How to Disagree With People On the Internet and Still Respect Yourself In the Morning


How many times has this happened to you -- you stumble upon some internet brouhaha where people are saying folks voted for Trump because of economic anxiety (nope) or how antifas are just as bad as the Nazis they are fighting against (NOPE), and you wade on in, armed with facts and links and your mighty, towering intellect, determined to set these sadly misinformed people straight.

Ten hours later, you emerge from battle with an even lower opinion of humankind than you had when you started, thinking, Well FUCK, I have a pretty low opinion of humankind already, so how is that even possible? 

Some folks set boundaries for themselves on how they engage -- they just don't take part in political discussions, or maybe they don't take part in discussions with people they don't know personally -- and I think this is wise. I have experimented with such rules for myself, and sometimes they've really helped me. Like, in the weeks following the election, I gave myself permission to not fight about politics online, because I was too raw and got into a whipped-up headspace way too quickly, and it wasn't good for my mental health.

But, for me anyway, I do believe there is some value in participating in online discussions about tough stuff. I have learned so much from many internet friends over the years, through talking with them about tricky issues. And those conversations weren't always easy or pleasant, but I appreciated them, because when other people call out my blind spots, I get a chance to LEARN and GROW and both of those are very important to me. (On Season One Episode 12 of my podcast, I discuss an instance where a friend called me in on some careless thoughts I shared if you're interested.) 

I think there's also value in calling out blind spots where I see them, especially around race and gender and weight and all the various ways in which folks exclude the interests of other folks who are not like them. It's not that I expect to change anyone's mind by arguing with them -- it's more about the bystanders. Like, if I'm standing up against sexism, other women following the thread may appreciate it. Or if I'm calling out racist language, some folks on the thread might learn from what I'm saying, or I might learn from what they are saying.

So, yeah, I'm not gonna stop discussing hard topics on the internet any time soon. But, as a fiery and unapologetic feminist, I have to admit that sometimes I get into a zone where all the good reasons I outlined above are not what's motivating me at all. What's motivating me is the desire to slam some condescending dude's dick in a car door for public amusement. 

And sure, that's fun sometimes ... but it's not really my goal in life. I don't really want to make all the men suffer (usually). I mostly want to help people SEE, and to be helped in turn to see my own blind spots. And when I get into fighty/flighty/lighting things on fire mode, well, not much of that happens.

So, how do I stay focused on my goal of education/being educated rather than retribution for condescension? I've come up with some strategies that help and maybe they will help you, too.

1)  Discuss, but don't fight.

This is my cardinal rule. When my heart starts pounding and I feel myself being more invested in sick burns than the actual topic at hand, I step away (or at least I try to -- progress, not perfection). If someone calls black folks fighting for their rights "thugs," I will call it out. I call out false equivalency where I see it. I definitely call for more subtle expressions of thought beyond "Repubicans and Democrats are both bad!"  

But if the other person come back at me with a wall of text about why thugs is not a racist term, or how liberals just want to be offended by everything, or how if we aren't tolerant and nice to Nazis then we are just as bad as they are, yadda yadda yadda, I disengage. 

2) Offer information respectfully, then disengage. 

If someone talks shit about how awful it is that some black folks are calling for reparations, assume that they just don't know any better and leave them a link to Ta-Nehisi Coates's brilliant work on the topic. If someone talks about how obese people are bleeding our healthcare system dry, offer them an alternate view and encourage them to read it. So many people pop off about shit they don't understand at all (including me!) -- if you have a wider perspective or more experience on the topic, share it! Then go back to #1. 

3) Consider a two-response rule. 

As discussed here, the first response is to make your point and the second response is to clarify any misunderstandings. If nothing productive is happening in the discussion at this point, it's not going to magically get awesome. After two responses, generally I have said my piece. I have stood up for the people I believe I need to stand up for. That's enough. 

4) Pay attention to how you feel in your body. 

If my shoulders start hunching up ... if I start feeling anxious ... if I start to feel addicted to checking a thread for responses ... it's time to walk away. There will be more jerkburgers to fight with tomorrow! Which leads me to my next rule ...

5) Remember that you can't hug every cat.

Do you remember this silly video from a few years ago, where a woman cries about how there are so many cats in the world that she can't hug and someone made it into a song? I know it was a joke ... but the phrase pops into my mind quite often when I get in that headspace where it feels like everyone I speak with is in denial about unconscious bias.

Because, you know, most people in general are in denial about unconscious bias. And if I speak up every time I see someone with this particular blind spot, I will have literally no time to do anything else. Ever. So, I hug some of the cats that come across my path, and let the others go. And I try to address these blind spots I see in other, less personalized ways, like in my writing, as opposed to cat-by-cat on Facebook. 

