Years ago, I attended a week-long summer camp for high school students with deep intellectual and artistic interests.
Every morning, the host organization’s leader would make us go out in the yard, run a bit and then sing the national anthem. Sometimes, if we hadn’t followed all instructions the day before, we would have to run a bit longer. At other times, like when we went out hiking, some of us might get shouted at or be given a lecture about military discipline. At yet other times, we would be instructed about morality or reprimanded for basically being teenagers.
Now, the exercise of this kind of strict authority annoyed me to a great extent. If the camp leader had been in the military (the draft being mandatory for his generation) we, on the other hand, had not. Why then submit us, the high school students, to the same kind of rules and discipline that men fighting for their lives have to live under in order to survive?
I did not always agree with the approach nor the reasoning behind it. There is a particular way in which men involved in the military end up. It makes them seek and require of others almost complete control over the smallest of details. Often, the result is an overly rigid and conservative worldview that sees deviations from tradition as a prelude to chaos. Naturally, this kind of approach was bound to rough up some feathers with a group of teenagers, including me.
Yet, by the end of the camp I ended up having huge respect for the camp leader. I had not changed my mind much. I still did not see the point in his unnecessary rigidity. However, there was a something alluring about his conviction. There was a lesson in the way he acted and thought even if I ultimately disagreed with him.
To be fair, to say I simply disagreed is to leave out the emotional side of the interaction. Indeed, not only did I disagree, I was also furious inside. There were many time where I simply felt fed up with the whole ordeal.
Nonetheless, I kept listening and tried to stop emotions from clouding my judgement. As long as I could see a point in the camp leader’s behavior, I tried to learn from him. And exactly because I was aware of my emotions, I forced myself to look for a point in his behavior twice as hard as normal. Eventually, I came to see that he had his own point of view and principles behind it. That, I could respect.
Sadly, today the new normal for emotionally charged conversations is to be offended and try to shut down any further communication. Instead of a warning in the service of greater attention to the other, anger has turned into an excuse to deny all attention whatsoever.
Far from a mere assault on curiosity, such attitude towards emotionally charged disagreement is also a conscious choice of division among us. Continue reading The Anger is Why You Have to Listen