Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dangerous Words

In the last few weeks I have managed to upset a number of people with words I have written, words that I have spoken or words that someone thinks they heard me say. I have a very low tolerance for upsetting people. I don’t deal well with the conflict and I want everyone to like me. I would like that aspect of my character to change some what.

In one case I intended to stir the pot with my words. I challenged a couple of pushy broads in a public forum dedicated to controversial topics. It came as a major shock to me when the husbands of these less than timid women felt the need to come to their defense. That was not a reaction I felt comfortable being the cause of.

I used the particulars of someone’s life to express my own opinion and after the fact asked for permission. I can understand being told no. I was a little surprised by the degree of hurt it seemed to cause.

I avoided saying directly something that needed to be said, hoping that body language and not so subtle discouragement would send the message. I kept putting it off because I knew it wouldn’t be received well. I didn’t want to deal with the hurt it may cause. I should have said something sooner. When I finally gathered the courage to say what needed to be said it was not well received.

I wrote a proper business letter that got someone very steamed. That was certainly not my intent. I can only guess as to what it was that I wrote that upset them so, since the hand-scrawled note on the back of my letter didn’t indicate which part exactly had upset them. The barely legible note on the back of my recycled letter arrived by mail many weeks later. The part about being upset was blacked out by a marker and I held it to the light to read it. This may have been a clue that my innocent comments about technology making the mechanics of writing easier and younger folks being more computer savvy were unwarranted and directed to the wrong audience. I certainly hope this was a sarcastic format response and not the true nature of a business that makes a living with the written word.

Someone overheard a phone conversation I was having and misinterpreted the meaning of words I said and heard words I did not say about thoughts I do not have and never have had. If you are going to listen in on someone’s conversation please hear it right. I have enough trouble with what I do write and say.

I did not keep true to some words I said a week ago and did not call to excuse myself. That can still come back to haunt me. I was out of words. I had no more words to say and no more room for words to hear. I needed to be alone with as few thoughts as possible.

So what is the point?

This last month I have felt a real chill on my ability to express myself freely for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings. I have choices about what to do. I can avoid writing about people as much as possible and stick to plants and nature. I can avoid dealing with and speaking to people as much as possible and stick to plants and nature. That is not a healthy choice for me, a hermit of sorts by nature. I can learn the art of fiction and change things to obscure actual people. I can develop a thicker skin and learn to deal with conflict. There are probably other options I have not thought of yet.

Perhaps this is a good time to reveal the fact that I am a sober alcoholic. I have not had a drink in over five years. I can no longer hide from, avoid, dull or ignore my feelings with the use of alcohol. I have to learn how to deal with them. I understand why some people can’t stay sober and I understand why some sober alcoholics commit suicide. I have had more thoughts about wanting to drink in this last month of dangerous words than ever before. The fact that I own a computer and am actually writing words down is because I have continued to stay sober over a long period of time. Alcohol can take it all away very quickly.

I have about 210 photographs from my travels in Florida and North Carolina. As I organize and edit them I need to be thinking about the stories they can tell and how to tell them with words that can often be dangerous. You see dangerous words can be somewhat of a dilemma for me. They come partly from being sober but they may become an excuse to drink if I do not handle them with care.

If people do not seem to be much of a point of focus of my attention you can attribute that to hyper-sensitivity from both sides. The instant nature of publishing and world wide access of the web may contribute to my reticence to write about people and new found respect for individual privacy.

This is a sculpture at the North Carolina Arboretum just south of Asheville, a truly spectacular botanical garden. I wish I had taken a close up of the plaque giving the artist’s name and description of the work. It was titled “Extinction”. It some how seems appropriate for this post with all the human hands competing for attention and clutching at nature.


christin m p in massachusetts said...

It is amazing that mere words (or the absence of them) have the power to evoke the most extreme highs and lows of emotion in people. Whenever I witness or personally experience that phenomenon, it brings to mind the lyrics to one of my favorite Depeche Mode tunes:
Enjoy The Silence

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

Great lyrics. I can hear the song in my mind. Some other song was trying to bubble up to the surface when I was writing this but it never made it through. I seem to be hearing Blondie aka Debra Harry's or Annie Lenox's voice saying "Words", but music and lyrics are not my strong suit for a Jeopardy quiz.

christin m p in massachusetts said...

