Have you heard any of these sentiments recently?
Those other people are unreasonable and extreme.
You can’t even talk to them.
They belong to a cult.
They don’t care about people.
They don’t have any respect for human lives.
They don’t get how the world really works.
No matter where you stand on social and political issues, when you imply any of the above statements, you are contributing to a big problem.
It’s the us versus them problem.
Treating people like they break into two neat groups – one on your team and one against you is simplistic and arrogant. And it’s really tearing us apart here in the United States.
It’s time to talk about how we are talking about this.
I know we are all totally beyond pissed and scared. The vast majority of us are utterly and completely against losing any innocent lives through acts of violence.
We are all concerned about our youth. Things have changed, and a lot of people fear that kids don’t have the emotional resilience and social supports many of us enjoyed when we were growing up.
Many of us are concerned that kids have become desensitized to violence. And many of us say that’s especially concerning if they can access a gun.
So why, with so many SHARED concerns, are we adults acting out in ways we would never want to see our children act out?
What I really mean to say here is, why are we acting like assholes on Facebook?
And then there’s a whole other dynamic going on that’s got me concerned. Why do I hear so many people say they simply won’t bring this up, even though their heart is breaking and they want to scream?
We cannot talk to each other like this. We cannot be silent like this.
We can do better. We must do better.
If we are using our words and actions to intentionally or thoughtlessly cause pain to others and as an outlet for our anger, fear, and powerlessness, then make no mistake about it. We are inflicting harm. This is bad behavior with negative consequences to our relationships, our reputation, and even our own sense of wellbeing.
And now we get to the very core of the big, ugly problem – fear. Fear becoming toxic anger. Fear becoming attacking, lashing out.
I totally get the fear. I totally get the anger. I have my moments when I want to hate everyone too. When I want to attack and lash out.
And I have my moments when I want to disengage, distance myself, escape the ugliness. But the answer is NOT to remain silent all the time. Silence is the veil that not only hides dysfunction, it also allows it to thrive. Silence eats away at us from the inside.
If we want the world to get its shit together, we need to get our shit together.
We need to be the role models. No one is going to fix this mess for us. We are all we have. Let’s get it together already.
Put on your grown up pants, and consider these pointers.
1. Tell us what you stand FOR.
If you want to be effective, tell us what your position is. Tell us your dream for the world. What’s your vision? Leading with what you are against is pretty uninspiring. Having a voice means taking a position – being for something and not just against.
It’s harder to piss people off when you are simply sharing your vision. It’s also a whole lot more inspiring. And energizing. Productive social movements have a cause, a vision, and a sense of belonging. Help me understand you by telling me what you believe in and why it matters.
Now go use your energy, time, and money and throw yourself into the things that matter to you.
Don’t waste too much energy arguing why your solution is better than anyone else’s. Just go do it.
Being for something carries a million more times the energy than being against something else.
2. Spare us the either/or BS.
You know what I mean. “You’re either a gun nut or an anti-gun nut.”
For the love of all humanity, don’t keep setting up that false dichotomy. No one is a nut. Let’s have some respect. Every person makes sense in the context of their own life. We have different views for good reasons, and that’s okay.
What’s not okay is allowing people who may disagree with you to be vilified.
Look, there are better and worse-reasoned opinions, but there are no better or worse people. Don’t make all people who disagree with you or who prioritize different solutions than you do into the enemy. It’s not cool.
If you let people know your position and what you stand for, and then you ask them how does it match, overlap, or differentiate from their position and what they stand for, you’ll see that there’s a lot of overlap, that we’re all more alike than we are different.
Why is that so? Because we’re all human beings. We mostly all love our children and do the best we can considering. That goes for you and for the people who disagree with you.
3. Use your power appropriately.
We tend to act out or freeze up when we feel trapped and powerless. It’s instinctual. We are also born wanting to assert our will, our power in the world. This too is instinctual, and it’s part of what can be absolutely right in the world.
But we have a dysfunctional relationship with power.
Some people will misuse their power. We have endless examples of this in the #me too age. I don’t have to tell you that misusing your power is wrong.
