How To Stop Having A 'Knee-Jerk Reaction' To Everything


Do you ever think back to a television show or movie that you used to really enjoy and, while you still have a powerful amount of nostalgic feelings for it, years later, you can't help but give it major side-eye?

That's how I feel about the original Beverly Hills, 90210. Although the reruns immediately take me back to when I was in high school and even college, Lord, did they have some pretty racially-ridiculous episodes (like the one that had Vivica A. Foxx in it or the one when West Beverly High was scared to have a dance with a Black high school). And where were the Black people?! OK. But I digress.


The reason why I'm bringing it up at all is because there was an episode when fine-as-he-wanna-be Brandon was dating this chick named Emily. One night, she got him on ecstasy without telling him. When he found out and broke up with her, she made up a lame reason to spend the night at his house in order to seduce him. They made out for a bit and then he stopped and told her he was done. The next day, when Emily told Brandon that she didn't believe him because of how into her he was while he was on drugs, he said something that has always stayed with me:

(Paraphrased) "Emily, that was nothing more than a physical reaction…like when your doctor hits you on the knee or something. It didn't mean anything."

Hmph. Don't get me started on how a lot of us could stand to ponder that when it comes to casual sex in general. But when it comes to the focus of this particular piece, as a pseudo-pop-off-in-recovery, there are also some of us who could live a much simpler and peace-filled life if when something or someone triggers us, we wait for the immediate impulse to pass before saying or doing anything too.


Because, like Brandon, oftentimes once the initial feeling subsides, we calm down and our common sense takes over, we tend to see the situation—or at least how to approach it—very differently. Sometimes, whatever "it" was didn't mean as much to us as our feelings first told us that it did.

If you know you are prone to have knee-jerk reactions to everything, here's what I've learned to do in order to reroute taking that kind of approach:

Relax. Relate. Release. Literally.


True A Different World fans know where the phrase "relax, relate, release" comes from—Whitley's therapist (played by Debbie Allen). In one episode, as she was expressing to Whitley that Whitley couldn't control Dwayne's feelings, only her own, the therapist introduced what we all should keep in the back of our minds whenever we're offended, anxious, or straight-up pissed: "You need to relax, relate, and release into reality."

The reality is, oftentimes us going off only makes matters worse. So, no matter what has transpired, take a moment to breathe deeply (relax), think about what's got you so heated (relate), and release as much pop-off energy as possible before saying or doing anything else.

Respond vs. React


Have mercy, the amount of drama I could've spared in my life if I had mastered this, years and years ago. Although responding and reacting might seem like the same thing on the surface, they aren't. When you're responding to something, you're reacting in a way that is favorable (a way that is positive or at least advantageous). When you're reacting, you're either reciprocating what was done to you or you're acting in opposition to something or someone. See how responding is a lot more beneficial than reacting?

Now, I'm not saying that by choosing to respond, you have to be a doormat or punk yourself out. I'm just saying that…if your co-worker says something crazy, if your boyfriend does something inconsiderate, if you and Comcast are having it out for the third time this month (SMH), take a moment to think about what you can say or do that will work in your favor rather than against it. Thinking before doing is the cornerstone wisdom of responding vs. reacting.

Remember That Nothing Is EVER Truly Deleted Online


Two reads that are worth checking are the think piece "Social Media Has Created a Generation of Self-Obsessed Narcissists" and a science-based article "Narcissism and Social Networking." They both provide some interesting food for thought that back up another reason why a lot of us are probably having more knee-jerk reactions than ever—we are constantly taking in info and commenting online. As a direct result, we've become soooooooo opinionated that we sometimes forget that other people have the right to their opinions too; that they shouldn't be cyberbullied into thinking like we do. (Narcissism is a beast, y'all.)

Back when I used to have a Facebook page, I must admit, things were pretty lively on it. It was more of a "Hey, check out this article and let's all discuss" kind of forum and one of my rules was no comment (even when folks came for me) got removed. Boy oh boy, did that lead to some pretty interesting conversations/debates/flat-out arguments.

On one hand, it was cool to see and take in so many different perspectives. At the same time, it can get really easy to be so comfortable sitting in our homes while hamming away at our keyboards that we forget we're not just talking to a handful of individuals. Unless we're inboxing or DM'ing (and even then, things are usually not as "private" as we'd like to think), there is an entire audience of other individuals who are watching (which sometimes means trolling) too. Strangers. Acquaintances. Enemies. Haters. Even bosses or prospective employers.

A wise man once said, "The internet is not written in pencil but ink." When it comes to your online activity, if you find yourself getting offended or even just feeling some type of way, walk away from your computer or put your phone down for 10 minutes or so. Listen to a favorite song or hit up a friend and vent your frustrations before you decide to type anything.

If you don't do that, while you can delete whatever your emotional reaction was, if it was inflammatory enough, there's a chance someone caught it (and saved it) before you could remove it. And shoot, even if you do remove it, when it comes to what's expressed in cyberspace, it's still around…somewhere (check out "Experts: Deleted Online Information Never Actually Goes Away").

Embrace the Sensei Power of Silence


Sometimes, when my pop-off spirit wants to rise up and take over, I'll think back to Mr. Miyagi from the original The Karate Kid. Remember how calm he was when he was teaching Daniel-san how to fight? (#waxonwaxoff) Mr. Miyagi was always so calm and soft-spoken, no matter how mad Daniel got. Why? Because he knew his own power. He didn't have to prove it.

Trust you me, lately, I have been floored by some of the nasty capabilities of human nature. But now, more than ever, I have learned that silence is not only golden, it's oftentimes the most effective approach to matters. Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence." Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Speak only if it improves upon the silence." Euripides once said, "Silence is true wisdom's best reply."

When you know your own strength and power, you also know how important it is to conserve it. Silence is not a weakness. It is a tried and true superpower.

Ask Yourself If You Can Stand by Your Actions a Month from Now


Because I've learned all of what I just shared, I'm going to leave the details out. But something happened to me recently that, let me just say would've had Shellie from two years ago using some of the dirty cuss words. Shellie circa 2019 is like, "I don't even feel like dealing with the fallout later." Avoiding the drama that could ensue from me "getting things off of my chest" makes it worth it to just…leave things where they are.

Back to the whole doctor hitting you on the knee thing, when something or someone gets underneath your skin, it's a natural reaction to what to do something. Don't feel bad about that part. All I'm saying is they already used up some of your precious energy and time, even if it's just internally. Before giving them even more of it, decide if you want to possibly deal with the consequence of your knee-jerk reaction a month or even a year from now. If the answer is "no," then do what you need to resolve the matter without making it bigger than it already is.

Knee-jerk reactions are understandable. More times than not, they are also totally unnecessary.

As someone who used to be the queen of doing what was unnecessary, please choose wisely, y'all.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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