When I clicked on the image to see it enlarged, I was able to see that all the fingertips are stained green. The artist is -- or was -- definitely a deep thinker.

christin m p in massachusetts said...

There are some major similarities between you and my brother (not the one who lived in Hilo, but the one I told you about in the above post) besides your occupations. When I saw the picture of you at Haleakala Crater, I thought how much you looked just like my friend James. But when I came across the picture of you at your Ilima's Garden site, I saw a striking resemblance between you and my brother.

A more significant parallel between you is that he's now at the stage you were going through around five years ago or so. He doesn't mind people knowing about it (even his boss knows), so I don't think he'd be upset if I wrote about it here. The only difference is, with him the battle is with pills. He had a lot of older friends from U-Mass Dartmouth (then Southeastern Mass University) when he was still in high school. A lot of them were experimenting with pills, and even though it started out as recreational use, he was still young enough that it altered his body chemistry in such a way as to induce anxiety attacks. He came to depend on the pills just to feel normal.

Well, a few years ago he lost everything – including a very close, long-term relationship. It was probably a blessing in disguise. The depression he felt as a result of his life situation, eventually made him seek help. Although he’s been lucky enough -- so far -- not to have suffered any of the most major organ damage associated with long-term substance abuse, he does have suppressed liver function. He’s been good about keeping away from the pills now, although, like you, he has those aggravating days where the temptation is greater. His doctor sent him to a nutritionist, because he now needs to follow a very careful diet, in order to keep the still normal-functioning part of his liver very clean.

He's such a good guy -- he's the best company. I worry a lot that he might be driven back to it, because I'm afraid if he doesn't stay clean, that we're going to lose him. It would be a devastating loss to all of us who love him, as well as to the rest of the people who have yet to be blessed by knowing him.

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

The body has an amazing ability to heal itself when given the chance. Let your brother know that it takes time but it is worth the effort. It may not be easy or quick but things never stay the same. They can and do change for the better.

Zoltan said...

Words alone do not have the power to evoke emotionality. Emotions are oftentimes the result of personal experiences, and it is with these experiences that human behavior is created.

Words from a song by The Lightening Seeds come to my mind often: "Hollow people rattle when you shake them".

Don't you believe that by questioning your words and thoughts, you are questioning your reasoning and principles?

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

Yes I am questioning my reasoning and principles and the question is, "How to I move through this world and maintain a sense of inner peace?"

Zoltan said...

Your intelligence and introspection will carry you far in your life. From your words, you appear to be articulate and are able to communicate well. Consider it more a blessing than an impediment, and please continue writing!

If your words are misconstrued by another person, please remember that perception will oftentimes manipulate the meaning of words. Perception, in and of itself, is based on both scientific reasoning and the psychology of the individual. In reality, no one could possibly control their words or actions to avoid conflict 100%.

If conflict is viewed as a stressful negative to you, it may be that you have not acquired the "coping skills" at this time in your life. Many people have difficulty with conflict (have you seen the quantity of courses on Conflict Management offered in colleges and universities?). To some, it is easier to avoid the situation altogether. To others, it is second nature to address the problem as a challenge.

Through life lessons or professional education, we are often able to cope with our conflicts -- and preferably, resolve them. Conflict may be difficult for you because you did not experience enough situations to learn the "skills" to deal with conflict.

One way to reduce the emotionality of conflict (and to also become detached from any threat) is to try to identify the crux of the conflict you're experiencing. When we know our stressors and our fears, hopefully we can learn to adjust our emotions. By learning techniques such as "detaching", the value-level of the reason for conflict (the importance of those things that cause conflict) is lessened.

"The mist behind the window hides the lines,
But nothing hides the colour of the light that shines."
(written by Joe Jackson)

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

Thank you Zoltan, whoever you are.

At this point I do not possess the skills to detach from conflict well enough to see what lesson is to be learned without some emotional duress on my part. I am working on it.

My life’s strategy until recently has been avoidance with a healthy dose of people pleasing, if I do what you want will you leave me alone.

A lot of time could be wasted on trying to figure out how this came to be for me, but I think it is more useful to recognize the pattern, identify the fear and then get the fear placed in a right size or eliminated.

The internet has been a wonderful laboratory for learning some of these communication skills because it is by nature detached. It also regularly points out the perception of the reader can greatly influence the meaning of the written word by a writer. I have seen great offense taken to the most innocent and playful of words written by people other than myself.

