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Quite often, I will come up with topics to write about from conversations I have had in various settings at a variety of times.

While having coffee with a new friend and discussing options for a piece I will be writing for their organization’s official publication, I pulled this quote out of the deep dark depths of my memory banks to describe general attitudes around particular historical situations.

I’m fairly certain you can picture the type… they cling to their bitterness like a country club high society madam clutching her pearls while letting on that the pitcher on the table is water when it is straight up gin.  Heavens to betsy, let go of old grievances and hates?  Impossible!!  (Extreme pearl clutching).  Don’t you know that it is a waste of time to talk to those people, I already know how it will turn out it has always been the same way!!  (Gulp from “water” pitcher and clutch pearls even tighter.)

Can you see the ridiculous nature of it yet?  Pick a few words from that last sentence, already and always.  In my career, I took one year away from the madness of the world of high tech to go and teach.  One of the items in one of the courses was to uncover your filters around those two words, your already-always filter.  Once you see it, you will catch yourself every time you pull it out and apply it to what’s occurring.  I ALREADY know it will be this way, it ALWAYS is that way.  Where in your own world do you regularly pull that out and apply it to a situation?

And before you go thinking I’m preaching at you and about your faults, get real, I’m the first one to notice every time I do that, and I do it every single day.  The difference being, I know when I do it, and I can push it to one side and look over and around it to see what the reality is.  And is it only a certain group of the human race that does this?  Nope!  We ALL do it.  If you’re breathing and have a regular heartbeat, you qualify.  Is this a bad thing?  Not always, it is just an automatic thing we all do.

Let me give you an example.  You have a doctor’s appointment at 2:00 pm on Monday.  You already know that the waiting room will be overflowing with people and that you will likely not be called until 2:30 pm, because that is always the way things are, so you had best bring something to read or a puzzle to do so you aren’t bored.  Is this bad?  Nope.  It is likely a sign of an overbooked or mismanaged practice.  But, once it has occurred enough times, it will become one of your standard Already-Always filters that you will apply to every similar situation.  You need to see a specialist, you have an appointment, you bring things to occupy yourself because you already know that you will have to wait, it’s always that way in EVERY doctor’s practice.  See how fast you use it for every time something similar arises?  Imagine your shock when you get to the specialist’s office, check in at reception, and just as you are lowering your backside into a chair to settle in for a read, they call your name.  Thrown off a little, eh?  Not expecting that, it’s outside of your expected pattern.

Already-always is that one filter that contributes greatly to people hanging on to their bitterness about some historical event.  In our conversation over coffee that afternoon, my fellow traveler brought up a situation that was horribly misreported by the mainstream media, and a friend of his did one of those, “SEE!!  They are all the same!!  Each and every one of them!!  Nothing has changed at all in 40 years!!!!!!!!!”  I said next time he starts on that irrational rant, cut in and ask him this one question, “Do you want to be bitter or better?” and see what kind of reaction you get.

Look, things have happened in the past decades, go back even further to see the horrors visited upon groups of people by other groups of people.  Typically out of ignorance and hatred, easily stirred up amongst the uneducated.  All you need are a few persuasive orators, and watch them work and sway a group to their mindset.  It has happened since the beginning of time, and will continue to take place as long as people are not ready, willing, and able to become better educated about the world they live in and the people around them.

The media in recent years, in concert with antisocial media (it was useful at one time, these days it is a hotbed of hatred and vitriol and some really out there opinionated claptrap), fall into this trap on a regular basis.  Something took place 50 years ago.  Much work has been done in the intervening years, both sides of that fight sat down at a table and got to know each other, and started a conversation where everybody had a voice and they were all heard.  Changes have been made, new things implemented, and bridges have been built.  Then something happens, pretty minor by all accounts.  The fringe media blows it up all out of proportion.  The extreme binaries swing into action on antisocial media (alt-left and alt-right), hurling hatred and accusations of all kinds of misdeeds.  The uneducated types are swayed to one of two polar opposites, and before you know it all kinds of accusations are being hurled across the centre ground where reality is trying to stay functional.  And the bitter people will be the loudest, yelling, SEE, THEY ARE ALL THE SAME, EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM, NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN 50 YEARS!!!  Those folks who were not even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes start jumping on junior warrior bandwagons, carrying signs and burning torches.  And before you know it, those who prefer the better side of that equation are drowned out and ignored or lumped in with the “problem people” because they sit at the same table with them.  In fact, the issue was already discussed, handled, new procedures created, and they’ve moved on to bigger issues.

