That is the question. To focus on or to withdraw attention from whatever situation is troubling us, whether it's connected to physical or financial difficulties, an unpleasant interaction, a frustrating work situation, or a world in turmoil.
When dealing with unpleasant circumstances, we're faced with a dilemma. We know we want the situation to change. Books about positive thinking will advise that you simply think positively, which can be helpful because honestly, if we get too caught up in fear, we can fall into despair.
Yet some would advise you put on blinders or worse, a blindfold. Pretend the situation isn't happening, ignore the pain or turmoil, and frankly, that's just wishful thinking and not helpful in the long run.
In some ways it's simple--in order to change a circumstance we must in essence create an alternate picture and then step into that picture. That's the power of visualization. Athletes and successful business people have utilized this for years. We actively seek solutions while keeping our mind's eye focused on the finish line.
Yet when the situation hits closer to our heart, emotions arise that mustn't be repressed or ignored or denied. We must experience our emotions for they exist for our benefit. They are a handy compass to help us know whether we're aligned with our direction, they also are a release valve designed for our benefit.
Recently, I found myself following some incendiary posts in a Facebook group. Mostly I was there out of curiosity to witness (yet again) how people would choose to respond or react--two distinctly different mechanisms. Reacting is a subjective gut-level, emotional release tied to our beliefs and opinions. Responding is an objective counter, where we weigh options, consider our thoughts and feelings, then speak accordingly.
A cleaner way to understand this is simply, when we feel triggered, we react. If we take a moment to actually let ourselves feel those emotions, we can see what they are telling us. We can learn to recognize that the other person isn't 'the problem' even though s/he may be irritating us. There's a button within us that is being pushed by this, and as painful as it is, this circumstance is giving us an opportunity to uncover the emotional issue/pattern/belief being triggered.
In the sixties, during the fight for civil rights, protestors were trained to ignore the triggers. The realization by Martin Luther King, Jr. that if we lose our cool in a volatile situation we will React rather than Respond. When we get caught up in that emotional storm, we lose perspective and often power. Because it's the cool heads that can make their way out of the burning building, not those panicking in the heat of a fiery confrontation.
These days, we're back in a similar struggle to ones we faced at many turning points in history. A time when cooler heads behind the scene know that they gain power if they piss you off. The irony is that we can be angry and still remain objective as long as we aren't taking it personally. If a troll disguised as a man tries to push my buttons regarding women's rights, I can recognize that his asinine behavior isn't my problem at all. To reason with someone invested in arguing is pointless. Screaming at racists, homophobes, or sexist provokers does not accomplish anything.
Here's the bottom line:
Persist, my friends. Stay true to our vision of a world of equality, progress, compassion, and (quite frankly) common sense.
But don't take it personally. Don't ignore behavior, but choose when calling it out serves the purpose you want. If the only accomplishment is a scream-fest, we're being tripped up and falling into a trap. It’s always a choice, to ignore or to interact. If our intention is to interact, we must discern whether the encounter allows actual interaction—something that requires objectivity and listening. If there is no potential for actual interaction, we must decide whether we’re gaining some emotional pay-off by an interaction where the only option is an argument with no viable conclusion.
By staying focused on our intended goal, we can choose accordingly.
The turning point is when we can recognize that we do indeed have a choice. That in itself is one of the most empowering moments we could imagine.
We can choose to walk away from a battle where there will be no winners, no resolution. We can instead sit down and write a letter to an editor or a politician. We can express our frustration in an article, short story, or poem. We can put our energy into accomplishing a goal that we absolutely know benefits our planet, such as planting in our garden or picking up litter off the street.
We can choose what to ignore based on what we hope to accomplish. To return to an earlier example: if the building is on fire, screaming at the flames accomplishes nothing. Let’s instead seek solutions, knowing that we might inspire others to do the same. Withdrawing our attention and redirecting the focus to our desired outcome will inspire more solutions and help push us towards success.