Staying Calm in a Debate

how-to-control-anger1

I’m having a rough day today. I’ve gotten in a number of heated arguments on facebook. These are not my favorite forum. I have a hard time disconnecting, and a hard time not getting emotional about things that mean a lot to me. Like the fact that sexism and racism are institutional things, not individual actions (dumbasses. Figure it out. Calling someone a dick is not the same as years of disenfranchisement, discrimination, beating, and abuse). I’m upset right now because people are playing on my emotions purposefully, while I have always tried to argue in all good faith. I don’t appreciate when people try to fuck with me just to make a point.

So I’ve gotten a bit emotional. I’m shaky. I can barely type straight because my hands are shaking. I don’t like it when people purposefully push me this far.

But I also think it’s important to try to come to some understanding of whatever a debate is about. I like closure. I did actually get to some points of understanding between myself and the people who were not agreeing with me. So despite being really upset, I don’t want to simply walk away from situations that upset me. I know that part of my inability to walk away is that I want to win. I want a conclusion. And I know that others want that too. I should stop. I really really should. It’s not accomplishing anything when I get upset. And it’s not accomplishing anything for me to “feed the trolls” as it were.

So how do I continue to advocate for my own position, defend myself, and stay calm? How do I continue to respect people (which is something I’ve been trying REALLY REALLY hard to do–Shawn, I really hope you feel I have, that’s always been my intent), while also respecting myself and bringing up controversial and critical points from the position of a minority group (either women or atheists?) How do I also listen to other people’s experiences and respect those?

I really don’t know. I think that I may be too sensitive to really engage in a lot of online debate. I think that every individual who wants to engage in activism needs to take a hard look at their own personality and decide what level of vitriol and anger they can take from others before deciding how far they want to engage in debate.

I’m starting to recognize that many times the greatest form of activism is taking care of myself and respecting myself. But oftentimes I don’t feel like that’s enough. I want to be able to pave the way for other people who are like myself have the space to express their opinions and their selves.

So what do you do when you get upset in online debates? I often find that talking to someone else and making sure I’m not crazy (because people love to gaslight me) helps a lot. I also find that having sources to back me up is really helpful so that I don’t have to do as much of the speaking myself. It helps to stay calm when I engage with something else at the same time as I am engaging in a debate, or if I self-soothe at the same time (pictures of kittens are good). What do you guys do to help calm yourself down in a debate? How do you deal with it when you become upset or frustrated? How do you continue to engage in activism or in debate when your fight or flight instincts start kicking in?

Staying calm is really important in my mind. I was spending some time defending the place of mockery in the atheist movement. I do believe that it’s ok to mock certain beliefs (transubstantiation anyone?) but I think there’s a time and a place for it. My family and I had a Holy Saturday celebration this past week in which we made pope hats to be silly about the new pope (some of us also chose pope names and dressed up in Argentinian garb). This was a private celebration that didn’t attack anyone, but did mock a bit of the ritual in the Catholic church. I think it was fine because it was a bonding activity, and it was highly enjoyable for us. When I’m trying to present myself as the face of an activist group or trying to understand another person’s beliefs or explain my own, I don’t find it helpful to use mockery (some people can do this to great effect. I personally don’t like it).

And so when I’m trying to engage in a discourse (which is different from personal and private enjoyment, or simply throwing something out there), I don’t want to get upset, get angry, personally attack people (which I never think is ok), or lose objectivity and clarity of thought. I want to be able to understand my emotions, use them as fuel for my arguments, but not necessarily let them skew my arguments: make sure that each of my arguments fits the facts, and proceed from the facts as best I can. It’s difficult because I exist in a realm of social justice understanding that many other people don’t inhabit. It’s hard to have to try to explain all of the assumptions that I come in with that I have spent a great deal of time thinking about and coming to conclusions about. It’s frustrating when people dismiss those assumptions despite the fact that I have read pages and pages about them. It’s hard to sum all of that up in a few sentences. It’s hard not to get frustrated when people bypass all of the thoughts that are going on in your brain, or assume that you haven’t already thought things through.

If and when I have time, I would like to start a series that addresses some of these assumptions that I hold: these include things like intersectionality, the nature of racism and sexism, how language changes, privilege and power, and other things. I suppose I could have linked to my privilege post already, but I’d like to have a ready set of them to send to people to give the background of my thought processes. Let me know what things you have a hard time explaining to others, and I’ll see if I can provide a cache of basic explanations of a number of social justice concepts that often get misunderstood or subject to ridicule.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to stay out of facebook debates, because it’s started to get triggering to me and I’ve begun to dissociate when they happen because I feel like I need to quash my emotions and that is really unhealthy for me. If people work purposefully to get me upset and I have to force myself to not react to direct attacks, that’s not healthy. It’s not the kind of activism I want to engage. I’m allowed to be angry about oppression that affects me.

One thought on “Staying Calm in a Debate

  1. Trey Yandle says:

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