It’s no secret that Americans are divided on many topics of critical importance and that they often feel very passionately about their perspectives. While it’s a show of character to have strong principles, it’s a sign of wisdom to be able to think critically instead of reacting impulsively and dismissively.
Throughout my life I’ve found it difficult not to be reactive and aggressively push my perspective when I’m challenged. With age, experience, and heartache comes perspective (usually) and I’ve found that there are many specific instances where the best course of action is simply to pause.
A pause is a tool of thoughtfulness and deliberate decision-making. It is an effective way to take your own temperature in the moment and consider a few things. Is engaging in this situation likely to be helpful or harmful? Is your instinctual reaction one of anger, distaste, or frustration? Is your body tensing in response?
Below I share some common situations where I have learned it’s often necessary to pause. As a deeply flawed human, I do not always live up to my own expectations, but pausing is similar to other behavior modifications – when I began to do it repeatedly, it became a habit. I’m not always successful, but I have been able to engage in dialogues and extract myself from situations that I wouldn’t have handled as well before I started using the power of pause.
Emails and text messages: Whatever the situation, an email or text from a co-worker, supervisor, friend or family member may make your blood boil. This is an effective place to practice pausing, because with no person in front of you, you can choose to wait and respond when you are less triggered. Or you may choose not to respond at all, which has worked well for me in the past. For those of us who express ourselves best in writing, these situations tend to be the easiest to handle because we can put our thoughts together and review them. If you’re not sure your response will come across the way you intended, ask an empathic friend to read it.
Social media: This is another opportunity where the individual is not directly in front of you, and you can pause because an immediate response is usually not needed. There are the people you don’t know personally who you may be tempted to react to or teach a lesson. No doubt, a lot of trolls out there need schooling. Pause and ask yourself: is the exchange worth your time? Is that person worth your energy? Can you have a respectful debate in this forum? Sometimes your friends or family may respond to your posts by being snide or dismissive. Just like emails and texts, you have the choice to take your time before responding, or to decide that you don’t need to respond at all. [A note: if you have connections that routinely harass you or make offensive comments – and for whatever reason you choose not to block them – Facebook does have an audience filter so that you can easily determine who cannot see your post. If you want your racist uncle to only see your cat videos, for instance, you can quickly select that he cannot see a meme you share about Black Lives Matter. Instructions on setting this up in your account are available at this link.]
In conversation and on the phone:
- A good listener is a person who can pause for an extended period of time… ideally until the person they are talking to is finished speaking. If you find that you are a regular interrupter, and you want to be a better listener, try the extended pause. If it’s someone you trust, also feel free to apologize for interrupting and acknowledge that it’s something you are working on. There are some great tips on how to be a good listener in this two minute video, which is effective messaging for people of all ages.
- If the person or people you are talking with are unable or unwilling to have a respectful discourse, pause and question if the interaction is worth your time and energy. Unfortunately, there are some who are not interested in learning, hearing the opinions of others, or engaging respectfully. If you care about that person, it can be painful to come to the conclusion that you’re not able to discuss a particular topic with them in a positive or productive way at this time in their life. Remember that we are all on individual journeys of awareness, and others are at a different point than where you are. When you can, have patience.
- If someone is intentionally rude or cruel to you or someone you care about, you may have a natural reaction to be defensive or protective by attacking in self-defense. Pause and decide if this is the time and place to address their insult; you have the choice to remove yourself from the situation and address it at a later point. Taking the high road can be painful, but once you’re there, you will have a beautiful view.
Subjects on which you are not an expert: If your opinion on something is not well informed or well thought out, and you’re speaking with someone who has more knowledge and experience than you, pause. Actually, just stop altogether. Listen and learn; ask questions. You don’t have to agree in order to learn something. Challenge yourself to ask yourself why you had an opinion on an issue you don’t know much about.
Major decisions: When you’re considering a life change, take an extended pause. Reflect. Talk to someone you trust. There are many decisions we make that determine the course of our future employment, relationships, commitments, and reputation. Those should never be taken lightly.
In a highly emotional state: A person who is grieving, who has been traumatized or hurt, or who is vulnerable for any reason can often be easily triggered and act without pausing. When you find yourself in a state where you are not feeling grounded, take care of yourself. One way to do that is by making a decision not to lend your limited energy to situations that you know won’t have a positive return on your investment.
Stay in your lane: I’m aware that this phrase is highly controversial and there are varying uses and interpretations. That said, the basic concept of staying in one’s lane is entwined with pausing when you have something to learn. This very brief article will outline the basics of how those of us with privileges (such as being financially comfortable, or wealthy, or white, or educated, or having housing, or beautiful, or having access to reliable transportation, or Christian, or employed, or heterosexual, or thin, or able-bodied, or cisgender, etc.) can pause and stay in our lane when certain topics come up.
Energy vampires: I’ve heard the phrase energy vampire twice in the last month, and while it may now be common lexicon, I’d never heard it before. This is such an apt phrase, and a very useful descriptor. If you don’t have the emotional stamina to continue a conversation with an energy vampire, or if the person you are engaging with is not there with an open mind, you can extract yourself from interactions by saying one of the following:
- “I can’t continue this conversation right now.”
- “We don’t have to agree to respect each other.”
- “Please excuse me, I need to use the restroom.”
- “I’d appreciate it if I could be alone for a while.”
- “I care about you, and I need to have some space to think about this.”
- “Unfortunately, I can’t finish this conversation now because I am meeting someone at 5:00, so I need to leave.”
- “I need to take a break before we continue this discussion.”
- “I understand your argument and need to spend some time thinking about it.”
- “Let’s take some time to cool down and come back to it later.”
It’s difficult to engage with people who are not thoughtful and open minded, but they are probably in your life and you may have no option but to deal with them. If anyone has found other useful coping skills they would recommend, please share them in the comments section below.
If any of this resonates with you and you’d like to reflect on your own future use of pausing, talk to a friend of family member you trust, or talk with a therapist to find ways to incorporate pausing into your life. I am – clearly! – not a therapist, but I am able to recommend some excellent psychologists in Los Angeles County (CA), Jefferson County (NY), and Monroe County (NY) – just email me.
I’m done trying to understand Trump supporters. Why don’t they try to understand me? by Leonard Pitts Jr.