Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve

I follow several blogs dealing with the environment, peak oil and other issues of great importance to the future of the earth.  One that I recently found is by a physicist who takes the time to work through all the numbers involved in specific issues.  It's called  (of course) "Do the Math" and I find it a tremendous breath of fresh air.  What I do not find a similar breath, is the way my mind falls into old, worn-out ways of reacting to situations that routinely arise.

I was reading the "comments" section when I came across the following brilliant piece of analysis:

Mass transit is a non-starter until the crime problem is dealt with.  If people are assaulted on the train or bus or thieves use it to spread to new territory, nobody will want it to come near their town.

I responded with an angry comment that the moderator graciously edited somewhat instead of simply deleting:

[edited the fangs out]
[Whoa, there!] Are you suggesting that everyone who currently uses public transit is either a criminal or so “beyond the pale” that they don’t care about all the thugs they ride to work with every day?
I had a half-dozen acquaintances die from auto accidents when I was in secondary school. This is far from an isolated experience for people who live in the country. I haven’t known anyone killed in a robbery. Why is it our society chooses to “swallow camels while choking on gnats”?
One of the great things about this blog is that the author really does try to “do the math” instead of making moronic statements based on emotion.  

I can see that I am well on the path towards what always happens when I enter into a debate.  I get so emotionally engaged with the subject that I can easily be egged into pissing off the moderator/voters/editors/whatever to the point where they eventually bare me from the group.

Emotional engagement is a good thing insofar as it gets people motivated to actually do something.   It has gotten me to run for political office, organize community groups, do very risky things like suing Walmart, and so on.  But it also makes me so angry that I tend to go off like an H-bomb whenever someone says something that I believe is so ignorant and hurtful that it simply could not be an honest mistake.  In the above case, my blood boiled from the obvious assumption that the reader was working from----namely that the sort of people who use public transit consist of an "under-class", many of whom are undesirables that any sane person would want to keep physically outside of their community.  One wonders if skin colour might be part of the equation----.

The problem with my emotions is that because I cannot control them any better than I do, I am always vulnerable to anyone who realizes that they can get me into trouble any time they want simply by making this sort of outrageous statement.  Since most referees and audiences respond to the tone of a discussion more than the content, this means that anyone who can get me angry will almost always win the battle.

This "Achilles Heel" has plagued me all of my life.  It is why I have never developed a career, even though I have gone through periods in my life when I really would have liked to be a "success" in some sort of conventional sense.  (Actually, now I consider myself quite a considerable success, but that doesn't change the fact that I haven't always thought so.)   It has certainly dramatically lowered my influence on society, because it means that a great many folks just dismiss me as some sort of weird person who has anger management problems.

I have some understanding about why it is I act like this.  When I was young every authority figure in my life was either too dumb or too out-of-control for me to every assume that they were acting in my best interest or that their advice was worth following.  I also spent a great deal of my life walking around being completely enraged by the idiocy that I had to put up with in my day-to-day life.  Modern biology teaches that when a child develops in this sort of environment it becomes "hard wired" to be angry most of the time.

That pretty much describes me.

Conventional wisdom would dictate that having understood this point, I should be able to no longer be imprisoned by this behaviour.  But the fact of the matter is that knowing that I am going to act like this is absolutely no preventative from doing it time and time again.  The only real way of avoiding this sort of thing is to totally avoid spending any time in situations where I can meet people like the guy who wrote the original comment on the "Do the Math" blog.  Being so emotionally engaged is why drives me to do things like take a train instead of an airplane to visit my fiance even though she lives 800 miles away (to lessen my carbon footprint.)  But it also is why it is almost impossible for anyone to understand why I do so.  It leaves me totally frustrated as a human being.

I wonder how often this sort of dilemma faced old-time Daoist recluses?   Perhaps many of them were simply passionate people who couldn't control their emotions enough to keep a straight face when confronted by the vile, idiotic things they heard and saw in court.  Some folks are never meant to hide their hearts.


Trey Smith said...

I too wear my heart on my sleeve and I've been known to stir up controversies in my wake. While you can't really know a person solely through this medium, it sounds like you and I have a few things in common.

One way I have tried to move beyond my propensity for passionate argument is to try not to get into them in the first place. Of course, it's a lot easier for me to do because I now live a very insulated life. If I had a job and was out in the real world each day, I'm guessing it wouldn't be easy at all!

The Cloudwalking Owl said...

Of course, it does help to avoid being around other people. The problem is, as you have pointed out, I need to make a living. As a result, I have spent most of work life in jobs where I am totally on my own. And as an activist, I've worked best as a "lone wolf" instead of someone working for a larger organization.

Having said that, it is interesting to get to a stage in life where I have just about "given up" on trying to reform myself. I'm too old now to have any illusions about every being able to change. Maybe at some point I'll stop fretting about my personal eccentricities---.