You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Asshole

September 15, 2010

After Monday’s detour from the ongoing series of guest contributors, I’m excited to get back into it with a post from skeptic all-star Heidi Anderson. I first met Heidi at the Center For Inquiry (CFI) Leadership Institute this summer, where she was a keynote speaker and I a lowly panelist. Our remarks that weekend were on a similar theme — our shared belief that a little bit of niceness goes a long way when engaging with people who have different beliefs. Both of our remarks were met with a bit of opposition (okay, hers more than mine), and with the “War Over ‘Nice’” (c/o Daniel Loxton) reaching a frenzy in the secular blogosphere, I invited her to follow Lucy’s lead and weigh in here for our ongoing series of guest posters. It’s an honor to feature her on NonProphet Status. And now: Heidi!

yellingPeople generally think I am a nice person. I am chubby (like Santa!), I smile a lot, and I try to make friends wherever I go. I am an extremely loyal friend, and almost pathologically helpful. Give me a uniform and a box of cookies, and you might mistake me for a Girl Scout.

But churning beneath my bubbly exterior beats the heart of a bitch.

From an early age I have known about the horrors people inflict upon each other, and recognized the capacity in each of us for harming others. I distinctly remember the feel of biting into my cousin Sterling’s arm (sorry) at age 5 when he made me angry, and how good it felt to release the anger onto the deserving party. He certainly never tried to steal my toys again, at least not that day.

I grew up, of course, and relegated my biting to far more interesting situations. I learned how to manage my anger, something all adults do. We learn when you have a strong feeling, you need to stop, calm down, and think rationally before acting. As I used to tell kindergartners, hands are not for hitting and words are not for hurting. Grown-ups act… well, grown up!

I have been professionally involved with helping victims of sexual assault and domestic violence for 16 years, and even before that, I was the one all my friends came to when in crisis. I am extremely protective of people who have been oppressed or abused, and enjoy being the one who can stand up for them. But whereas Ghandi and MLK used the power of love to affect change, I was inwardly more Malcolm X.

Once, after about two years of going to court with abused women, I was on a girl’s weekend with co-workers. Someone asked which superpower we would choose to have, and my friends chose flying, invisibility, teleportation, and other cool things.

Me? I wanted the “touch of death” — the ability to selectively touch people and have them drop dead 10 minutes later. Charming, no?

With all this righteous anger, fellow skeptics and atheists might think I am more than comfortable with the “dick” label, because, after all – it comes naturally to me! My sister and I learned from our father, a professional dick, how to verbally beat people up to get what we wanted. We were good at it too! How proud he must have been to have a daughter who once got a great deal on a truck for her husband by calling the salesman a “lazy, coke-headed, whoremonger whose lifestyle I was not paying for.”

But in the real world, the professional world, do I walk around screaming at the wife beaters and child rapists I see on a regular basis? Do I call the judge who refuses an Order of Protection to one of my clients an ignorant misogynist? Do I punch the School Principal who tells me my son is “violent” for pointing his fingers like guns? Do I strangle the male audience member at the DragonCon panel who suggests that women just need to CALM DOWN?? Ok, the last one almost happened, but it was a rough weekend.

Wise Canadian Jedi Masters once taught me that if what I have to say is important, it is important enough to make sure people hear it. Emotion can be used effectively in communicating a message, but strategic use of emotion is far more effective when used as part of a plan to achieve certain goals.

What is the goal of talking about the safety and importance of vaccinating your child? Is it to increase public support of vaccines? Is it to get people talking about it? Is it to present an alternative viewpoint with anti-vaxxers? Or is it to express our anger and frustration at those we feel are purposefully endangering children? While those feelings are certainly valid, haphazard emoting that makes us feel better is far less important than protecting future children.

I am still a bitch. I still get angry, and I still struggle with the anger beneath my skin. When I spoke to the CFI Leadership Institute this past summer, about this very issue, my presentation was unintentionally ironic in the harshness of its tone and delivery. Even this past weekend, when questioned by a member of the audience at while on a panel at DragonCon, I apparently lost my temper and looked like I wanted to eat his face. I am far from perfect.

But I have committed to using critical thinking and skepticism while I am trying to promote critical thinking and science. I want my message of rationality to outweigh my need for personal expression. If I want to be treated like and adult and treated professionally, then I must stop acting like a self-centered toddler.

Heidi AndersonHeidi Anderson is a foxy feminist, atheist, skeptic, fat chick, wife, and mom with a hard-core science fetish! She blogs at Fat One in the Middle, is the founder of She Thought, and is a regular voice on the Podcast Beyond Belief.

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6 Responses to “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Asshole”

  1. Hitch said

    I’m all for controlling temper, seeking to be constructive, inviting and all.

    Sadly even if you are all these things people still label you rude when one dares to articulate difficult topics. The only way to not be rude in some areas is to not speak at all. But those areas tend to be exactly those where people to take harm.

    And paradoxically, people who actually are rude, often do not get called on it. Their reaction is justified, or so it seems.

    Or in other words, I wish I’d see fewer category errors around the topic. People who have done nothing but articulate a difficult position are not rude. And people who are rude don’t necessarily articulate anything useful at all. And just because someone uses an unpolished word, does neither mean that they have no point, nor that they suddenly become ineffective.

    “New atheists” are a case in point. These are not rude people, and they are in many ways also not particularly aggressive people, but if we listen to the whole wave of counter-reaction and language-control one is inclined to think that they cannot wait to get the next curse-word in and intentionally offend someone.

    But by bickering over language, we don’t have to discuss the actual topic, so it’s convenient to argue style over substance. And through that we can invalidate a Malcom X and praise an MLK even if their perspectives may have been very well aligned on a topic.

    Instead I think we need more substance over style, more willingness to listen exactly when it is hard, not just when it is pleasant.

  2. Touch of death, ey? WOW that is hardcore!

    I ran a poll on what superpower people would want most, and I liked this one best: “Stopping and starting time as I wish and being able to control who time was stopped for.”

    Runner up: “my super power would be to be able to make anyone believe anything i am saying with deep trust.
    in this way you could have anything, and have anyone, anywhere, anytime. there would be nothing unachievable within the human realm.
    it’d also be cool to impregnate women (or men) with my mind. actually that would be horrible, wouldn’t even get to bust a nut, and they’d never believe i was the dad and then i’d go crazy and to prove i was telling the truth i’d do a dna test, then when it came up positive i’d be put in prison forever, no i don’t like that one……”

  3. Dana said

    I believe in the ‘more flies with honey than vinegar’ way of communicating, especially after reading all the horrible ‘troll’ comments on posts and seeing the level of vitriol in our country, but… I have absolute empathy for the bitch under the skin syndrome…and I do think there are times when it’s appropriate to let it out. And I do.

    I have two superpowers I’d like to have:

    1. the ability to find lost pets – nothing breaks my heart more than seeing those lost pet signs posted.

    2. the ability to make people fart audibly – would Sarah Palin or Dubya have made it as far as they have/did if they had uncontrollable flatulence? Slightly kinder than the touch of death. 🙂

  4. […] NonProphet Status « You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Asshole […]

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