How to cope with overhearing venom and hate?
May 22, 2016 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I overheard a very hateful conversation last night--how do you keep hateful things you've overheard from taking root and ruining your day?

Late last night I overheard two couples from my cul de sac talking--they were all on one of the couple's property (not public property) and weren't being overly loud (certainly not something that would warrant a disturbance call to police, etc), but we live in a common group of townhomes and with windows open it was very easy to hear them. They were saying incredibly hateful, horrible things about Muslims, transgendered folks, and Barack Obama--and it was even more upsetting because one of the women kept invoking Bible verses and Christianity to justify her words. I won't be any more specific than that because even recalling what they said is terribly upsetting and I don't want to put any of it into print. I eventually moved to another room in my home so I couldn't hear them anymore.

My question is NOT whether or not I should have confronted them last night or whether I should say anything about this to them in the future. I have only a passing relationship with these neighbors, and after overhearing this conversation I hope that I never need to interact with any of them in any way ever again.

My question is this: I have felt depressed and out of sorts all morning because of what I overheard--not because I feel unsafe, but because I am incredibly sad and disturbed to have overheard so much pure venom. I don't want to give these people the power to affect my day or my thoughts in this way. How have any of you found success in redirecting your thoughts and emotions so that upsetting things you may have heard or witnessed don't take root and overtake your mood?
posted by bookmammal to Human Relations (13 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Someone once told me: You only have a number of swords within you to fight your battles. Save your swords for when you need it.
posted by moiraine at 10:41 AM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Put some love into the universe- say something or do something kind for the groups you mentioned. That's the antidote...
posted by cacao at 10:52 AM on May 22, 2016 [20 favorites]

I've been struggling with something similar, which is getting upset and derailed by bad news in the media presented as if they're gleeful to be sharing such an awful thing that happened. Pure venom, like you say. Suddenly, I emphasizing with the victims and the horror to such a degree that I can't even think straight.

Working with therapy, a useful strategy I've found is to deliberately notice five things in the immediate environment, tell myself that the Bad Thing is not my reality, that I'm here, in the here and now. Bad Things and Bad People exist, but I'm present in this moment with these things and I'm choosing to experience it in this way.

It takes time to make a habit of this low-fi Zen reaction. But it's working.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:54 AM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you were in this situation and had to hear all of that. It's awful knowing that people think this way and even scarier when you realize they're close to you, such as being your neighbors.

- I'd put my energy in helping support causes that you care about: it could be volunteering or donating money or what not. Perhaps a $100 donation would help you feel better right now?

- I'd considering joining community organizations like NAACP, PFLAG, and more. That way you can connect with locals who share your mindset and who are committed to making your community a better place. There are like-minded folks everywhere, it's just about finding them! And sometimes people change: maybe these folks won't but a lot of people become more tolerant as the world changes.

- I'd try to protect friends who come to visit, especially if they are trans/Muslim/etc.: I'd let them know that those particular neighbors are racist/bigoted/etc. and that you avoid contact. I'd try to stay outside with said friends when they're visiting so your neighbors can't do crap like harass them or call the police. Chances are, they are "quietly" hateful but you never know.

- They may be neighbors but you don't have to interact with them outside of a brief hello or nod when passing on the street. You don't have to have conversations with them (about anything), you don't have to buy the stuff they're selling, attend parties they're hosting, etc. While warm relationships with neighbors are nice, they're not necessary and shouldn't be a source of stress. If you both had children who were friends and thing were positive for them, I wouldn't keep them from hanging out but I'd listen in to make sure they weren't absorbing and repeating this stuff their parents are saying.

- I think you did the right thing in this situation. It might make you feel better to know some quotes or phrases for future situation where you're talking directly to people, just in case you want to say something. It could be a Bible verse (completely optional) that encourages tolerance or love, it could be a short anecdote ("Well, my [xyz] is trans/Muslim/etc. and they're such lovely people. I'm sorry you feel that way!"), a wtf-question like "Why do you say that?" or what not. I like to brainstorm a few just in case even though each situation changes and you never know.

I like to think that tolerance and acceptance is growing in the US but also know it often takes conflict and struggle to bring lasting positive change. Thanks for caring so much, and I wish you luck.
posted by smorgasbord at 11:02 AM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh no. I'm sorry this happened to you. I recently graduated from university and entered the 'real world', and I too had to stomach the fact that some people just have a distorted view of reality, prefer not to use logical reasoning, and are super stubborn.

What really helps me is to:
(i) check that their views are incorrect so that I can be confident in my opinions.
E.g. Donald Trump's thinks that building a wall between North America and Mexico would help to lower immigration and therefore increase the number of blue collar jobs available for American workers. But I know from reading statistics that there is actually a net outflux of people moving to Mexico from the US. His approach is therefore unjustified.

