The Dizziness of Freedom

(title reference: this Kierkegaard quote)

Angry people are scary. People who are angry with your workplace as a whole can be even scarier.

How does the media deal with unhappy readers? Closer to the issue, how does the Missourian, whose staff writers are all students, deal with people who get mad?

I had a brush today with someone who was full of anger and, more importantly, complete conviction and justification of his anger. I didn’t have answers to his questions. I didn’t know the right path. There was some thinly veiled aggression in this man’s words that instantly made me feel absolutely tiny.

It sent me reeling. My heart is still honest-to-goodness pounding; My hands are still shaking.

This has always been a problem for me. When people get upset or frustrated or the slightest bit aggressive, I start to shut down. Even when I am not involved in the interaction, my heart starts to race. It’s something having to do with my intense dislike of confrontation, mixed with my overwhelming desire for people to get along. I am happy when people are happy. I am stressed when people argue. That’s just how I am.

During my summer job, I had the unfortunate experience of overhearing a very loud, very tense argument between two adult male employees. Not because I was trying to get the scoop on some work drama, but because it was happening less than 100 feet from me. The argument didn’t concern me in the slightest, and yet it hit me like a truck. I had to work all day long to shake the uneasy feeling in my chest over an dispute that wasn’t even mine.

When people ask me what my best quality is, I almost always say empathy. I consider myself very good at seeing situations from a perspective that is not my own. I would like to think this helps my writing by helping me to understand my sources better. I never anticipated it becoming a hinderance. But it has.

Recently, I have been shying away from any sort of conflict. Situations that might bring even the slightest amount of drama into my life fill me with dread. I don’t want to deal with it. I have been struggling so much with my own personal life that the last thing I want is to bring others’ stresses in as well. It makes me want to crawl back into my bed and nap until people are civil to one another again.

Which stresses me out even more.

When is it okay to just not care? Where does the line between budgeting my empathy and apathy lie? Because every time I have a negative experience, I want to swan dive over into apathy and not have to feel misplaced responsibility for other people’s conflicts.

Reading back through this, I sound awful. Very “Woe is me, woe is me. My biggest weakness is caring too much about people. How do I give less of a horse’s rear end about the petty problems of others?”

Which, in reality, is a very, very silly thing to be worried about, much less blogging about to the Internet.

And still, I feel anxious, and my heart is pounding from the man I spoke to half an hour ago.

It may seem silly, and it probably is, and it is also a very real problem for me. I want to travel the world and report on important global issues. If I’m terrified of anger, I will collapse into a puddle before my first byline gets published.

I know that I am not the only person to encounter emotions like this. This is not a uniquely Hanna experience. Reporters with much larger problems than my own are wildly successful. They stare down conflict, watchdog teeth bared, ready to fight to good fight.

I don’t know how to do that yet.

I know what you’re thinking: Hanna, have a little perspective. I am well aware that my social anxiety is not anywhere remotely close to problems like cultures that systematically rape women or children who are abused and neglected by the adults chosen to care for them.

I know that my problems are most likely temporary. I know that I’m probably coming across as whiny and bratty and entitled to my own vision of a “happy-sunshine-rose-colored” world. I know that.

I also know that I don’t want to feel scared anymore.

Staring at this and taking yoga breaths.
Staring at this and taking yoga breaths. I highly recommend calmingmanatee.com for all your anxiety-calming needs.
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4 thoughts on “The Dizziness of Freedom

  1. Empathy versus Apathy wow! I think you really spelled out your position well. This must be a situation that many people find themselves in these days with the hyper-partisan mood of the country at large. I live in Ohio. A state I would have left long ago had it not been for life-threatening health issues back in the 80s. That is another story. Anyway, I also identify with the notion of Empathy being a cardinal trait. I am a die hard liberal working in a state psychiatric facility surrounded by many angry tea-party co-worworders! Anyway as the charge nurse, I no longer allow myself to engage in conversations related to politics, as politics cause so many high powered emotions to explode. It is my job to maintain civility not unleash conversations that have no possibility of educating or enlightening. Politics, religion and personal problems do not belong in the workplace especially when they trigger high powered emotions. You are not being paid to deal with other people’s baggage at work. You have every right to report this inappropriate behavior during your exit interview and at anytime to any supervisor doing their job ensure civility at the workplace.The parties involved in this highly charged dispute were both wrong for allowing this altercation to detract from the work of you and the others present.

  2. I get it – I feel the same way. Like you, I have issues with overdoing it with empathy – because of this, I find it hard to watch the news or see or learn about the suffering of other people. It’s better than being apathetic though – so many people have become cynical and jaded, that it is always better to empathise, no matter how much pain that might cause us. I think the trick is to learn to figure out how to stop that empathy from going too deep and hurting you too much. I’m still learning how to do that, so all I can offer is that empathy teaches us about ourselves and gives us the chance to do something about it (how do you want to make the world a better place, etc?).

  3. Wow, what a fantastic post! I often feel this same conflict between empathy and apathy in my own life. I found this story extremely relatable, and I think you were able to put into words what I have been struggling to articulate for a while. Thank you!

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