by Chas (Chip) August
I’ll tell you a secret. I’m a lurker, I think. I’m one of those people who subscribes to an email list but lurks silently in the background, rarely contributing but always observing. And its not just one list. I lurk on NorCal. I lurk on HaiLife. I lurk on the Australia and the Northeast participant lists. I lurk on the Interns list and the SoCal team list. I guess I’ve got it bad.
Now you know.
(I said I “think” I’m a lurker because sometimes I actually post to one or another of the lists. And periodically I make announcements. And I privately write to the author of an occasional piece. So, technically, I suppose I’m just a dilettante lurker, a lipstick lurker, a lurkette?)
So there I am, three months ago, lurking on NorCal, when a flame war erupts. (Don’t run for the fire extinguishers Luddites and technophobes, as I understand it, a flame war is email-speak for people arguing or blaming or “shoulding” on others.) Someone has posted a joke that gets its humor by belittling men. On my personal scale it barely registers as offensive, but I’m pretty insensitive when it comes to jokes. Someone more in touch with their feelings than I, and brave enough to speak up, posts an “ouch” response.
The “ouch” email prompts a bunch of responses. Some write suggesting rules to prohibit humor. Some write to defend humor. Some write decrying stereotyping. Some write to stereotype. Some demand the right to stereotype based on being the objects of others’ stereotyping. The flame war eventually becomes 4 or 5 writers, none of who feel heard, none of who feel honored or respected.
New voices begin to be heard. Some write to ask the “flamers” to take it off the list (starting a backfire, if we want to work the metaphor to death). Some write to support our right of free speech and to try to stop the censoring of the flamers. Some have been offline for a while and write to respond to week-old posts, and wind up re-igniting flames that had died down. Now come the emails from lurkers inviting other lurkers to get involved, so we’re not just reading the mail from the same five people all the time. And the emails asking “Can’t we just move on?”
(As I read the various thrusts and parries I wish I had the power to make everyone see the validity of everyone else’s point of view. I don’t like reading all these subtle and not-so- subtle put downs and make-wrongs. And I’m afraid if I tell the flamers what I think, then they’ll feel flamed by me and there’ll be a million emails about that.)
After weeks and hundreds of emails, the fire finally dies down. The list moves on.
I suppose your wondering where this is all leading? Yesterday someone posted a joke that gets its humor by belittling men. No not the same someone as last time, and not the same joke. And, yes, you guessed it, someone very in touch with their feelings, and brave enough to speak up, posted an “ouch” response. No, not that same someone as last time, either.
And now I’m in touch with MY feelings. I’m irritated. I’m frustrated. I don’t enjoy reading flames. I want everyone to “play nice”. I’ve got judgments about how this or that person has more time than I do and that’s why they post. I notice that I want to unsubscribe. I want to write a diatribe to NorCal. I want to change this pattern I see in others, so I can feel OK.
Hmmmm. What did I just write? Change others’ behavior so I can be OK. Write a diatribe. Well, what do you know? To quote Walt Kelly’s Pogo (an old comic strip) “We have met the enemy and they are us!”
In my belief system, the only person who robs me of choice is me. The person who “makes me angry” is me. And my anger is usually just the tip of the iceberg called “Chip’s Feelings”. I know that when I explore “beneath” the anger I’m sure to uncover other feelings — sadness, shame, fear, pain. I also know that anytime I’m upset it serves me to see if I’ve just bumped into any unfulfilled (maybe unexpressed) needs or wants.
In my family of origin we argued. A lot. Every night. About everything. When I read this flame war on NorCal it is as if I’m observing my birth-family in action again. I sense the same quality of intent-to-win at all costs. I hear echoes of endless subtle and not-so- subtle put downs and make-wrongs. I find myself wanting to “fight back” like I sometimes did. I want to make it all stop, to make all the hurt feelings and hurting words disappear.
Somewhere deep inside my mind there’s a witness, a voice asking whether the flame war is really a flame war or perhaps just something that matches an pre-existing template in my personality. And does it matter whether it really is like my childhood’s nightly dinner melee, or I’m just prone to see it that way? Either way, I have more and better choices at hand.
Remember those WWJD buttons and stickers? WWJD was “What Would Jesus Do?” Well, I’ve got an internal WWFD — “What Would a Facilitator Do?” I’ve been strengthening for the last 14 years or so. When I ask WWFD I remember to breathe. I remember to look for the angel in myself and in whoever has pushed my buttons today. I remember the deep learning that has come to me when I choose someone I would not typically choose, for whatever reason. I remember that my upset, my anger is OK. And I remember that trying to change others to make me feel better doesn’t ever work.
And I am very grateful that my computer came with a delete key.
Chip August is a HAI Facilitator, Personal Growth Coach, and hypnotherapist. He helps individuals, couples, and families transform their relationships with each other and with their thoughts and feelings. He lives with his life-partner and their children in Menlo Park, CA. He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>