(ii) try and understand where they are coming from
So Donald Trump is trying to appeal to the section of voters that are unskilled and unemployed. They are frustrated and view immigrants as a threat. His promise to exclude immigrants from the labour force is a tactical (and effective!) political move.

(iii) compartmentalise
Just put those dumdums in a box, and just don't internalize anything unless you need their help for whatever reason. Then just be polite.

I think it's great that you care about tolerance! But maybe save your emotional energy for battles that will really make a difference. These hateful dumdums are not worth your time! :)
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 11:15 AM on May 22, 2016

Sit down and write out your response to what they were saying - why they're wrong, etc. It will let you vent and help you prepare if you're ever part of a conversation like this.
posted by sallybrown at 11:40 AM on May 22, 2016

My realization was that it's way worse being that person than being around them. Being a hateful, fear-filled person is punishment enough to be fair.
posted by ftm at 12:08 PM on May 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

You can write supportive emails and/or letters to groups who are doing valuable work toward tolerance and support of abused groups. That's not nothing, since they surely get a ton of horrific hate mail. You can also donate financially if possible, or volunteer, or reach out and help one person at a time, in a quiet way, however the possibility of that help might present itself. You can make it a point to seek out positive and loving messages and news, to remind yourself that there are strong good forces in the world, even though we are swamped with news that incites fear, evil, and hate, since that's what seems to capture more eyeballs and put more money into advertiser's pockets. You can curate your media and online choices to mindfully avoid exploitative fearmongering, outrage, hate and provocation.

You can exclude people who dwell in that sort of thing from your personal society, and devote your attention to those who are kind and positive and who do what they can to make the world a better place. You can go to sleep every night very, very grateful that you aren't filled with the sort of poison you witnessed.

And if it seems I was trying to make that all sound like simple stuff, it really, really isn't! One of the most difficult challenges in current life may be to avoid hopelessness, but it's a problem of unrelenting and ubiquitous messaging that favors bad news, horror, fear, anger, spite, resentment, shaming, and despair, and one must really struggle to escape the grasp of that miasma. Fill your life with as much goodness as possible, in any way you can. Books, music, art, kind friends, generosity, positive works, acts of kindness, enjoy the small pleasures, smell the roses, etc. – because the most significant terrorism we endure today is the relentless bombardment of marketed misery from forces peddling unremitting fear and anger to reap our constant, riveted attention for the benefit of the highest bidder. Your neighbors are gross damage, but don't allow that to dictate your spirit. Concentrate on ejecting, rejecting, and pruning the insistent foul influences and focusing on the good you can enjoy, and share, and create, and spread. You're not alone.
posted by taz at 12:40 PM on May 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

It's all theoretical until you actually KNOW people like this. It's okay to be disturbed, it's disturbing.

Double down on support of groups that fight for causes you believe in. Vote. Don't watch the news.

It's going to get worse before it gets better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:32 PM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

With all the hate around nowadays I have decided to use my energies in creating positivity around me. Also my focus now is to work at helping others less fortunate. If you focus your energies on creating value around you, these ridiculously low minded ignoramus and their thoughts will no longer bother you because you will see that they reside at the very basic level of being a human. They have a lot of growing up to do. One more thing that has been a help is that look at what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930's/40's-everyone who is now associated with that is looked down upon and as evil-their names in history are forever associated with negative connotations. In 50 years from now this will be once again the case for the people you heard. History is just repeating itself.

I will give you a Nichiren Buddhist perspective-we believe that there are 10 states of life condition in all humans, the lowest being animality and highest being the state of enlightenment and we all have, all 10 states, within us. Many of us are trapped at the lowest state and unfortunately do not and cannot get out of that state which causes huge suffering to us due to our actions/causes at that state/level. Due to this if we are looking to understand our current suffering, we should look at causes that we have created in the past. This has helped me to understand things better and to even develop empathy for such individuals as well as make sure that the causes I create are those of value to life in general.
posted by metajim at 3:09 PM on May 22, 2016

Become less self focused and realize the world isn't always directing reality your way.
posted by tarvuz at 3:39 PM on May 22, 2016

I don't know how much this will help, but when I was living with someone who was like that, I often had to get those words out of my head. I made up a playlist of loving and peaceful songs. And I'd just put that on and listen to those songs. Sometimes I had to listen a couple times to get calm. But it was so good to get those songs stuck in my head replacing the hateful talk.
posted by my-sharona at 8:11 PM on May 22, 2016

Fly a huge rainbow flag at your house. Think of how much that will irk them!
posted by Jacqueline at 10:52 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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