Talking Myself Down from the Tree

canstockphoto5983705I wanted to write something funny today, but my heart isn’t in it. I made the mistake this morning of reading the news online first and then the comments that followed. Why, oh why, do I read people’s comments? It’s never like the warm, fuzzy blanket of a blog. It’s more like an ice cold shower that screams “Wake up, the world is full of hate!”

The sense of despair can be overwhelming. People seem so willing to show their ugly, unmitigated sides because commenting online is a distant thing. Even my local online news station, which warned of car thefts while your car is warming up (we’re in the midst of a cold front here), brought out a slew of shoot first, ask questions later comments.

When I wrote my peace post regarding thoughts of aggression, several commenters mentioned the anger they feel when they see or read about the injustices of the world. I was, perhaps, a little blasé in my responses.

I’ve taught myself to know about things distant from me, without taking them inside, eating away at me like stomach acid in my esophagus. Intense empathy makes me ill and distraught and impotent with rage.

I make the choice to not let it take over, because I have an inclination towards depression. My depression does not make the world a better place. It doesn’t drive me to take action, it drives me up into a tree, curled up and hidden.

I am not Pollyanna, nor blind to the miseries of this world, but I know my place in it. I need to raise my child with love and confidence and interest in the world around her. I need to provide a sanctuary for my family to re-charge, to breathe and feel safe. I need to do what I can to make a difference in the space and community around me.

I’ve spent the early years of my life just fighting to stand upright, to not be swallowed by addiction and violence and fear.  It was enough then, to take responsibility for myself. Now I take responsibility for the small world around me, learning to cultivate my own brand of kindness and compassion, learning to interact, to be committed, to be present.

As I get older, I’d like to believe that my reactions to the miseries of the world will become markedly more passionate. My daughter will be off on her own adventures. I hope that I will be willing and able to risk more, to let it inside, to the let the news and the horror burn until I’m fueled to action.

The reality is that I or my spouse might be in poor health, or we’ll lose a job or two or be the victim of a crime. The kaleidoscope shifts and we’re back to trying to stand upright, unable to bear more responsibility for the world at large.

I wrote my first novel with a focus on a dysfunctional family and how alcoholism had a huge impact. I approached it with the idea that ripples emanated from a single point of origin, to impact the community, the next generation, creating effects that lasted for years.

When I finished the first novel draft, the primary theme had changed. The ripples could also work for good. A single point of origin where kindness, compassion, integrity and perseverance existed could also, like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond, continue for a long time and a large area.

I’ve had moments in my life when I was lost, despairing and isolated. All it took was one person, one kind conversation, one pat on the arm and I could lift my head, stand up straight and continue the journey. They probably thought nothing of it. If you asked them today, they would not recall the incident or the conversation. But I can.

So that is where I begin. I remember how little it takes to make a difference, this butterfly effect of human kindness. If we can take that into our hearts and into our daily life, we just might change the world.

42 Comments on “Talking Myself Down from the Tree

  1. A quote I love: “I am only one; but still I am one. I may not be able to do everything, but still I can do something.”

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  2. Oh how I can identfy with you. I challenge myself not to read comments exactly for this reason. Push forward against the hate.

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      • I did not get to comment as deeply as I wanted before because my kids have an All-County chorus event tonight and I had to leave to take them to school.

        The blogging universe is preferred because there is a level of insulation from hate lovers who just want a place to vent. I enjoy the interaction I am developing with other bloggers like you who have similar goals. We just want a place to express ourselves and receive some positive, skill building feedback.

        Thankfully it take enough effort to get involved here that the “Anger Trolls” do not bother. I cannot stand whiners and people who rage just because of the anonymity afforded by a username like “Fatbelly88” makes them feel free to spew.

        As a Christian I know my heavenly Father sees everything I do and want to make sure I please Him in all things, reading, writing and life. Keep trudging on, writing your truth and let the “Anger Trolls” satisfy themselves elsewhere.

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  3. I so agree about the comments on news articles. They ruin my day.

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    • Sometimes I just have to cut myself off – it’s very easy to get sucked into the hostility. I never comment on news articles – I actually think it’s sort of weird that they have comments.

