Some of you may have seen this video already, it’s about a month old. I share it not to shame anyone but as a discussion tool. The video is of a woman in JCPenny’s who lets loose on some other customers because they do something that she doesn’t like. If you haven’t seen this video then it is likely you have seen or heard of something similar happening recently. In this time of intense discomfort, confusion, and fear there are people who are lashing out at innocent people in public. And, I believe that is our responsibility as people of integrity and connection that we do something to point out that actions like this are not only inappropriate but also wrong. There is a simple technique I learned in my years working for the airlines that is powerful in it’s simplicity. I can’t guarantee it will always work but, in my experience, it has helped many a tense situations. I want to share it with you.
When someone is being outrageously rude, cruel or abusive they build their sense of power on those who either silently or verbally agree with them. When someone is speaking in a degrading manner to others they also rely on the fact that many people prefer not to get involved. They rely on the fact that even if others may not agree they won’t actually do/say anything. You can see in the above video people are not actually looking directly at her, including the targets of her attack. You can feel the discomfort of the crowd.
The simple act that you can do when something like this is happening to you or around you is to become the observer. Stop what you are doing, do not hide your eyes or reduce your energy in the face of this, and look at the person who is acting in this way. When a situation happens in public we are all a part of the energy of the situation. If we are there we are a part of it. I guarantee you that everyone in hearing range of her voice was experiencing some level of emotional response. That emotional response feeds the situation, whether you agree or disagree with what she is saying. If it arouses an emotion, any emotion, you are feeding energy to the situation. When we change our energy, move ourselves from the unwitting participant to the observer, the energy shifts and we empower those around us to also change their energy, including the person who is being abusive. Holding our space without threat to the abuser or anyone else, can deflate the swirl of rage the attacking person feels, to the point that there is no more energy for them to continue. And it just trails off…..
So, simply, choose to disengage your energy from the abusive situation and observe. Turn your full body to the person speaking the abuse, and rest your eyes on them. Make full, unwavering eye contact with them, not as a challenge, but as the observer who thinks “I see you. Do you see you?” This is not an aggressive or threatening stance but it is energetically challenging, because it refuses to participate or feed the energy of the encounter, and it can be humbling to the person who is being verbally abusive. It’s important that you don’t say anything to them. A verbal response could goad them to get louder and more abusive and possibly turn their anger on you. And then you are participating again. But if you remain strong in your space and silently confident in your observations you create a space for the person caught up in their rage/fear to find space in your observation to see themselves and what they are doing. This can often be enough for them to experience their own shame, instead of projecting it on the other person, their target, and they will stop. It is important to note that if alcohol, drugs, weapons or physical violence is occurring the person may be past the ability to reach this place, and, if this approach is to work you would have to be practiced and experienced in holding your space in this way to sway the energy of the situation enough to alter it. Physical safety is always first.
I invite you to practice this response anytime you find yourself feeling uncomfortable or triggered by someone else’s actions/words. Everyone has the ability to remove their energy from a situation and be the observer. All it takes is practice.
So practice. We may need your experience in the future.
We are the ones we have been waiting for. It is on us to do this work.
Here is an article about how silent protest can be a powerful tool.