6) Trolls get memes, or nothing at all. 

Trolls are not worth fighting with, because half the time they are bots anyway. You can spot trolls easily by looking for terms like "snowflake," "liberal elites," "love it or leave it," etc. These folks will not be convinced by your eloquence, so just drop a meme on them and get on with your life. I mean, unless you are PMSing really hard and feel like stomping them. Moderation in all things, my loves! 

7) Delete, ignore, and block liberally and with glee.

In some of my online hangouts there are some seriously wack dudes -- red-pill-taking, total misogynist dickwads. Some people try to make them see sense, and I bless them on their journey, but that gets a big old nope from me. I feel quite happy to use the features that technology gives me to remove these vile expressions from my life. 

What are your personal guidelines for engagement online? Have you ever gotten anywhere interesting in an internet debate? Do let me know in the comments. 

Basic Shit I Should Know By Now: Try To See It THEIR Way, Especially If They Are Dealing With Stuff You Are Not

This is my new series on some really basic shit that I should know by now, and yet somehow I still need to be reminded of. Maybe you do, too? 

I really hate the song "We Can Work It Out" by the Beatles. Check out the lyrics and see if you can see why.

Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking till I can't go on?
While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone
We can work it out
We can work it out

Is that a classic dudebro argument or what? There's no, "Let me try to see it your way and you try to see it my way and from there we'll work it out." Nope, it's just the old My Way or the Highway trick. We can work it out, but you, my dear, will be doing ALL the work.

Now, I'm sure that Paul has matured in the 50-some years since he sang this song, and probably has developed the ability to have two-way conversations when he's in conflict with someone, so I can't bawl him out too badly.

But it's amazing to me how many people walk around with the attitude that others must always try to see it from THEIR perspective, without ever making the effort to understand anyone else. This plays out interpersonally all the time, from disagreements with friends to differences in opinion at work.

Nowhere does it play out more blatantly than when PRIVILEGE is involved.  

Like, seriously, have you noticed how completely unwilling most folks with lots of privilege are to even contemplate walking a mile in the shoes of someone with less? Men dismissing the perspectives of women without ever really considering them ... white people assuming that they know everything about racism even though it has never touched their lives ... able-bodied people believing that people with disabilities are taking FULL advantage. You know what I mean. 

Here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Right after the election of the Donald, I was part of an online discussion of mostly white women. (As we all know, white women voted for the Donald by a 53-47 margin.)

In their grief over the results, some of the liberal white women in this discussion thread started talking in alarmed tones about how many Latinx people voted for Dolt45, until one of our Latina members got pissed and told everyone off. In what world does it makes sense for a bunch of white women to bitch about the few people of color who voted Republican, when it was clearly white people who did this in the first place?? Don't you even try to blame this shit on us! 

Maybe you can guess what happened next -- it was not an opening of white lady hearts and minds after they listened to the criticism and tried to imagine how it would feel to be Latina and hear your people being bashed when white folks are the ones responsible. 

No, what happened was the white women lost their shit. How dare you speak to me like that! I was only asking a question! Why are you getting so angry at me? This is abusive! 

Now, I can imagine and you probably can, too, that if I were a Latina woman who had dealt with various expressions of racism and discrimination my whole life, I might be pissed about the oblivious white-centeredness of that discussion, too. It only takes a little effort to swallow the defensiveness and try to see it HER way ... but these white ladies chose to defend themselves in their racism rather than have the chance to grow past it.

Part of the function of privilege is to shield people from the awareness of what non-privileged folks go through. So, the more privilege a person has, the less aware they are of the fullness of reality -- they are literally only seeing a small, curated slice. 

Coupled with this cluelessness is the assumption by the privileged that they already know everything about what everyone is going through. More than that, they also feel they know how everyone else should meet their challenges.

To the fat, such a person might say, "You just have to eat less and exercise more, it's not that tough!"

To women, such a person might say "Please, tell me which laws make it legal to discriminate against women."  

To someone with mental illness, such a person might say "You just need to get some fresh air, you'll be fine!"

If you've never experienced having your problems privilege-splained to you by someone who has never experienced them, well, it's exquisite. I mean, the irony is exquisite, once you get past the stabby feeling. 

I don't want to be such a person, and my guess is you don't either. Which means that we all need to remember -- if we want to be halfway decent people, we absolutely need to make the effort to listen and empathize and learn from people with less privilege. Otherwise, by default, our worldviews will be missing huge chunks of reality. 

