Savoir-faire has gone out of fashion lately. I think savoir-faire is an elegantly beautiful skill that belongs in everyone’s social toolkit. Savoir-faire is knowing what to do and what to say in any situation. A synonym for savoir-faire is “tact”. I choose to use the term savoir-faire because its French origins remind me of the French origins of etiquette.
Savoir-faire is especially useful when dealing with situations for which we use the idiom “button pushing”. We use some form of the term when something seriously annoys us such as, “When somebody cuts in line my buttons are pushed.”
The advent of the Internet and of social media has increased the level of social friction. Content producers and fund-raisers have learned to use button pushing to attract new consumers and believers. The term “hot button issues” is also a popular idiomatic phrase. Religious and political leaders have honed hot-button issues to a fine art. Two of the hottest hot button issues of the day are immigration and gay civil rights. These topics are so polarized that many of us try never to bring them up in polite conversation.
If we’re going to thrive as a society and a civilization, we need to ask ourselves some sober questions about our beliefs and the religious and political leaders who insert the hot button controversies into our belief systems. How does their use of hot button issues manipulate us as levers that work to their benefit? In other words, what’s in it for them? More to the point is, why do we allow our buttons to be pushed by these folks?
We choose our own emotional buttons, so we’re ultimately responsible for our reactions when they’re pushed. As long as we have big political/religious buttons or smaller personal buttons we run the risk of losing rational control of our speech and behavior when we allow the buttons to be pushed.
On the personal level, perhaps we are walking down the street together. One of the passersby is wearing brightly colored spiked hair, her body is covered with tattoos. She nearly collides with us because she is concentrating on her smart phone. We step out of her way yet she offers no apology for her neglectful way of walking. How many of our tender, sensitive buttons have been pushed during this brief encounter? Or do we have buttons that relate to any of these things?
Do we notice our anger simmering to a boil during this scenario? We can ask ourselves why these things trigger us. Is there some underlying issue? Are the buttons present because of unresolved personal issues of our own making? Why really is the hot button such a big deal to us personally? Is the issue something we were taught by others that they believe should be important? Is it a personal aversion? Why do we allow ourselves to get all worked up over other people’s business?
We can take some slow, deep breaths and accept that people are not creatures of logic, nor are they obligated to conform to our personal beliefs. People–all of us–are emotional creatures bristling with prejudice. In some ways, we are motivated by pride and vanity. We think the world would be a better place if only people behaved the way we believe they should behave. What we forget is that they believe we should behave in ways that they believe are best. This results in the stalemates we find ourselves in.
The wise teacher Shantideva had this to say:
“Why be unhappy about something
If it can be remedied?
And what is the use of being unhappy about something
If it cannot be remedied?”
If our buttons are frequently pushed, we can remember that angry people blame each other for feelings of powerlessness and lack of control. We can stop feeling that the other people have more power over us when we remember that if we feel helpless, they also feel helpless in some way. We are players in an interdependent world game. In the process, compassion gets thrown under the bus when we allow our buttons to be pushed. That is one reason why I keep harping on compassion in so many bluejayblog posts. This is a good reason to understand our buttons and why we believe we must have them.
Being aware of our buttons and how they can get pushed is important if we wish to live skillful, powerful lives. When we contemplate our hot buttons and use compassion as the safety valve, we possess a good measure of savoir-faire.