I’ve written a lot about anger recently. 8000 words in fact; on the neurobiological and evolutionary advantages of this most controversial of emotions. Since I pressed send on those two articles there’s been a lot of happenings to challenge my empirical confidence and I reckon there’s value enough in that reflection to commit to virtual paper here.
We’re an angry bunch at the moment aren’t we? Like a room full of toddlers at the end of a birthday party we’re emotional, exhausted, tear and drink stained, and either high on sugar and e-numbers or furiously upset that our balloon has been stamped on. Then there’s the weary elders gathered at the edges who saw the fallout coming and are dreading home time.
Post election pain
What a time to live in. This election and the political ideas that surround it, as well as the underhand tactics used to win it have really served to highlight the inhabitants of our tiny island quite distinctly into two factions of apparently polarised ideals, each side as outraged at the other. But i’ll stop you there if you thought this was going to be a defense of honest game play over dirty tactics. I’m unashamedly left of centre and a ‘straight up’ kind of person myself, but enough has been written about the evil genius of Dominic Cummings already. You don’t need to hear more dissection here – it’s frustratingly immaterial now that the Brexit capitalist dream train is right on track.
Ok i’ve had my dig. But really – let’s stay curious about this. A lot of people are openly angry and upset – feeling a genuine sense of grief about the current state of things, and many more are feeling distinctly uncomfortable about being surrounded by this heightened feeling. Social media is full of extraordinary emotional heat and its tipping over into public protests and into some brazen demonstrations of racism and prejudice. It’s unsettling to witness and experience. For those who are voicing their anger though there’s an important discharge of helplessness and outrage and fear – at the poor sportsmanship as well as the political ideas and also, let’s be honest here, of their own ignorance.
Learning to Listen to each other
I’m a seasoned parent now – four sons aged 3 through 13, two with neuro-developmental conditions whose nuanced and specialist parenting needs have ‘learned me through wizening experience. It’s counter-intuitive, but the experts reassure us that we don’t always need to break up a disagreement too quick. Neither should we insist little ones instantly share. Negotiation and conflict resolution are life skills that we work out by doing – by recognising that when we cant use bullying tactics to win, we are much more likely to get a better appreciation of each other’s viewpoint and an equitable resolution by hashing it out. I think now our northern mum had the best idea when she would shut my sister and I in a room together until we resolved things, rather than taking the more immediately pacifist approach of separating us or telling us to change the subject and agree to disagree (Dad was more of a ‘bash their heads together’ kind of parent so I think we’ll stick with mum on this one).
I realise it’s considered rather gauche, in England at least, to let the stiff upper lip wobble, but this feels like a coming of age sort of rage to me. Vital to our collective growing up and political maturity. I’m not advocating violence of any kind here nor name calling. Calling, instead, to account and condemning the gloating needn’t mean that we break up the stand off too soon. This kind of transitional anger is a positive sign of people recognising their needs and it would do us well, I believe, to hear and validate it rather than suppress it. Anger is a motivating emotion and much healthier than apathy – lets just hunker down with the collective gin bottle if needs be to weather it.
I’d like to see a grown up conversation about the anger that we’re all feeling and experiencing now, in the last days of 2019. It would be a backward step to banish ourselves to separate spaces to seethe and pretend that the big stuff doesn’t matter anymore because it does. How about we decide instead to set some ground rules for engagement and keep talking? Because that’s the only way any of us will come out of this any less broken.