Fixing Stupid

How do we “solve” anger? Can we “fix” stupid? Maybe start by coming up with a different title for this blog. But, hey, it grabbed your attention.

I read an interesting story on Slate.com recently that examined the topic of showing compassion for angry people. The author made the claim that some gun laws and mental illnesses play a role in critical armed violence, but that to get to the actual root of the issue, one needs to fix the anger that drives the shooter in the first place.

The author further pointed to mindfulness as a way to strengthen one’s brain and help those who get angry to control those feelings instead of acting on them in a violent way.

I started using the iPhone app “Calm” a little while back (it’s free, easy and awesome – try it!) and I definitely notice a difference in my demeanor on days that I do a five-mintue morning meditation (it’s really more of a simple breathing exercise) versus those that I don’t.

I’m not an angry person in general – at least not outwardly. Pretty much unless the Giants are winning a baseball game, I do a good job of keeping my emotions in check. Chalk that up to genetics or my environment or pure luck or whatever, but that’s how I am. Still, on days that I meditate in the morning, I feel more refreshed, focused and in better spirits than on those I don’t.

This blog isn’t to say that I have some moral or mental superiority – just like everyone else, I’ve done immoral and idiotic things. Just like everyone else, I’m prone to being very stupid. I spent a night drunkenly smoking cigarettes in a Polish strip club last summer (sorry, Mom) and I have no idea why. I mean, even more embarassingly, I thought the phrase “kit and kaboodle” was “kitten kaboodle” until I was 25 years old.

The point is, that there are ways to be mindful about things that bother you, even if you’re an angrier person than most. Would mindfulness have stopped the attack in Istanbul? Or in Nice? In Orlando? Probably not. Those are completely different beasts with more angles than a geometry book.

Would it solve the utterly astonishing amount of racism captured on social media since the UK voted to exit the EU? Probably not. That’s a deeply ingrained, learned characteristic of people that would take much more than an occasional meditation to fix.

Would it help Donald Trump realize the error of his ways and bow out of the Presidential race and retire to a mountaintop in Tibet, where his wildly-coiffed toupee could gently sway in the wind above his gently-humming orange head? No. But that’s a really fun image.

Mindfulness might be a way to individually answer that question we all ask after watching the news: “Why?”

Why would someone do that? Why is the world so messed up? Why is there so much hate?

I remember, even as a young child, wondering why bullies were bullies or how anyone would want to fly a plane into a building or why my friends and I were throwing toilet paper into another person’s trees?

There are a dozen different factors involved in all those situations, but the simple root is anger. If you’re an angry person – and this can range from average grumblings about your daily BART ride, shitty cubicle job and pile of bills to being a full-blown racist, sexist asshole (in which case, you might not realize you’re an angry person…) – try mindfulness.

It’s a big word, but it’s easier than it sounds. As the Slate article mentioned, “Violent crimes are committed by people who lack the ability to regulate and modulate their response to perceived danger. This is not a hypothesis; it is a fact.”

And: “Engaging in mindfulness teaches us to observe our feelings without being driven to act on them.” According to the author, more than 1,000 studies have been published linking mindfulness to improved brain function, including in the area responsible for a person’s natural fight-or-flight response.

We know it’s possible. We are aware of statistics and sciences that tell us how to aid people with violent tendencies. There’s just that pesky business of actually instilling it.

Unfortunately, we could make five-minute meditations required by law in every household in America, and we still wouldn’t fully “cure” hate. We wouldn’t fully “solve” anger. We wouldn’t fully “fix” stupid. There will always be racists, sexists, homophobes and violent criminals. That’s an unfortunate fact of human nature. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

My mom sent me an imgur post entitled “Advice from some old people.” The 20th and final piece of advice says:

“When you meet someone for the first time, stop and realize that you really know nothing about them. You see race, gender, age, clothes. Forget it all. You know nothing. Those biased assumptions that pop into your head because of the way your brain likes categories, are limiting your life, and other people’s lives.”

Boom. Brilliant. Well played, Mama Dorn (she knows I’m a sucker for those social media messages that reaffirm my life philosophies). I met so many people on my big trip last year. They were from all sorts of backgrounds, races, religions and beliefs. Some of them spoke languages I couldn’t understand or prayed to gods I hadn’t heard of. But it was so, so easy to spend five minutes of my life introducing myself and getting to know them.

Would I have engaged these strangers if I wasn’t a lone traveler looking for company and new experiences? I don’t know. I’d like to think so. I remember when I was younger, I thought I had an uncanny ability to find common ground – even if just the slightest bit – with anyone I met. I thought I was unsually lucky or overly friendly or dangerously trusting.

Now I know differently. Every single person in the world has that capability. We all share the simplest common ground there is: humanness. Recognizing that and practicing mindfulness is the next, more difficult step, apparently.

Maybe it would do us all good to start our days with a five-minute meditation. When I do, I can literally feel my controlled breath being pushed into each part of my body. It fills up my skull, trickles down my back and arms, numbs my legs and finally tickles my toes. It makes me feel small, in a good way; a reminder that I’m just one small part of a gigantic universe. It, as is advertised, calms me. It prepares me for the day ahead.

I find myself craving those five minutes on days I don’t have the time. All I want is to have those few moments of mindfulness. It makes me think that slowly and surely we can at least make a dent in fixing stupid, solving anger and destroying hate. Maybe we can, as we so often hashtag, help love win.

What if it’s really that simple?

Five minutes. Once a day. Breathe in, breathe out…

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