This kind of privileged-dismissal-by-default is a HUGE mistake, and people make it all the time -- with big important issues like racism and sexism and also with many smaller, dumber situations as well. 

Like not bothering to put yourself in the shoes of the person you're annoyed with at work who is taking a little longer to solve a problem than you would like.

Or glaring at the old person who doesn't know how to handle the credit card machine instead of imagining how it must feel to be an old person trying to figure this out while a lady behind you fumes that it's taking too long.

Or shutting down a dear friend who is trying to show you genuine errors in your thinking, instead of just listening.

I have to admit that I am no master -- my desire is to try to see it from the other person's perspective, but I don't always succeed. Too often I bulldoze along like baby Paul McCartney, expecting other folks to come along to my way of thinking without making much of an effort to understand what they are saying. But, I want to do better.

So that's my challenge to myself -- try to see it THEIR way, especially when they have a perspective that I can't see from where I am sitting. Because when I take the time to do so, I notice two wonderful outcomes. First, I learn something I didn't know before, and second, I find it easier to behave more like the compassionate person I want to be. 

How about you? Is it easy or difficult for you to put yourself in someone else's shoes? If you're a bulldozer like me, how do you remind yourself to make the effort to see it from a different perspective? Would love to hear your thoughts, please share them!

Basic Shit I Should Know By Now: Eliza's Right, Take a Break

This is my new series on some really basic shit that I should know by now, and yet somehow I still need to be reminded of. Maybe you do, too? 

How often do you find yourself all jammed up, and you try to power through, but the more you power through, the worse things get? 

It happens to me daily. I work in software, and my job involves a great deal of troubleshooting and problem-solving. My process is both intuitive and analytical, and when I'm on the trail of a solution, I never want to give up until it's done. I push and push, and sometimes I get there, but more often, I just get more and more frustrated.

The same thing happens when I sit down to write. When the words are flowing, I'm flowing, too, and nothing feels better. But when the words stop, or when I have a concept that I'm not sure how to break down for the reader, the frustration again starts to rise. 

What is that frustration? Is it a sign that I'm useless and a failure and no solution is possible, and I'm just going to sit here in front of this computer raging and muttering to myself like a crazy person until I die and devolve into a skeleton? 

Probably not. What I'm starting to see is that frustration is only a sign that I need to take a break. Make a cup of tea, watch the birds, take a walk, do some dishes -- anything to break up the glut in my mind and open my perception back up again. 

Because when I don't take a break, and I keep trying to power through the frustration? I start fucking things up. I make silly mistakes, I forget what step I was on, and I get super-real-to-the-point-of-bitchiness with the people around me. And then I feel awful. 

If this sounds familiar, well, there's a good reason for that -- it's how human beings work. When we are in the midst of bad juju, our perception narrows to a point. We tend to focus on what's wrong -- risks, dangers, likely pitfalls. And that makes sense, in a way, because of where we came from and how we evolved -- like, when there's a wooly mammoth with giant tusks charging at your family, you should probably focus on that first. 

But a software problem in 2017 is not a mammoth, wooly though they both may be. A desire to express a complex thought in my writing with clarity and humor is not equivalent to a desire to stay alive in the face of danger and strife. The kinds of problems that I face these days generally aren't even solvable from a space of fight or flight. They require that I open up my attention and consider new ideas. Even if my customer is having a cow and my boss is having a cow and I am also having a cow, I need to find away to set all that aside and let my mind breathe for a minute. 

This requires that I stop freaking out. It requires that I allow my brain to relax and the ideas within to mix and mingle freely. And the very best way to do this is to take a break, to focus on something different and allow the pressure and vexation to run out of me. 

It's best if it's a major break from what I was doing before. Like, if I'm troubleshooting something on the computer, picking up my phone doesn't make for a very good break. It works much better to do something completely different, like vacuuming or lifting weights or painting. The goal is to exercise a different part of my brain and hopefully get my body and blood moving, too.

It takes effort for me to remember and allow myself to step away for a while, because what I've been taught is to stick with it. At school, at work -- all of us are taught to sit still, to override our natural instincts to ebb and flow, and to keep our little noses to the grindstone for the allotted amount of time, whether it's an hour in math class, or eight hours in the office. So my default is to try to push through, even though it doesn't work that well. 

When I do remember to take a break, though, and afterwards I go back to the issue at hand? I have fresh eyes and a new perspective. Without exception, I'm able to do what I wasn't able to do before I switched things up. It's kind of magical, how breaks can lead to breakthroughs. 

