Thursday, 24 February 2011 14:51

Who controls your attention?

Written by 

Yesterday I was in front of my house, pulling old weeds, raking out the last of the leaves and plant debris, and generally prepping my yard for spring flowers.  We live on a fairly busy street with lots of traffic.  I was tired, cranky, and covered in plant crap.  The last thing that I felt was sexy or attractive.  Yet, still, inevitably people driving by honked or whistled at me.

Righteous indignation is usually the order of the day for this kind of behavior.  Aren't I supposed to get up, yell, and curse about these stupid savages?  Does just sitting back and taking it make me less of a strong and independent woman?  Am I quietly encouraging patriarchy by not standing up to these sexist fools?

Absolutely not.  Rather, I am discouraging this kind of behavior in the most effective way possible: I am refusing to give it any of my attention and energy whatsoever.  These kind of actions are driven by a single desire: to get a response. No rational person would think that merely honking at someone while driving by on a street would get them anything more than that. But the reaction is enough; it is the reward that encourages repitition of behavior.  Whether the reaction is angry, irritated, or pleased, it doesn't matter. An irrelevant fool got my attention and changed my state of mind for a split second.  In that split second, they have exerted control over me.  Granted it's a tiny, tiny bit of control, but it conveys the message: if I act like an obnoxious jerk, I can control others' reactions and change their state of mind.  With enough reinforcement given away freely by pissed off women flipping them the bird at their honks and whistles, these attention-seekers feel very empowered in their jackass ways.

Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK, and other such rabble rousers would be nowhere without the counter-protests.  Their actions control large groups of people to come out en masse, draw a lot of attention to them, and possibly even get violent (which is all the more delightful to such groups. It gives them a chance to prove their goodness and innocence.)  They thrive on the attention you feed them. They love to be hated because that anger is an energy that they feed on.

So I did exactly what they didn't want me to do: I kept on working in my garden, not even lifting my head to see who or what was making the noise. I acted as if they didn't exist. I refused to let them change the course of my day, even for a split second. I had a lot of yard work to get done and no attention-seeking fool was going to distract me from it.

When I was in college, I was a member of the Student Government Association.  The KKK had planned a march right near our college.  We at the SGA decided to do the best thing to take the wind out of their sails: we planned a big barbecue and free concert at the exact same time on the other side of campus.  Encouraging college students to come out for music and food was far more healthy to our student body than paying attention to a group that thrives on their energy created by anger and outrage.  The KKK never returned to our campus when nobody came out to see their little freakshow.

That morning while working on my yard, I could have taken up the mantle of the righteous crusader, calling for respect for all women and not being happy until every drive-by honker has learned about socially acceptable behavior and equality.  But then, I would have sentenced myself to not being happy for a very, very long time, if ever.  By playing that game, I automatically lose.

Empowerment means being in control of my own life.  When someone annoys me and I feel the urge to react, I stop and ask myself one question that has saved my inner peace and well-being time and again: Am I in charge of this action, or is someone else?