Staying sane in the face of public hateMar 23, 2023
First comes the shock - especially when it's unexpected. You're scrolling along on socials and boom - there's a post that shows you firsthand the nazi salute made by a tiny group of self-proclaimed neo-nazis holding a hateful sign aimed at people who are trans. No, not in America. Here in Australia, in Melbourne. Now, just pause and take a breath. Don’t go googling that image. There are some things you cannot unsee. Even if you’ve never seen that image or even if you already have seen it, knowing that it’s out there and that happened in this day and age can be shocking. So stay with me, and take my hand as we make our way through queer self-care and back to sanity together.
Moving through shock
There are four main stages of shock. The first stage is called the compensatory stage in which the body tries to compensate for what’s happening by increasing our heart rate for example. When we unexpectedly come across a display of public hate, our palms can sweat, our fight, flight or freeze mechanism kicks in and we react.
If you’re a fighter, your reaction to seeing this display of public hate may include exclaiming out loud, your blood boiling, and immediately wanting to comment or hunt them down. In other words, to retaliate and fight back. If your reaction is flight, then you might put down your phone or scroll ahead and hope your brain didn’t compute what you’ve seen. And if you freeze, you can find yourself staring at the image in disbelief, time being suspended. Notice your reaction. Are you someone who by default goes into fight, flight or freeze?
Are you a fighter?
Your first remedy is close at hand. Your breath. Pause. Take a deep breath. You can even place your hand on your belly and breath into your hand. You should feel your belly expand as you breathe in and lower as you breathe out.
Do you go into flight?
Your first remedy is to pause and notice your surroundings. Notice that nothing bad is happening right now in this present moment. (Obviously, if you are in immediate danger, the flight response is an appropriate reaction and you should exit.) Take 3 deep and slow breaths. All is well.
Have you frozen?
Your first remedy is through the breath. Take two short sharp inhalations through the nose and one long exhalation. Repeat for a total of three times. Gently wriggle your fingers and gently wriggle your toes to return to your body and this present moment.
If you’d like some more guidance and support with this, you may be interested in my free 3-part video series, 3 easy steps to soothe your reaction. You’ll learn to reduce stress, find healthier coping strategies and develop a deeper understanding of your emotions.
If the underlying cause of shock is not addressed, then the body enters the second stage of shock, the progressive stage. This can be where you feel the blood draining away from your face. Understanding the situation and putting things into perspective can help.
Remedy for shock
- Start with the facts. What are the facts? Approximately 20 people gave a nazi-salute on the steps of Parliament House and held up signage with character assassinating and abusive verbiage towards transgender people. There are currently 5.2 million people living in Melbourne, Victoria. This is a mere 0.000384615385% of the population. Getting related to the facts in this way can help put things into perspective. This doesn’t mean that their actions were not damaging. Public hate can have serious social, political, and economic consequences and can lead to increased discrimination, violence, and exclusion of the targeted group from society - in this case, people who are transgender with a ripple effect on all LGBTQIA+ people and of course groups of Jewish people who were persecuted. But it can help to put things into perspective and realise that these people are small fry, using provocative tactics which result in a lot of noise.
- Know that what you resist, persists. Public hate relies on fuel and its fuel is attention. The amount of noise and counter-noise it can provoke fuels the conversation. The more attention granted, the more the conversation can travel. It’s not necessary to have everyone agree with your point of view to have the conversation disappear. The more you add to it, the longer it sticks around and the hotter it can burn, causing further damage to the community.
- Remember your core values. One of the values we say is important to us as an LGBTQIA+ community is diversity, intended to include marginalised groups. As people who stand for diversity, then we need to remain true to allowing diversity to exist. Diversity includes all different points of view, every single opinion and all walks of life. To be clear, being able to be with diversity does not mean condoning, tolerating or succumbing to hate. It also doesn’t mean remaining silent or passive. Know that hate doesn’t work for the person expressing it as well as for the person receiving it. Often the person expressing it is too preoccupied with being right that they can’t see the impact on themselves and the disconnect from other human beings that leaves them severed and cut off. It’s like they are drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies. It doesn’t work. It can also be useful to understand that only people who feel powerless turn to force.
- Applying appropriate consequences. Every action has a consequence in life. If you don’t feel like going to work, you don’t have to because you’re an adult. There will be a consequence however if you don’t go to work when you don’t feel like it over and over again. And that consequence is losing your job. That’s how the world works. Ask yourself, what’s the outcome I want here? In this case, legislation to ban the nazi salute is an appropriate consequence. Getting into debates with strangers online is not an appropriate consequence. It is a misguided use of your precious, vital life energy and will not produce the outcome you are looking for.
- Take a break. It is essential to take a break from social media when the hate becomes too much. Step away from your computer, put down your device, take a walk or engage in other hobbies, even for a little while. Doing so can help you regain your strength and clear your head. If you don’t and you find yourself pulled into a back-and-forth conflict, this could take you into the fourth stage of shock which is the irreversible stage. This is where your actions are causing damage - both to yourself and to others witnessing. Time to call on your support network.
- Surround yourself with people who get you. You know those people, the ones you can be wholly and completely yourself with. Free to be. It’s important to protect your mental health. Be conscious of the impact the hate may be having on you, which can negatively affect the quality of your mental well-being. Take proactive measures to protect yourself, such as speaking to a therapist, engaging in mindfulness practices, or seeking other professional help. Again, if you do find yourself being pulled into an online conversation that fuels hate, pause for a moment and reach out to one of those trusted friends. If you can’t think of one right now, that’s ok. Q-Life is a peer-to-peer support service that provides confidential support and referrals. Contact them on webchat or 1800 184 527.