The dangers of NOT taking a break are spelled out in the second act of the genius musical, Hamilton. In "Take a Break," Hamilton's in the midst of shit-tons of work drama, and his wife and sister-in-law exhort him to run away with them and spend the summer upstate. Their voices entwine in gorgeous harmony as they try to convince him, and it's not only about the fact that they want to spend time with him -- they both can see that he's in the frustrated place and desperately needs to switch things up.

Tragically, he doesn't see their good sense. He makes a terrible decision -- to stay in town and power through -- and in the very next song he fucks up majorly, sowing the seeds of his own political destruction as well as the death of his oldest son. Everything unravels for him, and it all stems from his inability to step away from the fray for a minute and reconnect with the easy and free-flowing parts of life. If only he had listened to Eliza and Angelica and taken the damn break! 

So, this week, let us all learn from Alexander Hamilton's mistakes and NOTICE when we are getting frustrated. Let's pay attention to the moment when trying to push through an obstacle starts to feel more like banging our heads on a wall. And let's use that feeling as a cue to step away and give our minds a chance to unclench for a minute. 

Are you good at recognizing when you need to take a break from whatever you are doing and switch up your internal experience? Do you find frustration to be a good workmate, or a barrier to getting your work done? Tell me all about it!

Basic Shit I Should Know By Now: Being Productive Is the Most Fun

This is my new series on some really basic shit that I should know by now, and yet somehow I still need to be reminded of. Maybe you do, too? 

Last weekend, when I was taking my day long break from the internet, I cracked open one of my favorite books of all time, The Complete Tightwad Gazette.

The Gazette was a newsletter in the 90s, dedicated to "Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle," and it's a hilarious and illuminating read. Author Amy Dacyczyn has a wry sense of humor and a gift for finding the juice in dry topics like the efficacy of pre-patching kids' jeans before they sprout holes, or the cost savings of using cloth versus paper napkins. 

So I was flipping through this beloved book the other morning and came across an article called "A Proclivity for Productivity," which is about how Amy doesn't understand why people like to lie on beaches doing nothing. To her, doing something is far more enjoyable.  

"Being busy, being productive, doing things that improve your family's long-term prospects should not be seen as drudgery to be endured until you reach the cherished goal of utter inactivity. The happiest and most successful people I know have realized a critical truth: The act of doing things is more fun that doing nothing. If this is not your current attitude, you should work to acquire it."

And, boom. My hair blew back a little at that point -- Amy was COMING FOR ME, because I am what is known in the common parlance as "a lazy whore." As a kid when I'd spend time with my thrifty, hard-working paternal grandparents, my lethargy used to drive them crazy. "HEIGHTH OF AMBITION!" my grand-dad would bellow when he'd see me lying on the couch, watching cartoons hour after hour, eating endless baloney-and-butter sandwiches. 

My tendency has always been toward lying around, consuming media, and partaking in the fanciful delights of the mind, aka daydreaming. I have this part of me that just loves doing nothing so much, omg, it's THE BEST. And, when I'm deciding how to spend my time, "doing fuck-all" is often my top choice. 

Which in some ways is great! Some folks have a really hard time relaxing and I feel super lucky to not have that problem, I guess?

But my proclivity for sloth-like behavior doesn't make me happy when it crowds out too much of the productive stuff I could be doing ... that I actually love to do. 

Because Amy's right -- being productive is pretty fun! A work day when I can get into a flow state and knock out a slew of problems, an afternoon spent painting or writing or cleaning something that was gross when I started -- all that simply feels good, in and of itself. Plus, at the end you have a painting or a song or a clean kitchen to boot -- and there is nothing not to like about that. 

So, the last few days I've been trying to pay more attention to how I choose to spend my time, so that instead of my default choice being "Put your feet up and chill," it's more often "Find something to do and do it!" And it's been good -- especially alongside taking some consciously internet-free time during the day. Bursts of productivity uncoupled from internet distraction -- it's a powerful combination. 

As is my wont, I made a huge list of things that I want and need to do, and when I am looking for something to do, I just pick something and run with it. And it's been working for me! Dishes, paintings, work problems, blog posts -- I've been knocking them all out, and liking not only the results but also the way productivity makes me feel. In a world gone batshit crazy, nothing brings me more joy than to offer a few small contributions to the other side of the scale. 

How about you? Are you like my grandparents, who worked constantly all day and never even sat down outside of mealtimes? Or like me, the heighth of ambition over here eating Lucky Charms in front of the television? Do you feel like you could use a productivity boost, or do you need to cultivate the ability to chill? (I am soooo good at chilling, y'all. Please feel free to request any tips.) Tell me all about it! 

