A trigger in psychological terms means some stimulus that induces an emotional reaction. In recent years, conditions have brought about hypersensitivity in triggers, to the point where may be that triggering is a bigger issue than points of contention. Trigger-happy reactivity is everywhere, including right here in Klickitat County.
Did it really surprise anyone that leaked documents from the leadership of Facebook revealed the company’s deliberate fostering of outrage and indignation among its users, which number about 2.9 billion people around the world? Facebook is a breeding ground for triggers, utilizing emotional shorthands to provoke responses that keep users glued to their Facebook pages. Social media thrives on sharp emotional discontent, the sharper, the better. People get caught up in the riptides of emotionality.
But social media is hardly the sole culprit, or even necessarily the dominant one. There may have been times when politics in this country were as divisive as they are today, certainly during the years leading up to the Civil War (or, as some stalwart Southerners still call it, the War of Northern Aggression, revealing another trigger). But red and blue are no longer colorcoordinated, opposing viewpoints that can readily find commonality; today they mean the dividing lines betwen such polar opposites that the slightest ruffle can become a major trigger. Compromise means surrender, not accommodation.
It’s triggers we need to look more closely at, more so than the issues. Mention masks and vaccination, and battle lines are immediately drawn. Why? Is it the issues themselves that are so inflammatory or our emotional reactivity behind them—which is to say, the triggers?
Some see no difference between the issue and the trigger; there is no space between them. And that is a huge problem.
Primary school students here in Goldendale learn about “The Leader in Me,” a program based on the Seven Habits books and approach of Stephen Covey. Among the very first ideas discussed in that work is that the ability to make clear, productive decisions in life begins with the awareness that there is a difference between stimulus and response, and a gap can be opened up between the two. Lost in reactivity, there is no space between stimulus and response—that’s a trigger—and there is no ability to gain emotional perspective allowing for clearer responses.
Surely if little kids can get this concept, so can the rest of us. It’s time to watch our reactions, how fast they are, how attached we are to being right, how rapidly our emotional responses can ramp up, sometimes wildly out of proportion to the issue behind the trigger. If we don’t, what a world we might leave for the primary school students growing up with a more productive emotional sense than we have.