The expostulations and exclamations witnessed on our parliamentary benches in the last 24 hours following the Supreme Court ruling against Boris Johnson’s government, brings home the importance of individual words used during debate and argument.
When we are passionate about a subject or a person or a product, it is sometimes impossible to hold feelings in check. No wonder that, when our passions have been enraged rather than inflamed, we find it easier to turn to the written word.
Historically, lovers disengaging from a difficult relationship, or who find disengagement difficult, have resorted to Dear John letters. These days, that process has been commuted to farewell texts: sorry, this isn’t working for me and I don’t want to see you again.
For employers unable to manage the confrontation of an unexpected or unfair dismissal, the formal letter of notice is used in place of conversation and employees’ desks are cleared and their belongings boxed before they have time to think, let alone speak.
Technology helps us hide from ugly truths. Texts, emails, Facebook statuses – all impart personal bad news without a word being spoken. At work, claims that vital databases might be misused by ‘unwanted’ staff enables their forcible and instant expulsion.
It’s a shock, then, to turn on the TV and remember what enraged passion looks like. To see educated adults screaming at each other. It is not a beautiful sight, but what it does is reveal and acknowledge the raw pain of rejection, the humiliation of it. On all sides.
It is so much easier to be measured about bad news when you’re gifted thinking time to manage either its delivery or the response. We can express rejection or regret without burning bridges. But… that requires a nuanced vocabulary and a duty of care.
To disarm the other person while acknowledging their feelings and counter-arguments is a rare skill. It is one that social media trolls who threaten to rape the women and humiliate the men who disagree with their views, patently lack. It is not, however, one that our politicians generally lack despite boisterous debate. They use the law, policy, reports, manifestos and guidelines – all written – to deliver both good news and bad.
So what a shock it was to see the unbridled fury underneath the carapace of gentility. Not boisterous but bullying. As someone who favours face-to-face discussion in even the darkest situations, it’s a salutary lesson. When I am at my most enraged I shall in future bite my tongue and manage my emotions on paper or a screen, until I can hold it…..