Who here has written something that others really disagreed with and taken some flack for it. I know I have, sometimes quite vitriolic flack too. It happens. We are in the public domain and thus will sometimes attract such responses.
So how can we deal with it when it happens?
My mindfulness training and practice allows me to remind myself that what other people think and feel and express is about them. Even if they are making it about me and projecting it onto me, it is still THEIR perception of me which is formed in their mind based on their belief and attitudes and perceptions. So even if their words are hurtful and reach their mark, I can dial back from that place of being hurt, regain my equilibrium and consider my response instead of reacting to it.
And the same is true of me too of course. When I think things about other people, I must remind myself endlessly that I do not know their back story, their deeper, darker influences and their struggles in life. I do not know them just as they almost certainly do not know me.
Now on a personal level there may be something in their words that is a gift to me, a nugget of truth which suggests I should look more deeply at myself and consider what I say, do and how I express myself. I must also show myself compassion and know that I too have my struggles and challenges in life. We each have room for improvement in all ways and on all days.
What we say or think about other people is about us, the thinker or speaker, more than it is ever about them. Remember that when you talk about other people.
But what about when it is public and on somewhere like newsbreak or medium.
Well we can react and be upset or hurt, make a fuss, block ( which I had to do once only) or we can ignore it.
Take the flack with grace and a deep bow and a voice of gratitude and thank them for their insight and suggestions. It rather disarms people. If they want to annoy or upset you with their rejections and hurtful comments, you are taking their power way immediately, and turning it into a positive.
I remember a very negative put downer of women writers on Medium some times ago and a lot of people were up in arms but the person also put a rude comment on my piece (it was about relationships and how happy and in love I am with my husband) and I just said I was so sorry that his life led him to think and feel this way and want to comment like this. I added that I was grateful he had had the courage to express such deep damaged thinking so openly to me and would he like me to recommend help for him. Finally I said I was grateful for the ideas he had shared and would give them some consideration.
I then wrote a piece about ‘should I be ashamed of being so happily in love?’ and it got curated and did pretty well for me. That was about three years ago I think and I remember how many other women were deeply upset by comments they received and eventually this individual was shut out and silenced.
I am not really a smart ass kind of person at all. I am not trying to be clever here, just employing good psychology.
I know I make mistakes and get things wrong all the time, so I am no better than these people, sometimes called trolls, but I think sometimes taking a positive stance on such things can actually be worth it.
For instance do people really want to hear my poems about how happy I am and how much I love my husband? Well I write them and if people don’t want to read them then don’t buy my books or look me up on Medium.
Apart from being a Buddhist practitioner and mindfulness teacher I am also a member of the Quaker movement. Both sets of spiritual guidance teach this approach.
‘Have you considered you might be mistaken?’ comes from Quaker faith and practice, our main handbook
'Are you sure?’ comes from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen mindfulness teachings. I have a postcard sent by a friend on my kitchen dresser and see it several times a day for reflective practice. No I am not always sure though it feels better to think I am.
Both these teachings are regulars for me and I return to them again and again. Both are challenging me to think twice about what I say and do but also how I perceive others too. So instead of being upset, I can use their criticism to look at myself and consider these statements as my first action.
Then I can look at my behaviour and what I said, wrote or did to instigate their reaction.
Then I can see if I need to correct myself or not. It might well be a topic upon which there is great difference of opinion too and the other person is vehemently hostile to my expressed position.
So are they trying to silence my perception of said issue, which is not acceptable, or can we enter into a short exchange of views and end up agreeing amicably to differ and not make it personal?
One single difference of opinion is not enough for us to become enemies — surely — and it is not the whole sum of my or the other’s life experience either.
This is where compassion teaching comes in too. We should look at each others failings and lack of insight with understanding and compassion, not with judgment and hostility, yet this latter is more and more how we do respond.
I have found myself in this exact situation over people who have been climate change deniers for a long time, for people for whom capitalism is the only political model they will contemplate when it is manifestly unjust and unkind, and for those who voted for divisive decisions like BREXIT, which really made me sad and mad in equal measure.
I was and possibly still am guilty of feeling anger at the stupidity and ignorance( my perception) of these points of view. But I see the world as one and everyone and everything in it as part of the one, so anything that I hurt is hurting myself, and any division is a division of myself too.
I know that whilst this is a deep Buddhist teaching, most people do not think like that. It is too big a picture and the direct experience may not be there so they do not see it or make the connection when it does come back to them.
This is an issue I am simultaneously working on inside myself whilst writing about it here. It would be so nice to master this one, but it is a work in progress and that is the best I can do for now. It would do me good to remember this for myself and others all the time.
Next time someone gets on your case and disagrees with you — stop for a moment and ask yourself if there is anything in their point of view which you can learn from, and have compassion for their need to challenge you with aggression.
But should the fear of this kind of challenge become a reason not to write about certain topics or challenge certain contemporary perceptions and perceived wisdoms?
Freedom of expression is how we learn from each other and grow. But using freedom of expression to hurt someone else willfully, as Piers Morgan did recently with the Duchess of Sussex, Megham Markle, when he just slammed her down with saying he did not believe a single word that came from her, this is not skillful criticism or freedom of speech and the right to express a point of view as it is directly designed to hurt someone. There is a fine line here which should not be crossed, and here I come back to my original point. What we each say to and about other people tells the world far more about our self and our own inner workings than we are perhaps aware of.
Sometimes noble silence is the best approach, say nothing unless some terrible injustice is occurring, and then carefully point that out without adding to the bonfire of hurts. You don’t put a fire out by adding more fuel, only by reducing the combustibles.
But what if you want to say something that is necessary to say and yet you know you will be shouted down for it?
Well I can use my own experiences here. I have been an environmentalist animals rights activist politically for most of my adult life, getting on for 50 years now, and I have been shouted down and ridiculed for it more times than I can count, and rejected and jeered at too. I have got upset and walked away, fallen out with people and generally reacted with equal hostility back. Did that change anything? For me no, though they wanted to silence me, I knew I must continue to speak truth to power. However I did not change their point of view either and I look back and wonder if I had known then what I know now if I might have been more successful in changing hearts and minds. So now I look to this teaching more than ever. We need a kind and compassionate planet if we are to survive at all as a species. I can at least do my bit for that.