Speaking our mind without becoming angry
I don’t like to argue.
This doesn’t mean I will agree with everything I hear or read or quietly submit to the wishes of a family member or friend. But I don’t enjoy having heated verbal confrontations over politics, religion or personal behavior, with someone whom I know has no intention of listening to my views, which may be contrary to theirs.
If I am asked for my opinion, I will give it if I have one, along with my reasons for why I think the way I do, and then hopefully we can have a civil discourse.
But all too often now, it seems it is becoming increasingly difficult to have intelligent, civil conversations about government policies, our elected officials or even the behavior of our children without them escalating into full-blown arguments. Is it that we are quicker to anger today? Quicker to criticize, to judge? If so, why?
David Wolpe, senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, writes, “Americans are angry. They are angry about school shootings and taxes and mistreatment and undeserved privilege and discrimination and government. The sense that someone has received more than we have arouses anger.
“Angry people are poor communicators and even worse listeners. They have trouble imagining the other’s point of view, and when both parties are angry, they are unlikely to find middle ground. If the only way people feel they will be heard is when they are angry, then our public discourse will be an arena for shouting past one another.”
Regrettably, this anger and impatience seem more and more to be carrying over into our personal daily relationships. A friend or spouse says something that sets you off, and you react by yelling, slamming the door and walking out. Perhaps you wonder later what got you into the argument in the first place — maybe something subtle: a smirk, rolled eyes, a body posture or tone of voice. But in a split second you reacted, and your response was the exact thing that drove the other person crazy, too. Now, you’re both angry.
Julia Flood, a San Francisco counselor-therapist, writes: “While we are social beings and want close relationships, we are also hard-wired for survival. When we feel threatened, we resort to one of 3 reflex-like reactions — fight, flight, or freeze.
“Our brains determines our reaction. Do we run away, fight back, or just choose to remain silent, as our best strategy to survive?”
Flood says that there is another choice. We can learn to speak our minds without escalating the situation.
“When listening to the other person’s reality,” she says, “we can learn to tolerate our own anxiety, calm ourselves, and not lose sight of what is true from our perspective.”
By practicing this kind of sharing and listening, Flood believes, not only would personal conflicts decrease, but our communication would improve and this would lead to more harmonious relationships.
Anger does not need to be inevitable. Whether we are talking on a personal level about how best to raise our teenage daughters or on a national level about how best to deal with illegal immigration, we can be principled and do it while speaking in a soft voice. Herein lies the key to better cooperation, increased civility and genuine compromise.
And that’s how I see it.
Larry Johnson is an author and motivational speaker. He is available for luncheon talks or workshop presentations. You can contact him via email at email@example.com or visit his website at www.mexicobytouch.com