My Own Worst Nightmare

Are there certain personalities that you just can’t stand? For me it’s a righteous, haranguing fanatic who is not interested in any other point of view and unwilling to even entertain the thought that he or she might not be right. I run into these people occasionally in my work as a facilitator. They are strident and angry. They insist on speaking first and frequently. They ignore everyone else in the room while pretending to ask a question which is really a thinly-veiled attack of some kind. They have no sensitivity and no awareness. I picture them going home and kicking their cat and slamming the refrigerator door.

So, you can imagine my horror when I found myself being one of those people. Here is my confession.

dans-bookI was at a book launch for a friend who has written “American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains.” It is a fine and important book about the destruction by frontiersmen, traders, hunters and recreators of huge numbers of bison, pronghorn antelope, grizzlies, grey wolves, wild horses and more on the North American Continent. I found myself sinking into a depression as I heard the facts, the statistics and thepronghorn anecdotes about this extinction of hundreds of thousands of beautiful and thriving animals. I grieved for them and my anger at the cruel history grew.

When it was time for questions, my hand shot up, almost without my willing it, like Dr. Strangelove.  Dan Flores the author called on me, with a smile. I stood up and said in a strident and angry voice “Do you see any possible justification for zoos?” I paused a couple of seconds and added “Because I don’t!” and sat down with a plop.

Dan was taken back, I’m sure, and turned to his wife who was with him on the stage. “Maybe Sarah would like to comment on that. Her former in-laws were managers of zoos.” She was gracious in her answer, explaining the value of exposing people to animals they would never have a chance to see, and perhaps enlightening them about the importance of preserving these exotic species.

By that time I was asking myself what on earth had got into me. This was not like me at all. I had behaved exactly like those participants at highly-charged meetings whom I detest. Then I realized that I was angry and depressed, on the verge of tears in fact, and the result was that my normal filters and controls had failed me. I had lashed out, trying to defend the animals held captive, knowing I couldn’t change history and restore that lost landscape.

tigers-in-zooI have never liked zoos and consider them a prison for animals who have done nothing wrong. At the book launch, if I had wanted to raise the subject of zoos, I could have provided a segue and asked Dan if, given the near extinction of some species today, he thought that there was a place for zoos in our culture. Was that a viable alternative for preserving a species, to capture a member and put it in a zoo, I could have asked? See how nice that sounds? Very grownup, very logical, very diplomatic. But that person was long gone, and all that was left was an angry and righteous person, full of sadness.

My apologies to Dan and Sarah.

19 thoughts on “My Own Worst Nightmare

  1. As my Mother used to say to me frequently :”Jeffrey, you need to think before you speak”. It was a hard lesson for an outspoken Leo, but somehow I got there one day.
    It is OK Lucy. You are not a strident angry person.

  2. Dear Lucy, I feel your pain. I, too, have seen myself do and say things I was ashamed of when I thought about them. You are human. You care deeply about your earth, its animals, and all of life. Forgive yourself, take a deep breath, and begin the journey once again. All is well. The good you do far outweighs any slip you make.

    1. Many thanks, Cindy, and I like to think that balance is on the positive side. But I do think it’s instructive to realize that we are all capable of just about everything, given the right dynamics internally and externally. I found it humbling and enlightening.

  3. Thank you Lucy brought back memories and one fairly recent where I wondered what words were coming out of my mouth. I enjoyed your piece. Peggy

  4. Ah, we’ve all had our moments. Shortly after my first child was born I weighed myself on a scale in the hospital corridor. Appalled by how much I weighed I went right to the nurses station and with great authority told the nurse that their scale as way off. She gave me a withering smile and said, “of course, dear”. I still cringe.K2

    1. Isn’t it amazing how those tiny moments in our lives stick with us? I guess humiliation must have the power to imprint in our memories, and reign supreme.

  5. Good morning Lucy. You can hardly compare yourself to those of whom you speak by the mere fact that you recognized you may have spoken out on something you are passionate about. Most angry people fail to acknowledge their way of living.

    1. Thanks, Larry, for the reassuring words, but for me the revelation was to find myself in the company of those I would like to think I have nothing in common with. Important to be humbled every now and then….but not too often!

  6. Lucy, you are nowhere near one of those people. You are thoughtful and kind, and yes, perhaps you might be a mediator between the zoos in another life, and…..! I’m surprised at you being quite so sensitive about your remark – it seemed pertinent to me. There is an issue about zoos, and obviously it’s complicated. Yesterday, on TV, I saw a bunch of tiny pandas (‘bunch’ must not be the right word, but there were lots of them) being taken care for in a zoo. This is a Good Thing, given their tenuous situation. But, in another, world, we would rather not have zoos, don’t you think? But we would have to go back in time. Will we lose the elephants to the ivory trade? Would we never want to see an elephant, zoos nonetheless? Or circuses (?)! I live in northern New Hampshire, and they are hunting bears this week. What? What kind of a person would kill a bear. An asshole I’d say.