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      • That’s what I have thought for a long time. What’s the point? If people are going to use the space to act like that it seems ridiculous. I heard a therapist give a speech and say that the daily news watching inflicts trauma on us.

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        • I find myself having to take breaks from the news. When I took a week off from blogging, I also tried to stay offline and uninformed. I felt like my brain could be at rest.

          I’ve also changed my news sources, finding sites that were less entertainment and more world reporting. I like the BBC – comments are only allowed on editorial pieces, which makes sense.

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  4. Beautiful! I’ve felt the same tug to go left or right in my own writing, whether to choose a positive message or expose the “other side” and revel in that. It feels better to do the former. Thanks for the lovely post. – Bill

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    • Thanks, Bill. I think the “other side” is getting enough play in this world – it becomes a habitual rant, with little in the way of creative solutions.

      On the other hand, I think of one of my heroes, Nellie Bly, writing about the conditions in an asylum in the 1880s. She generated enough outrage to make a difference and change the conditions.

      The problem with outrage is that it soon becomes part of the landscape – there’s so many issues for potential outrage, that we start filtering it out. It’s exhausting! Sometimes a whisper can be as effective as shouting.

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  5. A few days after the Sandy Hook massacre, the trolls were out in full force, making light of the entire tragedy. One asshat wrote he was laughing so hard from reading about all the little kids that had died. An anonymous comment, of course.

    Some people got a lot of nerve, I tell you.

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    • Or no nerve at all, if they troll anonymously. Trolling seems a little pathological – bullies who, if confronted in person, would turn into blubbering piles of shit. See? I HAVE been reading too many of those comments!

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  6. I love this. The end reminds me of pay it forward too, but that could just be because I rambled on about it recently. It’s true that the smallest kind action can make a huge difference to someone…and it works the other way, an unkind word that you let slip during a moment of anger can’t always immediately be wiped away with an apology. It makes you think more about what you put out into the world 🙂

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    • It’s a challenge to bring mindfulness to all of our actions and words. Online is one of those places where it should be easier to be mindful, since there is that moment to re-read before hitting enter. From some comments I’ve seen on articles, it looks like the thought went straight from the brain onto the computer, with no circumspection at all.

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  7. It amazes me how people are sooooo quick to share disparaging thoughts, anger and hate behind the mask of the internet. Is it generated by our stressful lives? Our dissatisfaction at work? Our struggle for enough money? It’s like we’re all looking for an opportunity to scream our frustrations. Angry thoughts are vomited up and sit suspended and largely unchallenged. We may feel a sense of temporary relief, but I think it’s as false and as fleeting as the display of anger itself.

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    • You’re absolutely right. I’ve thought about that and also how our culture now lends itself to mining people for their every opinion and inflection – everything from Amazon reviews to Yelp to Likes on Facebook (and on blogs). Unfortunately, I think that some people got a mixed message: “If you’ve got nothing critical to say, don’t say anything at all”.

      I’m all for reasoned, civil and dissenting conversation, but it does require thought and time and a little less blurting of immediate emotions. Maybe we’re all moving so fast that we just get to the dissenting part.

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  8. Great post about how our online engagements help or fail to mediate our interactions with others. In addition to all the positive comments above, what I admire here is how the process of writing has helped you work through those thoughts, as I’m sure the novel did. The writing is what matters, and you do it so well.

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    • I think the advice about gossip also applies to online interactions – not to say anything that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

      One of the things I’ve learned over the last year, writing for this blog and the novel, is that I always end up better than where I started, whether I intend to or not. Thanks for reading and for your kind words!

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  9. I’m with you on this. I often read depressing articles and then, if that’s not bad enough, I go and indulge in the empty, thoughtless, and often irritating comments. I’m sorry the content of what you read ruined your desire to write a funny post!

    Today’s great thinkers tell us not to worry about the state of world. And by focusing on making our own worlds safe, we are thus, in turn, making the world a safer place.

    Don’t get me wrong, we ought to be concerned with the state of the world to an extent–and of course look for ways to help. But sometimes all we have the power to do is enrich ourselves and the people around us with own brand of goodness.

    Very candid, honest post. I enjoyed reading it.