Still I do hold a certain amount of responsibility for the effect that my words can have on other people. A caged and angry animal can reach through the bars on occasion and inflict great harm. The cage door has been opened so my gift of sarcasm and biting remarks may need to be tempered some what. I am not ready and may never be ready to let that go entirely. Even if I did try to let that go I would be untrue to myself and conflict as you point out is inevitable.

christin m p in massachusetts said...


Don't you think that avoidance can sometimes be the best choice of defense mechanisms? It has spared me a ton of grief in a variety of situations throughout my life. Some people just can't be reasoned with, so why waste the time and energy? People -- almost universally -- only change their views when something hits close to home.

This is why I think cognitive therapy all by itself has little hope of success. If pure cognitive therapy could work, I believe it would work wonders. But how can a person change his/her thinking by sheer will?

Here's a case where I may well have misinterpreted your meaning. Specifically, how does one learn how to use a technique like "detaching"? I myself can only detach my feelings about a conflict if I immediately and completely remove myself from the situation forever. Once I'm away from the difficulty, it's no longer my problem, and my feelings about it and the other person automatically shut off without any further effort.

I have never been able to see where conflict serves any purpose in life, so I feel that, for me personally, conflict resolution is unnecessary. The way I see it, if people get along, then they belong together. If people don't get along, then they might as well just stay away from each other.

Zoltan said...

No one person can appease the population at-large. Our society, including the e-society from the Internet, is composed of complex diversity and we can never please everyone. Like you, I attempted to be a people-pleaser in the past, oftentimes wearing myself down for others. With my own life lessons (read: maturity), I have come to realize that I was doing little but enabled others to be satisfied at my own expense. Once identified, I have spent years learning to be more assertive. I have also learned to control my emotional environment more. Now, I have chosen friends, rather than numerous people who want to befriend me but have little or nothing to contribute towards a bonafide relationship. I liken it to being more selective with my time. Did I feel caged? Yes, I did, truthfully. I was allowing others to manipulate my time and my being for their own needs. Over time, habits changed. Life is too short, as it is said.

Sarcasm? I tend to reserve my ascerbic wit on government issues and the degradation of personal ethics in society. Those are areas of deep dissatisfaction in my life and I have very little "control" over either of them.

The way I see it, sarcasm can often be viewed as a means to verbalize personal disenchantments without personal attachment. Some liken sarcasm to private-jokes, although it seems that sarcasm is more about value statements than mere jokes. Making sarcastic remarks is a means to express opinions, but in a much safer mode. If you are somewhat of a non-conformist, or you are opinionated, sarcasm may be your easiest route to speak your mind.

Nothing wrong with that....In fact, one of my favorite lines is this: "Cynicism is seldom, if ever, proven wrong."

Zoltan said...

Christin M P,

When faced with conflict, one determines to engage or detach. Oftentimes, conflict is determined by a person's perception of the situation. If there is no importance or value to the problem, there is no perceived threat or conflict. Because of this, conflict is not always viewed as a negativity. Since your reference to "defense mechanisms" connotes negativity, are you able to cope with conflict?

Avoidance or denial of conflict is not always possible. (Conflict does not only occur between two people, by the way.) How would you cope if your home were destroyed by a tornado? This situation puts you in conflict, but no other person was involved in your situation. How would you deal with your crisis? (You cannot walk away from your life!) Another situation: One of your co-workers has deliberately sabotaged your assigned task on a project. How would you resolve this situation?

Detachment is easy to implement when you learn to place little or no value on something. Epictetus wrote: "Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them."

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

I have kinda deduced Zoltan that you have wandered in from Dave’s via my site meter.

There is a perfect example for this discussion right now on the Corralling the Collection thread in the comment left by Runktrun. This person’s perceptions have obviously colored their own response to that thread combined probably with the collection of posts at the top of the page. I read that and my adrenaline immediately spiked. Somebody is upset with me. That is what I perceived from Runktrun’s comment. What should I do? Ignore it, confront them, be sarcastic or extend an olive branch?

How important is it? Not at all really but that is not my natural response.

