Knee Jerk Syndrome is common in humans worldwide, but we see an uptick in North American cases about every four years. Symptoms seem to have a direct relationship with the presence of red, white and blue yard signs, polling phone calls and incendiary political social media postings. Symptoms include high blood pressure, spontaneous religious or political rants on a wide array of topics, hives, ticks, and general crankiness. Scientists are unclear as to the root causes as well as cures. Researchers liken Knee Jerk Syndrome to the common cold: comes out of nowhere, highly contagious, and remedies prove only moderately useful. Most doctors advise patients to rest and ride it out. Side effects include loss of friends, loss of patience, loss of all ability to hear another person, loss of reason, control and a decreasing ability to display courteous interpersonal skills.
I seem to have caught a residual Knee Jerk bug. I thought I was immune because I know how to walk away. I know how to reason. I know how to prevent these things. Regular hand washing, cleansing the mind, a good night’s sleep and a conscious decision to stay out of any and all potentially contentious conversations.
Alas, there is no vaccine, and I…I was weak. And in the weeks after the election, when many of the most horrifying cases have been resolved, I have a major case of Knee Jerk Syndrome. Heavy on the JERK.
This week I found myself looking for a fight. I could find one just about anywhere. On Twitter, some ding dong was spouting off about the labor dispute at Hostess. Also on Twitter, another highly educated person went on and on about the origins of our nation. On Facebook, the kind of moronic one-sided vitriol continued to spiral out of control. (You’ll note my less than kind descriptors which indicate I’m still in the throes of KJS, but I’m getting to that.)
A person who does not suffer from KJS has an easy life. She scrolls through her feeds and chooses to comment on the cute puppies or the straight As somebody’s kid earned. Unaffected, she may choose an even wiser path by avoidng altogether the noise of social media. She would not have to hear the unrelenting stream of unedited humanity, as if it were one giant Emergency Room, where everyone is oozing their pain and blood and ick all out in the open. She does not need the Emergency Room, because she does not have KJS.
But I, in my weakened state, chose these ridiculous battles. It’s called Knee Jerk for a reason, folks. I walked right in, ready to put up my dukes because I was ready to be offended, ready to fight for a cause. Any cause. Give me a cause. This was my rookie mistake: taking up the gauntlet of protest and righteous indignation only makes the symptoms worse. In fact, repeated gauntlet lifting and throwing will exacerbate the illness and prolong its hold.
I forgot, in my mind-numbed condition, that while true discourse can happen online, it takes a practiced hand. To engage in a conversation, a dialogue, it takes the ability to set one’s self aside. It requires that instead of fiercely tapping away at the keyboard in anger, one await the response from the other. One also must understand that there will most likely be no resolution; there will be no Ah-ha moment for the person on the other end of the wires. It is highly unlikely that either party will convince the other.
After a few days of this kind of idiocy, I realized my role in the problem. My friend Kristin wrote about a definition of love that is raw and open. I began to describe for her the morons I kept encountering, and then I asked,
Is it true that like attracts like?
If it is, then I was the source of the bitterness. I was the source of anger. I was allowing it into my life. By refusing to let someone’s comments pass unchallenged, I was stirring the pot. I could not judge them as morons unless I was willing to ascribe myself the same name.
Most of all KJS robs of of our ability to obey the best command (one that even people who do not ascribe to a faith system can easily follow). If I am about love, if I am about being quick to listen and slow to become angry, if I am about seeing something mighty and eternal in another, then I will walk away from fights; I will avoid starting them in the first place; I will conquer KJS.