“Don’t just do something, sit there.”
A monk at a monastery I was at in 1998 gave me that piece of advice.
I had just recently been discharged from the Army and was spending a month at a monastery in Oregon to take some time and determine what my next steps in life should be.
He and I had been talking about making choices as I was struggling with making large, life-impacting decisions. I felt as if I should be doing something, anything, but just sitting around.
That’s when he gave me the clever reworking of “don’t just sit there, do something” that we are all so accustomed to.
I was thinking about that last night as I went to bed. I spoke with someone yesterday who told me that all this post-inauguration activity had her guts all tied up in knots. I had spoken with some others last night about how to best respond to fear or anger.
Fear and anger seem to me to be opposite sides of the same coin. Something’s threatening and we become fearful and try to flee or we become angry and ball up our fists, plant our feet and break out our best snarl. It’s the classic “flight or fight” autonomic nervous response.
There’s an awful lot of anger and fear being spread around right now and I’m noticing an interesting response: countering with facts or information or worse, a meme. I don’t really see any of those methods being all that effective, though. I mean, really, have you ever been in a nostril-flaring rage and calmed down because someone showed you a pie chart? A pie menu might do the trick, but graphs and charts and bulleted talking points won’t do it for me.
Parents know a different way.
If my son is angry the least effective thing I can do is respond with anger. That either gets him angrier or worse, fearful of me in addition to whatever he felt threatened by in the first place.
The best thing I can do is to stop what I’m doing, pull him in close, and sit and listen. He’ll calm down, feel loved, and then we can talk about whatever it was and what to do next time. Our relationship will be deeper and fewer things in the house will get broken. That's the moment he'll be receptive to new information and I can dazzle him with graphs or a Powerpoint presentation.
As adults we can do this by ourselves. It's not necessarily easy, but we can all practice stepping away from a threat and spending some quiet time in prayer, reflection or meditation. I try to do this often. Sometimes I manage to be quite intentional about doing so and sometimes I have to be reminded that it's important and come back to it.
Many of us are feeling quite threatened by actions being taken by our government right now. Sometimes rightly so but sometimes we may just have bad information, either accidentally or deliberately. I certainly feel as if some of the buttons being pushed by our President are being pushed with the purpose of creating a distraction from something else.
It’s easy to be frightened or angry right now.
Don’t just do something. Sit there.
Then let the knot in your gut shift to fire in your belly and plan your next steps.