Avoidance is a viable option for some situations. Avoidance and/or people pleasing as the primary tool for dealing with conflict for life in general is not a viable option. For one it stuffs my real feelings and emotions which lead to that feeling of being caged as they build up unreleased. More importantly the technique of avoidance has the negative effect of closing a person off to all the good things in life. Fear of conflict means I am less likely to interact with people in general which means I am going to miss out on the good stuff too.

The sarcasm kicks in often in these types of situations with me and it isn’t always helpful in resolving a conflict because I can make it very personal.

There is no definitive answer. It will have to be a multitude of adjustments on my part. One of which I think I call a thicker skin and you call detachment.

Zoltan said...

Yes, I am from Dave's and I'm a gardener with a small greenhouse. I am also familiar with the Collection thread and almost responded following your own post, as I share the same opinion as you on placement and groupings.

It appears to me that Runktrun's comments were intended as personal slams, and the two responses back were very good (must've been team effort, eh?). From where I sit, I see a person with issues who has definite envy of both you and Deziner. Clearly, you are both very experienced and have the gift of verbal communication.

After reading that Collection thread you cited, I decided to dig a bit backwards, into the DG threads that Runktrun has begun. In doing so, I found that Runktrun is not predictible in her manners, and has exhibited negativity and a great deal of rigidity. Some would liken her online persona to be defensive and stuck-in-a-rut. Still others would simply say the-bitch-factor is there. My sentiment is based on casual observation, not involvement, but my opinion of Runktrun's persona is based upon my own perception (and is not to my liking). Am I biased? I will be now.

In the Garden Design Forum (where else??), the thread, "What Role Should Art Play In The Garden?", I believe that Runktrun's character showed itself. You are familiar with this thread, and your suscinct statement which ended the thread was so simple, yet so correct: "Art in the garden adds another thought or thoughts to the garden experience."

In the beginning of that post, "What Role Should Art Play In The Garden?", Runktrun was unyielding, severe, and somewhat caustic, in my opinion. Her chastizing response to Patrick was unwarranted. She said, "My post had nothing at all to do with judging what could be defined as art. As a matter of fact I clearly stated that the objects in my garden could best be defined as junk. I am afraid you have missed the point of my thread and that is.....what role art/junk should play in the garden." My impression of this statement shows haughty self-importance and a need to belittle others.

Read Patrick's reply back to her.....He explained (and hence, stayed the course) that her thread question did, indeed, ask for opinion. His stance, "Your not required to approve of my thoughts" and then, "Please don't dictate the terms of this discussion" gave him reason and "permission" to engage in the verbal conflict. More importantly, though, it gave him the ability to keep his personal opinion intact.

With the current thread, "Corralling The Collections", you did make a stance with your direct question. (Loved the 2 responses, btw.) At this point, it will be up to Runktrun to determine if she will act civily or become defensive, or even brazen, with her response back to you. No doubt there will be one.....are you ready to be chastized?? ;-)

Avoidance, in general, or people pleasing are ways to cope with conflict, sure. Neither is healthy, and as you allude to that caged feeling, you are very aware of what this strategy does cost you. One trick I mentioned before is to place little or no value on the people who are conflict-addicts. Many people thrive on chaos and dysfunction. You do not need to accept, nor engage, in their mode of behavior. You might allow yourself to address these situations when confronted, but do not get lured into true conflict for the sake of another's need -- unless you actually want to. Doing so will create little more than enabling a dysfunctional behavior. If you want no part of these conflicts, make your statement(s) and be satisfied that you have either purged yourself of the situation or not allowed yourself to become entangled in another person's barbs.

Your logic is very good. When thinking about making adjustments and fine-tuning yourself, ask this question: What is TRULY important to you?

When you know the answer to this, your inner-self will align correctly. By remembering your answer to the question, your life-goal has been identified. Minor incidents become frivolous or insignificant. And then, all of your wonderful passions will follow.....

christin m p in massachusetts said...

Until I read the stuff about Garden Web/i Village, and then these posts, I never would have thought in a million years that gardening forums could become controversial. Now I'm definitely never going to participate in one of them, no matter how skilled I might ever become at gardening. I'll just continue to visit all the friendly sites.

christin m p in massachusetts said...

I guess I should never say never, because I've already changed my mind about the gardening forums... I went over to Dave's Garden and checked out the Northeast Gardening forum -- and it looks pretty friendly. I like that I can float there for free too. I was just checking out the photos of garden statues, when I came upon a picture of the kind of garden I want.