Monday, February 08, 2010

Toughen Up

UK Telegraph columnist Melanie Phillips nails it on a subject that's been on my mind for quite some time:

...Campbell is reflecting the fact that it is only by emoting in public that so many people today believe you have any heart at all. We saw this most spectacularly over the death of Princess Diana, when an ugly public mood threatened the Queen and the Royal Family because of the perception that they were cold and heartless from the absence of public displays of their grief. It was only when the Queen let people glimpse signs of royal sorrow that this danger was defused.

This general attitude has its roots in the therapy culture, which tells us that it is bad for the individual to repress emotion. That doctrine has now developed into the belief that anyone who fails to display emotion is a bad individual. It has produced a culture in which genuine emotion, which is almost always private, is deemed not to exist, while inappropriate or vicarious emotion, or sentimentality, is mistaken for the real thing.

This has the pernicious effect not only of devaluing real feelings such as grief, but elevating histrionics such as self-pity and narcissism. Hence the obsession in our society with 'self-esteem'.

One result of exchanging the stiff upper lip for the trembling lower one is that people become less able to cope with the vicissitudes of life.
Branding the modern practice as 'our culture of emotional incontinence', Phillips goes on to quote the octogenarian Duchess of Devonshire about the generation that lived through World War 2:

As she said, grief was just part of life - people mourned and then got on with their lives. They didn't go on about it and need counselling; nor did they wear their grief like a badge of honour, or as their entry ticket to the human race. To that generation, not just grief but other emotions such as fear were both private and restrained. To be otherwise would have demoralised others and courted defeat or disaster.
Today's behaviour in parading in public ones private griefs is, indeed, something that weakens us. It is yet another symptom of the softening nature of Western society that may see it overrun by more resilient cultures before the end of the current century.

-- Nick

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