The danger of civility

Who else was brought up to always be civil?

Politeness is a premium for a lot of people. That means that if you don’t agree, you find a way to navigate the conversation by agreeing to things you don’t agree with or by maybe making a tactful counterpoint. To make any argument you are expected to keep your voice calm, demonstrate control over your body and finish off conversations with polite enquiries. I heard myself thank her though I was I left angry by a call.

But what if there are many things in your life that make you angry, make you want to rage. I have been exploring these thoughts in my writing. Mainly it seems through pathetic fallacy where storms rage around a character as the anger bursts out. But when anger burst out in real life, I am not sure that it does feel like a massive storm.

Pain, the place from where your anger spurts forth, is interior. I studied the excellent The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry many years ago and I think about how it reduces the body to a mind without language. It is possible this is true for psychological pain as much as for a body harmed. Pain, anger, both of these things are all-absorbing. The world outside us swallowed up and if we truly give in to this pain, any wail comes from gut-deep. It bursts from inside, Alien-style, truly gut-wrenching anger is barely a metaphor for what happens inside.

Feeling out of control, at the mercy of outside forces, that is like the storm metaphor that comes up over again in my work. The world seems chaotic. No one can agree. The politics that I can’t bear to mention that seems to be ripping us apart in this country, well that should cause us pain. There are problems that are not being solved because we are so focused on Europe right now and we do have a right to be angry about that.

And isn’t that the real problem of learning civility at your mother’s knee? Born into people-pleaser people, let’s not make a fuss. Keep quiet about your anger or if you are seeing things going wrong: don’t make a scene. Does that ring true for anyone else? Because at times I wonder that we are not all more angry.

I write under the influence of my own anger. Right now, this week, I am trying to tackle the system. The one that is supposed to offer the right support for my son. And it makes me angry. Our needs, his needs being ignored are hard to stomach. Negotiating a complex system is hard enough but it comes with a side of this anger at a broken system. Because when people say the right thing but do not do the right thing, they are playing the civility game too. Built into our bureaucracy. When I deal with people, whether they are being helpful or not, I have to be polite. It is supposed to be collaborative you see.

And so when I write about anger I know I may never get down on paper how this feels. I hear instead the charge in my head of another’s more powerful words, “RAGE, RAGE, against the dying of the light…”

And then sit down politely at the meeting, smile, wish you good afternoon because we were all raised to be civil, weren’t we?

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