“People suck,” I said to my husband the other day.
Remember that overly-dramatic confused look Joey Tribbiani had on Friends? That’s pretty much what I saw on my husband’s face as he asked, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”
Because I am really not ever that negative. I am always looking for the good in people. Giving second chances. Trying not to judge. Allowing for mistakes. Embracing humanness.
But, ooof. In a 24-hour period, I witnessed more than the usual level of nastiness in more than one of my online social circles and I was just feeling raw and discouraged and disappointed. People attacking each other personally and professionally and people acting as if they are somehow entitled to live a life unaffected by anyone else’s harmless mistakes.
As I watched the arguments and mud slinging continue and the nastiness escalate, I started journaling about it. Because that’s what I do when I am trying to process something, make sense of it. But, it didn’t help. I was so stuck. I just kept getting more frustrated. And, totally deflated.
Other than the conflict — if you know me, you know I run from any hint of hostility or debate or drama — what was it that was really bothering me about all this? Maybe it was the fact that it was all happening at once instead of the usual cadence of one battle at a time. Maybe it was a subliminal message that I have been spending too much time scrolling social media. Maybe it was disappointment in watching people I admire behaving badly. Maybe it was sadness seeing some people I am friendly with getting picked on (that’s putting it mildly).
For me, life has been extra life-y and heavy for the last year, and this week was the first time in a very long time I have become abundantly disappointed in other people’s shaming of those who either don’t agree with them, or have done wrong by them, or who they just genuinely think suck.
And, the thing is, some people do suck. But the people who’ve created an inconvenience for us or don’t agree with us politically or don’t understand something we believe in so deeply? They don’t suck. They’re human just like we are.
Yesterday, I had a chance to step back out onto the walking trail after a couple of weeks away. I didn’t have to take time away from the trail; I just didn’t get out there. It’s now been eight weeks since I lost my job, and lack of motivation has shown up hard for me this month. When my sister received notification I had walked three miles (we share Apple Watch activity with one another and I haven’t worn my watch in days), she sent me a text that said, “Beast mode.” I replied, “Aw, thanks. Finally got dressed and left the house for something other than a parental obligation. Progress.” Yup, it’s been that bad … I’ve actually never felt this way before in my life.
But, I digress …
Having not walked in a while, I had a lot of podcasts to catch up on. I really had no idea where to start. But, since I hadn’t listened to Brené Brown since she came back, I started there — the episode she did with Beto O’Rourke earlier this week.
You just hit the brakes pretty hard, didn’t you? I heard it; I smelled the burnt rubber. This is not political. I promise. Please keep reading.
I have no idea why I chose this episode. Maybe because it focuses on leadership and lately I have been super curious about the approaches of leaders at all levels. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it contained a perfect message for me.
Brené introduced what she calls a “specific brand of power.” Power over, instead of power with and power to. She said what she has noticed about power over is that people have to flex every now and again to maintain it and that those flexes are increasingly violent and cruel.
Now, full disclosure. This concept/framework was introduced in conversation about Beto’s leadership and I am going to take it a bit out of context and simplify it. But that’s because it totally fits with the fighting I witnessed over the last week.
Brené goes on to say, “All violence through recorded history has begun with dehumanization; all dehumanization starts with language. And, when you use [ugly words] and you are able to see people not like people, anything is possible.”
And, that’s what it was that was bothering me so much. The attempt to have power over and, in that attempt, such flexing that the words being used dehumanized not only the person being attacked but also the attacker.
In all their blaming and shaming and judgment and accusing and name-calling, the people whose battling words I read in each of these situations were doing exactly this — attempting to wield power over one another, and in their behavior, they were absolutely dehumanizing. At best.
We don’t want to be powered over. And yet. When we feel powered over by someone else our natural reaction is to take that power back. To power over in return. It’s a defense mechanism. In doing so, we flex. We flex to have power over. And in flexing, we compromise ourselves and others. Because we just want the power we had before the fight began. Because we just want to stop the pain of having lost power. Even if we haven’t truly lost power but we feel our power is being threatened.
I know Brené and Beto were talking about this as it relates to those in positions of political power and highly charged political issues such as abortion rights and gun control. But it applies on so many levels. But, what if …
What if we gave up on the jockeying for power over that leads to such nasty behavior? What if we all adopted this concept of power with and power to in our everyday lives? Personally. Professionally. Sharing and combining strengths and skills and expertise from different areas to become even better than we are alone.
I don’t know. Honestly, writing it out makes me wonder if maybe I’ve got my head stuck in the clouds. But, I do really love this common thread explanation of the dynamic at play in the garbage I witnessed this week.
And, what I do know is this. People, in general, do not suck. But, we can all do better. We can all be better. Dehumanization should never be the answer.