Only afterwards did it strike me: two major news stories yesterday morning – two out of six – were about claims of personally directed verbal abuse.
One – John Terry, the former captain of England’s football team. The other – Andrew Mitchell, the recently-appointed Government Chief Whip. Both men – one in his old job, the other in his new – responsible for the discipline of others. Both being judged on the basis of credibility: did he or didn’t he say what he said and, if so, what was intended?
How sad. Why?
First – of course – no one in such high profile roles should even get near having such accusations made. That really is down to a lack of professionalism. There are plenty of people in the public eye who, for just the same reason, keep a very tight rein on what they are seen to do, heard to say. They may be no better than anyone else but, for the sake of the role they play, they patrol the borders of their lives very closely.
Second, it’s sad that attacking someone else’s character is such a common outlet for our frustrations.
I’m assuming that neither of these men had any direct, personal reason for the direction or nature of their abuse. No, it seemed, in each case, that something triggered the pent-up feelings. The button was pressed. The bullet fired.
It’s probably not that different form kicking the wall. Or the cat. Or the car – as in road-rage or Basil Fawlty (you know, the one with the turkey and the tree branch……no?) But sometimes it gets personal and deeply offensive. What’s going on?
I suppose the comparison with road-rage is the nearest. In front of us is a person who, for a moment or two, we can really see as responsible for how we are feeling. It’s him. It’s her. Get rid of them and things will be better. So we cut them down with whatever weapons are to hand. That person’s colour, faith, social class, income level – whatever can be held to represent them in some way is legit for our attack.
The problem is that such aggression is never going to make us feel better. There will always, always be frustrating situations, annoying people. Which is why, increasingly, anger management can be part of the ‘sentence’ handed down if such attacks come to court.
Better to deal with it at source. We’re never going to be able to sort our own lives by controlling others. Other people have their own lives. I can’t control them. I can’t expect them to fit with me all the time. I’m the only one I can have any chance of controlling.
I like very much this emphasis in one of Paul’s ‘early church’ letters: “Live creatively, friends. If someone messes up, forgivingly restore him. Save your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Gently and humbly reach out to those who are having a hard time. Share their problems. Doing this fulfils what Jesus taught about ‘loving others’. If you think you are too good for that, you’ve got serious problems too ………… Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”
Yes, as I said, I like the advice very much. It would sort today’s problem totally. But doing it?
Thank God for Jesus.
By Nigel O’Dwyer who lives and works in Worthing. He leads Goring New Life Baptist Church.