By Mark Borg, Jr., PhD, author of Don’t Be a Dick
The world needs a hug right now—a socially-distant, virtual, and heartfelt hug right now. We may instead be tempted, or even compelled, to give it a great big kick in the gut. And when I say “world,” what I mean is other people: our neighbors, partners, kids, and families. The very people who most need our care, affection, attention, and love are also the ones from whom we most need a hug.
Therefore, the question of world crisis is: To be or not to be a dick?
And while many of us want to help others, it is also easy to excuse and rationalize our questionable behavior. Perhaps an aggressive shopper cut the line at Trader Joe’s, a harried person freaked out when we were not socially-distant enough, or a coworker brought up a sore subject on Zoom—all in one day!
Right now, we are all dealing with overwhelming emotions. Sometimes these emotions spill out unexpectedly (are displaced) into our relations with others. Even in normal times, many of us are unaware of how we invite others into conflict with us. We tend to invite this conflict because it is difficult—sometimes impossible—for us to accept, address, and deal with our own uncomfortable emotions. When we are overwhelmed by emotion, the mind tends to overprotect us by either
Either way, in an effort to defend ourselves, we lose crucial bits of information about what’s really going on. And so, rather than experiencing and building a tolerance for such emotions, we perceive that someone else is the cause of them. Our psychological defense system becomes a psychological attack system. Rather than simply defending us from discomfort (e.g., panic, anxiety), our mind can go on the offensive and preemptively protect us by hurting others before they can hurt us.
Although there are numerous ways to invite conflict into our lives, here are a few that are particularly pernicious, and we might want to pay close attention to right now:
Each of these behaviors invites conflict or avoidance and puts us in an adversarial relationship with the world. If we are unaware of what we are doing, we will mistake the counterattacks of others for unjustified and unprovoked attacks. We will then overprotect ourselves from being hurt, which in turn, makes us more susceptible to the counterattacks that we are trying to avoid. But there is good news: Our unkind behavior is a defense mechanism that we use to protect ourselves—it is not who we are. And this means that we can do something about it!
Here’s what can we do when an incident arises that tempt us to engage in one of the behaviors listed above:
But really, the best way to avoid the dicks is not to be one.
By pausing and taking a break, we can work through our unproductive reactions and stay connected to each other while we go through this world crisis together. If we thoughtfully consider and address the ways that we invite conflict into our lives, we can also open the door to a new way of relating to ourselves and those around us.
Though it may be virtual and socially-distanced, I hope that by now you’ve been able to accept, take in, and feel comforted and warmed by whatever hugs are available in our world. With these insights on the forefront of your mind and a commitment to the steps I’ve suggested, you should be all set to walk through your day ready and willing to give the world that hug. And to get one, too.