I learned recently about an insect called the trap-jaw ant. It has the fastest snapping jaw of any creature on earth. A trap-jaw ant’s jaws move at 78 to 145 miles per hour. It has hair triggers on its mandibles that cause them to snap shut upon contact with an object. This is how they capture prey and fight enemies.

Ultrafast Animals: The Force Behind Trap-Jaw Ants from American Scientist on Vimeo.

Guys, I might be part trap-jaw ant.

I don’t want to be. But when I am at my most fearful and defensive, I’m basically walking around covered in hair triggers. The world is not an emotionally safe place for the overly reactive. Anything can set you off, and it usually does.

The news. A friend’s opinion. An innocent comment. Tuesday.

When I give in to my reactivity, it feels great. It’s a delicious dopamine-adrenaline cocktail of righteousness, on the rocks.

I wrote this on Facebook one day:

“I’m letting myself get yanked around by my triggers because in the moment, it feels good. Most times, I’m not trying to engage in meaningful discussion or learn or elevate or understand, though that’s what I think I’m doing.

Here’s how I know that’s crap: when I’m centered and ready to communicate (in the actual sense of giving and receiving messages, not just chucking words out into the world like paper-wrapped rocks), my body is calm. But when I see something that pisses me off or tweaks my boundaries and I HAVE TO tell someone else why they are wrong, my body is full of unrest. My pulse is elevated, my breathing is shallow, my hands are flying over the keys because I have to get out my thoughts RIGHT THIS SECOND.

It’s primitive chest-beating. It’s the heady addiction to being right. And it feels fucking wonderful when it’s happening, but after? It’s gross. There’s a bad taste in my mouth. I’m off-balance and sour as milk that has passed its sell-by date. I never, ever feel energized and happy after a confrontation, even when I win.

And I know, then, after the rush is gone, that my father was right: It doesn’t matter who was right or who was wrong. It matters who was kind. I mean that in the most selfish of ways. Because kind feels good. Like, long-lasting, fill you up, nourishing good. I’ll take that over right any day.”

What, then, is there to do?

I don’t want to give up my sensitivity. It’s where I keep my empathy and my goodness-detector and my beauty filter.

I’m a thinking, breathing, feeling, judging being, every conscious moment. It’s difficult, but I can choose not to grab onto my judgment with sticky hands. I can simply choose to notice it. I can choose to be curious.

I can behave like an attentive waitperson at the table that is my own life. I can be watchful and observant and interested. I can be mindful. “Here is a woman who is sad. She is so sad, she thinks the weight of it will crush her. I wonder what will happen? Is there something I can do for her?”

I can dig around in the bottom of my grungy backpack for my sense of humor. It comes with cool accessories like a perspective attachment and a Post It note reminding me that I am responsible for my own happiness.

I can channel Zan from the Wonder Twins and become fluid and persistent as water.

Zan was kinda zen. He embraced his water nature.

Zan was kinda zen. He embraced his water nature.

This is my goal. No more trap-jaw ant, snapping at everything I touch, as if I have no choice. I’m going to be water. Water touches everything, feels everything. And it moves through the world just fine.

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