La La How The Life Goes On

Sit On It

Posted on: January 27, 2016

sitonitfonz In my vast quantities of free time I am attempting to become a writer. Maybe a frequently-published one, maybe not, but at the very least an honest one. So I’ve joined many on- and off-line groups where writers share their successes, struggles, questions, experiences. I get to be part of larger discussions about issues from ethics and honesty to the mechanics of publishing.

One of the most life-changing lessons I have learned in one such group is the Sit With It Rule. That if you read something that sets you off (either in a book or online as a comment from another member), you are required to “Sit With The Discomfort” for 24 hours before responding and before drawing conclusions. It sounds rather facile and pointless but it very truly has changed my life, both as a writer and as a human being.

The point of the Sit With It Rule (which I prefer to call the Sit On It rule because it is just that uncomfortable) is for you to examine not what the writer said to upset you, but to examine what it is IN YOU that was primed to have that reaction. What is it IN YOU that generated the anger, fear, sadness, confusion, disappointment? And to truly have a conversation with yourself during those 24 hours to unpack the emotions. Are you really angry at the writer? Are you truly outraged on behalf of the people the writer impugned? Are you truly saddened for all the unfairness advocated by the writer? Are you irritated by the cluelessness of the writer?

Or are you mad/sad/confused/frustrated about something that is IN YOU? And are you (perhaps unknowingly) wrestling with feelings that the writer somehow accessed?

I have now had to Sit On It several times over the course of a year, and it has been unpleasant and initially unfulfilling each time.  Luckily, it does get easier overall to do the work of assessing from where the feelings are generated, but what does not get easier is curtailing the immediate flight-or-fight response that urges you to tell this person to Eff Off right now. That tells you to bleed your insecurities out all over the comment section. That tells you you have been wronged and you must immediately make it right. That tells you, when you feel the heat of shame and anger or fear rising from your core into your lungs into your tightened throat toward your heated cheeks, that you can stuff these feelings back into their box by demanding a retraction.  In one instance I had to take myself offline for the duration because I had The Trigger Finger of Outrage locked and loaded, counting down the 22 hours and 14 minutes until I could verbally demolish this heartless moron writer. But by the time I was cleared to respond I had nothing to write.

Why? Because sitting with your discomfort forces you to address it, if only because the frequency with which the discomfort arrives is in itself an indication that you have work to do.  Sitting On It also forces you to ruthlessly inventory the beliefs you sometimes unwittingly hold in your head. Are you a beautiful, worthy human soul? Of course you are. But does a voice in your head make you doubt it? And so, like the guy who yells at the waiter because he can’t yell at his wife, or the woman who abuses the cashier because she feels powerless at home–are you trying to shut down the writer because you can’t bring yourself to shut down the voices in your own mind and heart?

sitonitmalph
In my case–every time–I was emotionally reacting to a feeling of unworthiness that the person’s words conjured in me.  (Yours might be anger, fear, shame, loneliness)…

Consider if you have ever reacted to a discussion or writing with the following:

“This person is saying something very hurtful.” Sounds legit. And yet hundreds of other individuals were reading those exact words and seemed to be doing just fine.

“This person should be more circumspect in his words.”  Okay, sure. But is every writer to write for the least able member of his audience? Does the writer have any obligation whatsoever to ruminate on how his words might be construed? Certainly if he is penning a political manifesto or the like. But essays? Books? Commentary? How far is it fair to require a writer to go to avoid creating negative feelings for the reader? Is that even his job, since all good writing should generate an emotional response? And is it even realistic that the writer would somehow have the clairvoyance to anticipate every possible reaction from every possible reader?

“The writer should have expressed her views in a more pleasant way. I didn’t like her attitude. How can we learn if we are being disagreeable?” Folks, this point in particular has been a life lesson for me. The notion that I will listen to your message, read your essay, or read your comments, only if you “say it nicer” is White Woman Socialization at its shameful pinnacle. That somehow I am owed a nice tidy discussion that does not challenge me, that does not ask anything difficult of me, that allows me to assert my white lady privilege so I get to ignore you or chastise you like a 6 year old if I don’t like your delivery. Well, newsflash:  We are all adults. Sometimes adult conversations and interactions are uncomfortable. Sometimes adult conversations are painful. Sometimes adult conversations involve communicating with people with communication styles that do not mirror your own. Sometimes you will read something and deem the writer “angry” or “mean” or “insensitive.” Sometimes those conversations and readings will make you feel bad.

Which brings you right back to Sitting On It.

Believe me when I say that Sitting On It is the way forward. I have worked to transfer the Sitting On It dynamic to my life. It has been a challenge but it has been fruitful and heartening. It has so far improved my relationships with my family, especially my children. I now try to ask myself in a heated disciplinary moment whether I am heated for a legitimate child-centered reason or whether the misbehavior has created feelings in me separate and distinct from those related to teaching my kid to act better. Am I embarrassed at the behavior? Do I feel like it makes me look bad? If so, why am I concerned with the opinions of the parents looking on? What is it IN ME that is feeding my need to handle this situation in this manner? Sitting On It has forced me to parent from a place that does not center on ME. I now, instead of meting out Mama Justice in the moment, say “I haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do about this situation, but it will be dealt with shortly.” Believe me, it is a daily struggle and I fail frequently. But it has been, for me, a genuine way to stop shifting the blame for what ails me onto others. To stop expecting other people to tiptoe around my sensitivities. To ruthlessly engage with myself on every level to be sure that when my 24 hours is up and I have something to say, that it is worthwhile, meaningful and maybe 80% reflective of my best self (hey, I’m a work in progress).

I recommend trying it for a week. Every time you feel “triggered” or goaded into an altercation, resolve to wait 24 hours to email back, to return the call, to unload online, and resolve to spend the time looking inward rather than wildly flailing angry arms with pointed fingers outward.

I look forward to your comments (in precisely 23 hours and 54 minutes).  🙂

 
sitonit

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