Learning Lessons

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Why is it some lessons are so easy “ok, won’t do that again”, and others are so hard for us to grasp and actually put into practice?

The Right Tool for The Job
Lots of times, the so-called “right tool” is just a common tool repackaged under a new name, usually for a higher price, so the manufacturer can make more money. Kudos to the manufacturer for capitalizing on ignorance, but I won’t spend the money if it really isn’t necessary. I know that many tools can easily transfer between mediums depending on the intended result. For example, carving and burning tools can usually be used equally well on wood crafting as on leather crafting; and some household tools can be used for more delicate jewelry crafts. However, I’ve ruined some pieces because I opted for a tool that could not produce the desired effect as I applied it. “Ok, I won’t try that again.” Lesson learned. Easy enough, right?

Multi-use tools

So why are other lessons, particularly emotional lessons, sooo difficult?

As a child, I was extremely contrary. Kids being kids, you can’t always tell if their comments are intended to be condescending or if that’s just the way it sounds, but I would often lash out at anybody and everybody just to cover it all. I can remember lots of times getting a stunned expression that my extreme reaction was uncalled-for and/or over the top. By late teens, I learned to curb my tongue enough that I would usually try to laugh off a perceived insult, usually trading in kind. This got me in some seriously hot water a few times too, so by my twenties, I finally learned to just keep my mouth shut when I perceived an insult. This was often followed by my feelings that I should’ve said “xyz” when I had the chance. To bring it up later is making a bigger deal than the situation truly warranted, so I would let it go for the time being. I became something of a “sack-chucker”, later lashing out, usually over something small, once my tolerance level was finally reached and my “sack” burst. Unfortunately, it also meant that by then I was unable to satisfactorily articulate my point, thereby making a fool of myself. By the time I reached my thirties, I was better able to more gently make a point without unnecessarily offending in return. I admit that subtlety is not my strong suit, so whatever my point, it seems to be rarely accepted or understood as intended, but I do try. Frustrating to be sure, but ultimately at least I’d learned something in dealing with people. Which brings me to the lesson I can’t seem to quite put into practice: reacting to angry energy. Generally speaking, it actually takes quite a lot to truly offend me anymore. I’m much more understanding and patient now, recognizing that often what people say and how they say it bears little resemblance to how they intend to come across. On the flip side, in recent years, I more often regret trying too hard to understand where someone else is coming from, so that the excuses I make on their behalf just ends up making me the trusting fool. My husband is my balance, more often than not. I can rant and vent to him about something while he calmly explains why I would be better suited to let it go, helps me to better understand intent, or makes suggestions on how to handle it without causing offense, and I’m able to take it to heart. I’ve actually had more trouble snapping out a quick email or text to someone who may not have intended things as I took them. Ironic considering I know that text and email are most often misinterpreted and I am usually better able hold my tongue in person. Over time it’s become such that my husband is my sounding board so I don’t feel the need to angrily address whatever ticked me off, I really just need to vent about it to someone who understands me. I will even let him read and edit emails when I’m addressing a topic that has previously pissed me off. It’s helped, a lot, but I still can react horribly in response to others’ angry energy in person. This still happens all too often for my rational, reasonable side to accept.

