, there are any number of "unfair" circumstances out there that you can find upsetting.
However, if upset accomplished anything on its own, just imagine all the changes that could have been made in this world.
While working at the HuffPost Oasis during the Republican National Convention, I found myself in a conversation with "Fred," a very highly principled person, someone who is a spokesperson for peace, consciousness and creating a more loving world. What made the conversation so interesting were the blatant contradictions that he was producing, all the time remaining oblivious to them. He was exercised about what he considered the unfairness of the Republican agenda, something he characterized as self-serving and full of "againstness and hate." The more he went on, the more agitated he became about Republicans in general, evidencing his own form of "againstness."
Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Where Do We Go From Here?"
Whenever Fred chooses to process the source of upset inside himself, he will still have the object of his focus in front of him -- how to transform the world into a more peaceful, loving and caring place. However, if he continues to approach the challenge of transformation from his own againstness, the only people who will get the message will be those people who resonate with the same againstness. When he can resolve whatever unfairness resides inside his own consciousness, he will then be able to approach the issue with a greater experience of understanding, loving and acceptance. Acceptance does not mean agreement; it simply means understanding what is present and working from that reality forward.
I learned this lesson myself back at Berkeley in the turbulent times of "on strike, shut it down." As I wrote in an earlier article:
Back in the 1960's and 1970's, I was involved in all manner of protests -- civil rights, peace, equal access, etc. One day, on a protest line, I wound up getting hit by a tear gas canister. As I picked it up and started to throw it back, I suddenly, and inexplicably, found myself looking back at myself, as though I were a spectator to my own activity. And then I heard myself screaming, "why don't you a**holes love us?"
At that moment, life began changing in profound and meaningful ways. As wave after wave of awareness broke over me, I saw the contradiction of my life to that point: my message was love and peace, and my strategy was to yell, scream and throw things.
While still a long way from perfect, I continue to use that experience to examine myself in increasingly layers of depth, uncovering abuses I have experienced and internalized into my own forms of abusive behavior. From that day forward, I committed myself to learning to live from a deeper place of loving and caring, from a place that I have come to call my Soul-Talk. I still find my self upset at various forms of what I consider to be injustices in the world. However, I have learned that trying to create change through upset is a bit like fighting for peace. I think Dr. King already laid that one to rest. For me, the daily challenge is to live from the place inside of me that cares and to manifest that caring through my thoughts, words and deeds.
What's the deeper place inside of you that is seeking greater expression in your life? What is the message of your Soul-Talk that may be hidden just below the level of your upset? If you can access that deeper level, how might your life be different?
I would love to hear from you so please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
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