If you are kind, you probably tend to fear using your power. You will give it away, making sure others don’t feel any discomfort with your words or actions. You will wait for others to give you permission to be truth tellers – a permission that is never issued.
Others will hold themselves back, making sure they are “perfect” and have “every fact.” The problem with that is there is no such thing as perfect, and there is always more to know. Not contributing because you’re knowledgeable but not a complete encyclopedia deprives others of your valuable viewpoint simply to protect your ego.
Others are emotionally reactive, and act out when they feel attacked. If that sounds like you, you need to really try not to take others’ opinions so personally, even when you care deeply about the issue at hand.
All changemakers must learn how to use their power appropriately.
You need a rich toolbox of skills and insights to own your power and use it well, neither giving it away nor misusing it.
You have a responsibility as an adult to develop this toolbox and contribute in a useful way to our civil discourse. If you don’t, the vacuum of kind, competent people not using their power will quickly be filled by unkind or incompetent people very willing to misuse power.
Using your power means you speak up and are willing to be an influencer in your everyday life. You may choose to contribute your viewpoint with statements like:
Using power is still very civil. It’s more neutral, gentle, and matter-of-fact than what you may imagine in your mind. It’s not power-over. It’s using your voice and actions to add to the world.
4. Regulate your emotions!
Knee-jerk reactions don’t change hearts and minds. If you want to be someone who is heard and respected, then you need to be quiet when you can’t be clear headed. Get your emotions regulated, get clear, and then work on your message.
Every adult has a responsibility to do whatever it takes to use their emotional regulation skills.
I, for one, use breathing, lifting weights, walking, talking it out with people I trust, and even getting a good night of sleep to ensure I’m regulating my emotions. Lately, I’ve needed to do all of the above. And then repeat.
Your power comes from your ability to communicate clearly. Emotionally unregulated reactions like name-calling, shaming, and ranting will undermine your credibility.
Develop your emotional regulation skills and use them daily if you want to be a voice for positive change in the world.
Emotionally regulated people use communication tools like validation, which is acknowledging where other people are coming from. Using validation sounds like:
“I can see that you are upset, and I am too. One thing I’d like to address is…”
“This is a hot-button issue, and it makes sense we are all on-edge. It’s important to me that….”
“I know we have different viewpoints, and that is okay. However it is difficult when…”
Being regulated doesn’t mean your message is devoid of emotion. It means you are using your emotions intentionally.
Stop spouting off from the mouth and take a breath first, please.
5. Be more effective with your message.
If you want to be a voice of reason in a sea of BS, you need to work on how to package your message in a way that is compassionate, clear, and powerful.
Here are some things that are INEFFECTIVE or detrimental to positive changemaking:
dividing people into two groups (us versus them)
insisting on either/or, when topics are not mutually exclusive
putting people down
leading with inflammatory remarks
Your message is best received when it's heartfelt and humble.
Effective truth tellers follow 10 Principles that I’ve recently detailed in a blog post for people who are serious about communicating effectively and with integrity. It’s a long article, so let me give you a some shortcuts.
For example, here is what not demanding a resolution sounds like:
“I know we disagree, but I’m glad we were able to talk.”
Or here is what not having to be right sounds like:
“I can see you have opinions based on values that differ from mine. I’m glad we can offer a voice to these differing values.”
Or here is what allowing yourself to be influenced sounds like:
“I can see how you arrived at that opinion, and I can see things better now from your point of view. I’d like to share my experience for a minute. It might help you see where I’m coming from.”
I’m desperate for kind, thoughtful people to be the everyday truth tellers and changemakers this world needs.
If we can figure out how to talk with the people in our lives, we can increasingly have the skills and confidence to speak out in any situation and maybe get something productive done together.
I'm Hannah. I teach kind, thoughtful people communication skills to speak up and be heard. I’ve created a 6-week live online course called How to Say Anything Like a Total Rockstar: The Ultimate Communication Toolbox for Everyday Truth Tellers and Changemakers.
If you want to master the key mindset shifts, learn my 7 Ninja communication moves, embrace your power, unstick sticky situations, and become a confident communicator who feels in charge of your life and able to have an influence in the world, please check out all the details right HERE.