Saturday, December 05, 2015

End-of-semester anger management

Figure 1. Cary Grant does exactly what he's told to do.
It's the end of the semester, and a lot of us are getting a little punchy because of too much work and too little sleep (and yes, we know we are privileged to be academics at all).

I've been operating under the "two phrases" nonconfrontational approach recently. Some things are worth fighting for or about, and some aren't. If the subject is the latter and is a low-stakes situation, I think of these.

The first is "a soft answer turneth away wrath." On a collaborative project recently, one longtime collaborator used some phrasing in an email that would normally have made me send a blistering reply. But it's clear we're all under a lot of stress with this project and that zie was feeling it. I sent a more diplomatic email and received an apology, where a blistering one would have made the whole thing worse. The length and strength of the collaborative relationship helped.

The second is from the movie Gunga Din,* which I don't think I have ever watched beyond the opening scene. In the opening scene, you're introduced to the three main characters, of whom Cary Grant is one, and they're all brawling with a bunch of other men (I don't remember why).

In the midst of the brawl, Cary Grant pushes one of the men to the window.  A sergeant watching from below says, "Hey, take your hands off that man."

Grant does as he's told, and the man promptly falls out the window (but of course isn't hurt). He shrugs as if to say, "What? You told me to do it, and I did."

Here's how "take your hands off that man" is helpful.  The hardest thing to learn as an adult is that (1) you're not in control of everything and (2) sometimes you have to shut up and let decisions that you wouldn't agree with take their course. Maybe things will work out.

But say you've worked hard on something, or informed someone of the likely consequences of an action, maybe a couple of times.  The committee or person isn't listening.  There's nothing you can do. What do you do in that case? "Take your hands off that man."

Obviously you need to continue to press your point if it's a high-stakes situation, but if not? Think Cary Grant and release your grip.

* (Yes, I know: racism, imperialism, colonialism, war, violence, etc. etc. etc.)


Janice said...

You're right that sometimes it is both wise and sane to choose stepping back from the angry response or further engagement. There have been some really stupid decisions enacted here at my university and while I've weighed in, I do so only to the level of sane engagement. I could poor my life into a fight but how many of these are worth that much effort? Darned few!

Glad that you have some chances to keep your perspective and a bit of humour with which to view the problems.

sophylou said...

I have someone I would so very much like to line up to a window and then have someone say "Take your hands off that person." Oops! They fell! What can I do? So sad! Carry on! (Wow! Look at how much easier things are suddenly!)

In this particular situation, there is going to have to be a come to Jesus event, likely an email, possibly a meeting with others present to make it stuck, because a line is really being crossed. But one can dream of a convenient window and a convenient order...

undine said...

Janice--it's the humor that keeps frustration from being overwhelming, sometimes.

sophylou--that's it exactly! "You told me to let go and I did. Too bad about the window, isn't it?"

sophylou said...

The trick is getting them lined up juuuuuuust right in that window...