I think James Baldwin said it in the most eloquent form:

People cling to their hatred, their prejudices, they paint entire swaths of society with the same brush.  And they refuse to see that they are only making the situation progressively worse by their own biases and prejudices.

Bitter or Better?  They prefer bitter.  It’s what keeps them warm at night, all that boiling rage and hatred aimed at an identifiable group.  If they gave that up, they would be forced to deal with pain, and likely a good deal of that was self-inflicted.  And much of it came from groupthink, from what they read on antisocial media, what others told them, and took completely at face value as 100% truth.  I am left to wonder, when did thinking for yourself instead of having your thoughts dictated to you go out of fashion?  I still recall a conversation I was part of around a year ago, when I asked of someone why they were espousing certain views online when they thought differently in the real world?  Oh, it’s what my fans (followers) expect me to do.  Ah, I see.  To gain and keep followers (fans) on antisocial media, you will take up extreme viewpoints as your own.  Mm-hmm.  Not the first time I have seen such things.  Others I know, who consider themselves the spokespeople of an entire identifiable group (talk about ego!), will sit behind their keyboards or screens passing judgments on all and sundry, and defecating all over people and groups who are out there actually getting their hands dirty doing the real work to make change happen.  Give them an opportunity to get involved, and you get pure unadulterated bitterness from that already-always filter.  Even when exposed for the fallacy of their position, nothing will change, they will continue to yell and scream about “injustices” on antisocial media, and will always deem it beneath them to come down from their exalted thrones and actually do work amongst the people.  But, mark my words, I have seen it happen regularly over my lifetime, the minute somebody makes an advance, gains a change for the positive, these are the same characters who will be all over proclaiming to anyone who will listen about how they toiled away to make this happen for all, and are they not just the greatest thing ever.  Puhlease.

Are there situations from my own past that I remain bitter about?  Absolutely!  But, I am still persisting in sitting in meeting rooms and offices and having conversations with people who can change that reality for those who may follow my path.  Do I still judge things based on that filter?   Yes, entirely true.  Is that likely to change any time soon?  I really hope so, as long as I keep working at it to shift it from bitter to better (and my therapist would love to delve into other areas in her office time I’m sure).

And there are places and people I will do anything to avoid.  It’s the better part of the balance.  Go into those situations and interact with those people, and put my mental health at risk because of being triggered by those people or that place, or avoid it, and keep on with the work that I do to keep making progress and cause change for the better.  For instance, there is one organization, that under no circumstances would I work for again.  I was so triggered by events there that I ended up having to go to my local ER for an injection during the night to get through the worst of a panic attack that was completely out of control in that moment.  So, no, I can not see a way of doing any work with that organization again after having had that experience, my mental health means more to me than that.

And there is something similar with one person.  They lashed out with fangs bared and claws extended and I froze up and couldn’t find what I was looking for in that moment or even react in some fashion.  How could you work with those people, they are all liars, racists, homophobes and they cause PTSD for every person in *insert marginalized group of choice here*.  If you work with them, you are just like them.  Oh, I see.  Triggered?  Oh hell yeah, to the extreme, for days afterward.  Someone who knows us both said, “Oh, you got the worst of it this time, she’s been like Linda Blair in The Exorcist lately, I’m just waiting for her head to spin 360 degrees and start projectile vomiting pea soup.”  Stellar.  That rant went on for days on antisocial media, and I’m sure her fan club ate it up.  It made for good theatre for the antisocial media crowd, but numerous bridges were not only burned with a flamethrower that day, but nuclear warheads were used to make sure they don’t get rebuilt.  Will there be future conversation possible?  Perhaps, but it will take time.  People do not bother to realize the impact of their actions and words, but for now, there is no opening for it, I refuse to be triggered like that again.

And while we are at it, let’s agree on a definition of a trigger:

Particularly that last line, I want to use so many times.  People use “that triggers me” or “I’m so triggered by that,” as a weapon to silence dissent or differing opinions.  Not only that, it is a huge slur against people who are battling PTSD and other issues every single day.  Talk to us, we will definitely tell you what a trigger is and how it affects us, much like what you see in that graphic.

Will people ever give up those pearl-clutching already-always bitter moments?  Some will.  It takes time.  It took years of work before some made that breakthrough for themselves and stepped up to be a part of making things better.  Are we there yet?  Oh hell no, there is still much more work to be done, but I see the possibilities now from a lot of years invested in the work there, where there was no hope before.

And if you want to work yourself away from bitter and toward better, get down here, there’s plenty of work to be done, you just have to be willing to get your nails dirty.

Bitter or better, the choice is up to you.  You will create the future you will live into by your choice.