    Don’t ever be afraid to speak up, even if later you regret the social implications. You might be right. Knowing you,Lucy, I would presume you to be right.

    1. Thanks, Myv, for the reminder that passion is a good thing, and that speaking up for a cause you believe in is important…maybe even worth risking being seen as rude or righteous. Of course, then I have to grant that right to those I mention in the beginning of the blog who drive me crazy. There are people who are passionate, articulate and powerful without being righteous. That’s my goal.

      As for zoos, I do not think we have the right to keep in captivity wild animals for our entertainment, or for their survival as a species. If we lose the last white leopard or whatever in the wild. that’s a shame, but we have no right to capture the last one or two from their habitat to “save them.” We should do everything we can to protect habitat for endangered species, but if they are destined to go, let them go, naturally. Let those last ones go with dignity.

  7. I’m such a geezer, I’ve always loved zoos, cruel though they may be.
    But all of us are stressed our half crazy w/ environmental destruction and there is so much natural rage that all of us are consumed in one way or another. It’s where we go with it that matters.

  8. I recently tried to read the book “Hawk” on the enthusiastic recommendations (on Facebook) of two writer friends and the glowing reviews they had written. About 80 pages in I thought I hate this book. Why in this day and age is anyone training a hawk? And why are they being transported from Germany? And why couldn’t this woman find another way to get over her father’s death? I was about to send a very angry email to one of these friends and then I thought maybe the book does redeem itself. I hadn’t read through to the end.
    My point here is that it may be that we realize that something dire is happening with animals all over the world. The idea of their integrity as wild creatures is disappearing regardless of what we do. And that realization overwhelms us when it comes to the surface. I related to your story and your unanticipated behavior..

    1. Thank you, Judith. That means a lot to me. Interesting thought about some kind of collective dawning on the reality of our relationship to animals — a dawn that hasn’t yet dawned on us consciously.

  9. On the occasions when I’ve had a similar episode (never for that worthy a cause, I blush to say — it’s usually been quite trivial and of moment only to me), I tend to think of it as “Evil Twin slipping the leash.”

  10. HI Lucy–
    I read your blog and thought, “It’s not done.” You setup the story– You told us about how challenging it can be to work with people who are strident, passionately self-righteous. Then you described going to a reading of a book about the changing of a landscape that changed the lives of the animals that lived there. And then you described how you took yourself by surprise when you stood up in a moment of self-righteous passion, made a strong declaration, and sat back down. You reflected on the moment, felt a little embarrassed about it, offered us some explanations, and then apologized to the people who you impacted.

    When I read this story it seemed like something was missing. I’m still trying to put my finger on what it was.

    The comments add something important to the piece. Your readers expressed their empathy. They shared their own stories of moments of passion. They connected with you around the energy (even rage) that comes from witnessing loss of life and environmental destruction. They talked about the beauty of standing up for something your passionate about. They heard you and they reflected you back to you.

    Hmmm. Reflexivity. Maybe that’s what’s so disturbing about this character you describe: “the ranter.” This personality you describe: ..”.a righteous, haranguing fanatic who is not interested in any other point of view and unwilling to even entertain the thought that he or she might not be right.” Maybe it’s her lack of reflexivity. The person who stands up to declare and demand her point of view is no longer engaged in a reflective process of seeing and being seen. Maybe that’s what’s scary about stepping into those shoes. She’s stepped outside of the loop of dialogue.

    Personally, I am also scared of stepping into my own rant shoes. I am scared of losing the safety of my reflective position where I can see me and see everyone around me and make thoughtful, meaningful contributions. I am scared of losing myself in the moment.

    But I bet that fear is pointing at something powerful. I think there’s something important here to uncover and connect around.

    Lucy, you get it at it when you talk about respecting the ranter’s right to be passionately vocal, to be illogically committed to an ideal.

    Maybe it’s this:
    Some people like to stand on the sidelines and make thoughtful observations. Some people like to get in the middle of the fray and fight for what they care about. At the end of the day, both of these choices can help us to create a better world. We need the passion and the logic. We need the conflict and the process. A key step in finding the path towards productive discourse is to remember how to keep relating to each other as people.

    As someone who tends towards the thoughtful and reflective sideline, my own (limited) experiences with being a passionate fighter can help me make a bridge to people who naturally find themselves in the fray. How do we do this? How do we translate our personal experiences into ways of connecting? Even connecting with people who are cut off from connection? My guess would be that it pivots around love and maybe requires a deeper, fuller understanding of what love looks like.

    So what’s missing in the story? I want to hear if/how it’s different the next time you have a ranter in a meeting you’re running. Do you see/hear them differently? Do you find yourself doing something new? What feelings come up for you? Do you connect to them?

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