Over the last 24 hours I have had several upsetting exchanges with people. I was dumb and responded to a notorious Twitter troll because I had just woken up and was angry and behaved impulsively. Later that day, I had someone I didn’t know call me out on it and demand that I logically defend my behavior. They told me if I was going to state my opinion online I should expect some backlash and be prepared to defend my point of view.
I got very upset and told this person that if they thought I was an irrational bitch that was just fine with me. This person got incredibly offended and told me not to put words in his mouth. He continued to fight with me until I broke down upset. In order to preserve peace with the rest of the people in the chat room who had witnessed this exchange, I apologized to them for engaging in this argument. The person who started it misunderstood who the apology was for and thanked me for apologizing to him. This action has made me physically ill and prevented me from sleeping much last night.
I have been rolling around in my head why this exchange upset me so badly. I wonder if I am unreasonable. I wonder why the hell this person felt that verbally attacking me on a chat room was perfectly fine but me implying he thought I was a bitch was simply beyond the pale and a bridge too far.
I have had a number of these kinds of exchanges over the last year. I noticed that people became incredibly hostile during the 2016 Presidential election. I had hoped that things would die down after that, but if nothing else, they’ve gotten worse. I had to deactivate my Facebook account because I was being attacked by people for not sharing their exact specific political beliefs. I have left multiple Slack rooms this year because one person out of 50-100 will lay into me about how my observations of sexism and discrimination do not fit in with their experiences as young white men who have computer science degrees who live in San Francisco.
None of these people are evil. I know several of them are generally nice people, but the way they engage me upsets me greatly. I feel like a rattlesnake frantically rattling my tail to warn them not to step on me. I don’t like being stepped on and biting them takes a lot out of me. They’re always surprised when they get bitten and decide that I am not behaving rationally and they get quite angry. I cut a lot of these people off because I simply can’t deal with them anymore.
I have been told that some of these people I have cut off are saying I am paranoid. They are saying I am mentally ill and I am destroying relationships with all my allies and one has gone as far as to say I am a sociopath.
I don’t want toxic people in my life. Life is short. I love cooking. I love my dogs. I love to write books even though they stress the living crap out of me sometimes. I feel like the world is this vast sea of endless possibilities and things to learn and explore. Then I get dragged down by the reality of trying to interact with other people who want to fight with me about Swift equivalents of vim versus emacs. These people drain all of my optimism and turn me into an angry bitter person that I don’t like being.
I have been trying to figure out why I am not allowed to simply withdraw from interactions I find unpleasant. I am not allowed to simply retract whatever the offending statement is. It is demanded that I defend it to the death and give up my precious spoons arguing with someone who is never going to be convinced that they are wrong.
I believe it is a fallacy of logic.
My ex-husband was an atheist. He said he would not believe in anything that couldn’t be proven with science. He said if Neil Degrasse Tyson says it’s true, then it must be so. Once he verbally assaulted me in the car to the point I was planning to jump out of the moving vehicle for saying “God bless you” to a stranger in public.
I am not an atheist. I would consider myself a Christian except I do things like read Tarot cards that I am pretty sure Christians see as witchcraft. I get very strong feelings about things that I know to be true but I have no evidence for their existence. When I was an atheist for ten years I would ignore these feelings and ignoring them always got me in trouble. I had a stranger talk his way into my dorm room and even though I had a bad feeling about him, I couldn’t think of a logical response to his argument that I should let him in. He raped me so badly I now have PTSD. My life was not on a good track and my world felt quite grey and empty. I decided ten years ago to believe in God, even though I had no evidence for his existence. I decided to trust those gut feelings i had been ignoring for ten years because they weren’t rational and to have faith that they were leading me to a better place.
I read a book many years ago called “Blink!” by Malcolm Gladwell where he talks about how our unconscious mind works much faster than our conscious mind does. It’s like having a background thread and a main thread. We can instinctively know something without being able to consciously and verbally explain it. I have faith in these feelings in spite of lack of evidence and I believe in them deeply. I have discovered most people in tech are not like this.
Emotions are not rational. We have been trained as a society to scorn anything that isn’t rational and can’t be explained very simply with logic. Any time I have a discussion with someone who doesn’t agree with me, they have a long list of talking points with very simple ideas that they use to try and convince you that you’re wrong. A lot of these people are simply unwilling to believe that you can see where they are coming from and still disagree with them.
I remember in college having boys try to logically explain to me why I should have sex with them. I was dumb and at the time I thought I could reason with them, but any arguments I made with them only gave them another argument point they could use to try and reason with me about why I should have sex. I would tell them I found them unattractive. They would say “Well I don’t find you attractive either! But sex is fun!” They were so invested in getting the result they wanted that it was completely useless to argue with them and the only course of action you had was to just walk away and hope they found someone else who is less work.
That is what the tech industry feels like to me some days.
I am not allowed to have my finely honed sense of intuition about anything because everything must be an argument. I can’t say that I don’t want to interact with someone who persists in arguing with me about nothing because that makes me a bad person. It doesn’t matter that these arguments destroy my ability to function. I am expected to have them because if I simply refuse no one knows how to respond.
Everyone is invested in believing that whatever they believe is right and correct and they have constructed intricate logical facts around supporting that believe. If someone doesn’t agree with them, they feel it is a personal attack on their core sense of self. They defend it to the death and feel that they are doing nothing wrong in behaving this way.
There was an interesting study recently that showed that most men will say that rape is wrong. They will swear up and down that they would never rape anyone. But then laster in the survey they admitted to forcing a woman to have sex that they knew did not want to have sex. There is a fundamental disconnect in their brains between the word “rapist” and what it means to rape someone.
We have a lot of labels for people that are not nice. Racist. Sexist. Rapist. Nazi. No one wants to be associated with being a racist even if they have racist beliefs. Calling someone a racist is seen as being similar to calling someone a bitch. It’s lost all meaning other than as a name you can call someone to try and make them feel bad about themselves. They don’t want to be called a racist. They think that their racist beliefs are rational and can logically be explained and that someone who is a racist hates for no reason and therefore can’t be them.
I hate to break it to you, but feelings are irrational. We feel the way we do based on things we can’t really explain. We are a result of decades of experiences and neurochemical reactions. I know people who got slighted by someone when they were seven years old and that one experience still angers them to this day. My father is still angry at being slighted by someone forty years ago who died in a terrible car accident thirty years ago.
We’re all giant bundles of irrational behaviors. I just wish that we were better at accepting that sometimes there isn’t a logical explanation for why we feel the way we do. We’re all entitled to our own perspective on something without feeling like the existence of a different perspective threatens our own.
If someone is triggering my PTSD symptoms and doing something I find threatening, I am entitled to end that conversation. I should not have to suffer flashbacks because someone finds it fun and engaging to get involved in an endless argument over nothing. You don’t get to argue with me that what you’re doing wouldn’t bother 99% of the rest of the population. It bothers me. If you persist in behavior that I perceive as threatening I have the right to cut you off to protect myself mentally. If you know that what you are doing is upsetting me and you persist in doing it, you are harassing me. My right to feel safe is greater than your right to argue with me. I don’t care if you agree with me or not. I am entitled to my own perspective just as you are entitled to yours. Agree to disagree and get a beer with me later. Or call me a bitch. I would vastly prefer that to the death of a thousand cuts of being forced to explain why I feel differently than you do while looking for a way to escape.