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    • It feels like a tug-of-war in my head. I know I want to be a good citizen and a good human, but there is so much going on in the world that needs attention. I think it boils down to picking your battles and picking battles that you, specifically, can impact. I remind myself that if every single one of us focused on making our own metaphorical back yard healthy and beautiful (not at the expense of others), that the world would be paradise.
      Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment!

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  10. Never read the comments! I’m like you – I feel too heartily and too passionately and I want the world to be as open and kind and reasonable as I am (or try to be.) But it’s not, and if I let that inside I’m afraid it would overwhelm me too.

    You are so right in saying that we can’t change all the hate and negativity in the world, we can only try to change the little world around us. To try and change everything would fry us, and make us lose hope. But you can make your world the way you want it and you can teach your own children to be open and kind. And if you do that, well – you have indeed done your part. Great post!

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    • You’re right – when we try to take it all in, it is very easy to get fried. And being fried or depressed or angry all the time has little effect on the issues at hand.

      Hope your spirits are improving! Thanks for dropping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment.

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  11. This is beautiful, Michelle. Please know that posts like this are stones thrown in a pool that radiate love, hope, peace, and understanding to the entire world–I am not exaggerating thanks to the internet. Thank you for your articulate and heartfelt musings on kindness, compassion, and peace. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

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  12. Conversation and comments are all good for engaging folks in issues, but I also think we need to focus more on where we want things to be and less on blame and finger pointing. I love how you make the ripples and allow your good thoughts (like this post) to radiate outwards to do good. Keep doing what you are doing. You never know who you may affect or how.

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    • I think conversation that is about the source or issues emanating from a problem is important, since we can’t create solutions if we can’t identify the problem. But it’s pretty easy to distinguish that kind of conversation from the rant, slander or personal attack kind of monologue we often see in online comments. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  13. I know what you mean about news comments. It’s awful. In my small town our newspaper is a weekly so for many years we relied on a BBS to get info about road conditions or if someone was sick or hurt or just to have wide ranging discussions. In the last couple of years I have noticed the exodus of those thoughtful posters to Facebook – all that’s left are the trolls and sock puppets. They took it over and the commentary is vicious and mean. Someone recently asked me to return and I told them I just couldn’t get drawn into the negativity and fighting. Blogging seems to be more thoughtful and I like that. I also love what you said about the butterfly effect. I have been thinking about the people who made those touchpoints in my life – the expansion outwards of those kindnesses – well, you hope that you pay that backwards and forwards. Thoughtful post!

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    • It’s unfortunate that what is happening in the bigger forums like CNN seems to have a trickle down effect to smaller venues. I’m not on Facebook anymore, but friends tell me things they’ve read there and it sounds like it can easily spiral downward as well. I think, too, many people don’t have strong enough written skills to pull off humor and sometimes even that comes across as spiteful, even when followed by that cursed acronym-ed laughing. Or to be misunderstood, which takes things off into a negative direction very quickly.

      It’s taken me a little while to recognize those people and those moments that were, in some cases, life-changing. So many are gone and I never had the opportunity to thank them, so I owe a lot in payment forward!

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  14. That’s all we can do is try and keep a healthy distance right? You’re human and your reaction is what it should be gosh. You’re not a cold and unfeeling monster. Do what you do and the way you do it and it makes a difference. And take care of YOU. Bad news we’ll have.

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  15. Comments can really illustrate the ugly underbelly of humanity. Even on arcane physics blogs, among working scientists who know each other professionally, comments can reveal a nasty edge. People who base their careers on rational analysis can’t maintain decorum. With the average Joe or Joan, it has to get worse.

    When thoughtful people say that the violence problem in this country is much bigger than guns, it’s really this willingness we have to rage on others that we mean. The casual small violence we bathe ourselves in daily creates a culture that sees it as normal.

    The thing is, violence (bad) and passion (good) are very close, almost falling on the same spectrum. How we keep our passions while controlling our violence is a real conundrum. I happen to believe education is the key, but this is all a much longer discussion.

    Anyway, very good post. It puts in sharp focus conversations we’ve had in the past and explains some areas where we diverge. Injustice makes me want to fight back. Where it sends us when we allow it to touch us differs. One thing we share: we’re probably both happier trying to ignore it as much as reasonable.

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  16. Pingback: The Paradox of Voice | The Green Study

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