Basic Shit I Should Know By Now: Get Off the Internet Every Now and Then

This is my new series on some really basic shit that I should know by now, and yet somehow I still need to be reminded of. Maybe you do, too? 

Recently, I’ve been a little down-hearted -- and I know I’m not the only one. The world gets more and more bananas every day, and though I’ve been feeling like this off and on since last November, the last few weeks, it’s been mostly on.

Many times per day, I set myself some task or other, and then moments later somehow find myself lying prone on my couch scrolling through the day’s atrocities on my phone, feeling lost and tired and afraid.

Like most people, I’ve had a moderate internet addiction for years, but recent events have definitely made it worse. I keep thinking I’m going to miss something big, important, or extra ridiculously dumb, because big, important, extra ridiculously dumb stuff seems to happen in abundance every damn day.

It’s not like I’m a recluse drooling on the keyboard all day -- I mean, I have a husband, a job, friends, places to go and shit to do. But I’m definitely on the internet more than what feels healthy. It feels like this low level thrum of fuckedness rumbling through my gut all the time now. Somehow, checking my phone turns it down for a minute, but also makes it much worse in the long term.

The addiction has recently ramped up to the point where I often pick up my phone and start cycling through my favorite apps and online places without even realizing it, mesmerized and unfocused, my consciousness dissolved into the device in my hand.

But to be constantly neck-deep in this river of fucked-up news makes me feel physically ill. The world in the phone is such a shitshow, and we need to keep our eyes on it for sure, and stay involved and engaged … it doesn’t have to be every moment of every day, though, does it? I mean, it can’t be every moment of every day. It just ... can't.

So last Sunday when I woke up and found myself scrolling and feeling gross before I’d even made it out of bed, I realized I needed to switch this habit up, and I made a decision -- I was going to stay off the internet all day long. No Facebook, no Instagram, no podcasts, no videos -- just me and some books and paints and stuff to do around the house.

And, oh, it was marvelous! I did so many chores! I washed dishes, scrubbed the range, swept up all the nasty crumbs that gather under the kitchen cabinets, took down some rather impressive spider webs, and vacuumed AND steam cleaned the carpet.

Then I read a book -- a paper book! -- and painted a girl and hung out with my husband and drank tea in the backyard and sang my favorite parts of Moana while I worked. And I wrote for a while with a turquoise fountain pen in a journal with fantastic paper, and I stared at the trees and let some lovely ideas slowly unfurl in me.

By the end of this day of doing only 3D activities in the 3D world, I was surprised to notice that I felt brand new. My mind unclenched and lost itself in the moment, watching ants marching around the patio and birds zipping through the sky. My brain felt like it'd had a nice glass of wine in the bath, followed by a relaxing nap on clean sheets.

Do you also feel like maybe you’ve been plugged in too long and too hard? Like it’s time to disconnect from the Borgian reality that is the internet for a minute? Like your brain could use a bath and a nap, too? If any part of you is saying “Yes,” then you should take a day off! It’s easier and more luxurious than you think. Here’s how:

  1. Put your devices elsewhere. If my phone is sitting next to me, I know that I will definitely pick it up and start dicking around before I even realize what I’m doing. To break that habit was so simple though -- I just put my phone and my iPad away in my bedside table where I couldn’t unconsciously pick them up. So easy.

  2. If you have a random question you feel the urge to look up, write it down. Since the advent of the internet, my tolerance for sitting with an unanswered question has gone way down, but it’s not like I actually NEED TO KNOW the name of the actor who played Walder Frey and Argus Filch RIGHT NOW. So I jotted these random questions down to look up later. Interesting fact: by the next day I had lost interest in them.

  3. Make a list of activities that sound fun or productive to you. Go for a bike ride, clean your closet, visit your mom, hit up the library, work in the garden, day drink and write poetry, go to the shelter and play with homeless dogs -- whatever you want.

  4. Do the stuff on your list all day long. When you are done with one item, move on to another. Go ahead -- live a little!

  5. Go to bed without checking your phone. Congratulations -- you did it! You successfully remembered what it was like to be alive before 2007! Go you!

Is it ridiculous that something as simple as getting the hell off the internet requires tips? Sure it is. And maybe you don’t need help with this particular issue. Maybe you already have extremely healthy boundaries with your phone -- if so, mazel tov.

But if you are a craven half-cyborg like me who finds yourself melting into your device more often than you would like, and it makes you feel shitty, then maybe give the day-long fast a try. My guess is that you will feel more like a real human person by the end of the day.