Porch Intimidation
I flippantly raised a difficult subject to a friend fully expecting to receive chagrin or apology and both of us laughing it off with my point made and improvement to come. Instead I was met with unreasonable anger. Even though I was already upset on the subject, I was able to hold onto my anger for several minutes. The man in question, well over a foot taller than me, stalked around the porch (standing on the ground he was still about as tall as I reclined in chair on the porch with my feet up) so that he could lean toward me with a pointing finger and raised voice. I don’t intimidate easily, so even though I felt this was wholly unnecessary, it still didn’t snap my hold on my emotions. He made a yelled suggestion on dealing with the problem and followed it with “IS THAT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU?!” Well, I was only asking for a committed solution on improvement anyway, so I raised one hand, palm out, body still relaxed, and calmly stated, “that’s all I was asking for.” Apparently that wasn’t good enough for him, though, because he repeated the yelled question with pointed finger and leaning body maybe a foot or so away from my face. I chose to remain silent then but the yelling continued, “NO! IS THAT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU?!” I’m not sure how many times he repeatedly yelled that question (4 or 5?) before I reacted, but throughout it all my mind was still clear enough to recognize he was trying to start a fight with me, trying to goad me into reacting badly. In the end, it wasn’t the yelling or the body language or even the disrespect over the original subject that finally made me snap, it was the fact he had the audacity to act this way without a leg to stand on but did not have the balls to actually look at me while doing it. The whole time he was yelling, leaning toward me with a finger in my direction, he was staring at the wall or something far above my left shoulder. It was initially laughable – his attempts at intimidation would have had a better chance if he could’ve looked at me. I’m sure he missed the mild gesture of surrender when I raised a hand to forestall the onslaught because he wasn’t looking at me and instead continued with the yelling. I knew he wanted my anger to snap, and I tried to hold onto it, but his tactics finally worked. I had my coffee mug at hand and was thinking that waving something in his peripheral vision might make him actually look at me, maybe even flinch away from the stupidity altogether. During the motion to raise it in his direction though, I realized I was misjudging distance. He was too close and if I continued on the current trajectory, the mug would hit him in the face. It wasn’t my intention to offer real violence, so I quickly altered trajectory and let go of the mug thinking it would fly next to him instead, just in periphery, and hopefully still produce the desired effect. But, as you would expect, changing trajectory in the middle of momentum doesn’t often put the object where you aim. The mug bounced off his shoulder instead and sprayed coffee all over the wall next to me (in retrospect, I wish I’d thrown the liquid in his face – it would’ve meant a lot less cleanup on my part and might’ve had a better chance at producing the desired result). Tossing the mug didn’t help anyway – he didn’t flinch or move or act like anything at all had changed. That’s when I lost it. I stood up and yelled right back at him saying something like “how dare you…love you like a brother…” I don’t really remember exactly what I said, but I quickly realized it sounded ridiculous and that he had quit yelling, so I shut up.  What still bugs me about this whole encounter is my reaction. I knew he was trying to pick a fight. I knew he was goading me into reacting badly. I should’ve just accepted he was being a jerk and walked away without engaging. I didn’t react to his unreasonable attitude, his yelling, his body language, or his attempts at intimidating me. No, I react to the fact he couldn’t look at me while doing all this?! So it still worked! Wtf?!

Bill Concerns
My husband is probably the most laid back person I’ve ever known. In the ten years I’ve known him, I’ve only ever seen him truly furious five times. Seriously, I counted it up. That being said, he can sometimes come across a bit intense when he’s concerned. Ordinarily I’m able to recognize it for what it is and laugh it off, ease his mind, or whatever is needed to let it go. In this case example, we had received a $20 doctor’s visit bill that I set aside and promptly forgot about. After we received the second notice, I sent a check to pay for it, but I guess I was slow about it as it apparently crossed in the mail with a past due notice. It was a Saturday and my husband had been gone most of the day. When he came home, he picked through the mail and got upset. “I thought you paid this! Why are they saying our account is delinquent? Didn’t you send it off? It says “delinquent!”…” while shaking the bill in the air (not at me, just generally). Well, I’d had a rough day, was in a lot of pain and feeling cranky, when I’m greeted by my husband for the first time in several hours with what sounded to me like harsh accusation. I blew up, snatched the notice out of his hands, crumpled it in his face, and…. To be honest, I have no idea what I said, but I know it was snarky and bitchy. He leaned away from me and said incredulously, “I don’t believe you just did that.” Of course I apologized and we were able to talk about it reasonably, but still… My anger snapped unnecessarily, spouting some half-formed crap that probably didn’t make much sense, and hurt my husband’s feelings for no reason at all. Again, wtf?!

Donkey Ass
Here I feel like I’m repeatedly offered instances to learn to better control my temper, often can think clearly just fine even when part of me is fuming, but once it snaps, I have no control (or awareness) over my mouth. And I end up feeling like the ass.

In understanding the concept of emotional energy, I’m well aware that responding to someone’s negative energy with negative energy of my own only exacerbates the problem. It certainly doesn’t solve anything. I know I need to not let others’ emotional energy affect my own, so why do I let it? What is it about emotional lessons that can be so incredibly difficult to apply? I guess I’m still learning how to be a better human.

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