How to have difficult conversations
So now that we’ve made it through the initial stages of shock when witnessing public hate, let’s move on to how to react when you are having a difficult conversation with somebody. We’ve all had conversations with other people when there’s been something deeply important to us. And often, when we want to be on our best behaviour, we’re on our worst behaviour.
In their book, Crucial Conversations, the authors (Ron McMillan et al) explain that when a conversation turns from being casual to being crucial with something important at stake, our body starts pumping adrenaline to the brain which causes all sorts of chemical reactions to fire. And it’s the same when someone in front of us starts to have adrenaline pumping to their brain - our bodies will match that by pumping adrenaline to our brains! Now we have two people not seeing clearly. Crucial Conversations is a comprehensive guide for navigating challenging conversations in all areas of life. They give practical tools and strategies for handling these conversations, including staying calm, checking your motives, and focusing on mutual goals. The book also emphasizes the importance of respectful dialogue, active listening, and creating a safe environment for open communication.
Here are some further tips on how to react when you’re having a difficult conversation with somebody:
- Stay calm: Take a deep breath, stay calm and be composed during the conversation. Don't let your emotions take over. This is easier said than done, but there’s often a window where you can take two quick breaths in and one breath out x 3 and this is a sure way to short-circuit the brain and soothe your nervous system.
- Listen attentively: Listen to what the other person has to say, without interrupting. Hear them out and try to understand their point of view. Again, easier said than done. There are many ways we don’t listen - even when we look like we are listening. Notice when you are rehearsing what to say next in your head and see if you can put that aside and be with the other person.
- Empathise: Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand why they feel a certain way. Show empathy and acknowledge their feelings. You might even repeat back what they have said - not in a robotic way but in a way where you can feel what they are feeling and reflect that back to them. (Where are my empaths? Watch out here that you don’t over-absorb their feelings rendering yourself helpless. Don’t go too deep, my friend.)
- Keep an open mind: It is important to keep an open mind and be receptive to other perspectives, especially when you don’t agree.
- Ask questions: Ask questions to clarify any misunderstandings and to gain a better understanding of the situation.
- Be respectful: Show respect and avoid using inflammatory language or making personal attacks.
- Find common ground: Look for common ground and try to find a way to resolve the issue in a way that works for both parties.
Remember, difficult conversations can be tough, but they can also be productive if approached with the right mindset and tactics. One of my earliest queer mentors was the Queer Officer at my university, Chyloe Kurdas. She took me and my first girlfriend, both fresh from the country, under her wing and made life so safe and welcoming for us. It was the late 90s and we travelled by train to attend Queer Collaborations in Brisbane. One of our actions was to travel into the heart of redneck country to Ipswich, Queensland, where we held a peaceful queer kiss-in picnic. When we arrived, there were about 15 counter-protesters holding up signs that said things like, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.
I will never forget seeing Chyloe speaking to the protesters, one by one and watching in complete awe as they packed away their signs and drove home. Sure there were a couple of stayers who would not give up their right to be right, but I was stunned by how calm and effective she was and how she related to them as simply another human being with things that mattered to them. She demonstrated that it’s possible to peacefully and respectfully, even with love, produce the outcome you are committed to.
Stay safe during a public demonstration
If you are attending an in-person action and being in the firing line would do too much damage to your person, here are some additional tips on how to avoid violence during a public demonstration.
- Plan ahead: Before attending a public demonstration, plan ahead by researching the location, time and participants involved. If possible, register to participate with the organisers to have an understanding of what the demonstration is about and the planned route.
- Stay calm: Keeping a calm mind and positive attitude can go a long way in avoiding violence. Avoid engaging in verbal or physical altercations. If confronted by someone, try to stay calm and de-escalate the situation.
- Avoid highly charged areas: During a demonstration, try to avoid highly charged areas, such as areas where police and protesters are in direct confrontation. If possible, stay towards the back of the demonstration and away from potential danger.
- Stay aware of your surroundings: Being aware of your surroundings is critical during a public demonstration. Keep an eye out for aggressive behavior, disruptive activity, or suspicious individuals, and if necessary, move to a safer location.
- Have a plan of action: It’s always good to have a plan of action in case violence breaks out. Know the location of the nearest exit or safe area, and have a designated meeting spot in case of separation from friends or family.
- Document incidents: If you observe or experience any incident of violence or police brutality, document it by taking photos or recording video. Report it to the organisers or authorities, and share it on social media to spread awareness.
- Follow the law: It’s important to follow the law during a demonstration to avoid any legal repercussions. Avoid engaging in illegal activities or provoking the police. If arrested, follow police instructions and do not resist arrest.
What matters most is that you know yourself and that you do what you need to do to take care of yourself. You are no good to anyone, least of all yourself if you get taken out, rendered useless, or are unable to take appropriate action. And we need you. The people around you need you. We need each other. How do I know this? I’ve had over 25 years of experience as someone who is committed to making a difference and have explored many ways of being an activist. I’ve been there and I’m right here with you now.
P.S. Don't forget to download your free video series on 3 easy steps to soothe your reaction. It is designed specifically for you. With proven techniques, you can learn to relax, reduce stress and take control of your emotions and reactions whether you are in fight, flight or freeze.
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