Yes you read it right. Brexit and RP. Today I'm going to attempt to look at Brexit. Well everyone else is talking about it, so I thought I might as join in and see how RP fits into all this. I must immediately apologise to the BOB's (Bored Of Brexit) out there who will probably be signing off at this point and reading no further. See you again on the next blog, when normal service will resume. To the rest of you fasten your seat belts because we are going to explore the amazing world of shame, one of the often over-looked aspects of RP, and how this may prove central to the situation in which Britain, Ireland and the EU find themselves in at the minute. At the outset may I say that I am no political expert, nor economic one for that matter. My area of interest is RP and how this relates to pretty much every aspect of life, from teaching to rearing children, or from coaching the U8's to leading a €3 trillion economy out of the EU.
Firstly though, what is shame? The most commonly held definition is that it's a painful feeling caused by consciousness of doing something wrong. So, for example, if you were to break your mother's Waterford Crystal vase (true confession in case you hadn't guessed), you would feel ashamed (and most likely still feel a pang at the thought of it - sorry mum, again). RP though has a slightly broader definition of shame, seeing it as occurring any time our experience of a positive emotion is interrupted. So, in the example given above (even though I hate going back to it - it's been 35 years now) my positive emotion of playing football inside the house was rudely interrupted when the "incident" occurred, and I felt shame as a result. The crucial difference with the RP definition however is that for shame to occur in this sense, you don't actually have to do something wrong yourself. Think about people who have had their house broken into, or suffered an attack, and how they often they talk about feeling ashamed, even though they've done nothing wrong, and even when they're told by everyone they've nothing to be ashamed of. People feel ashamed too when someone they know has done something wrong - think of the shame a parent feels when their child has seriously misbehaved and someone else has been affected. In cases like these they have done nothing wrong either but their positive emotion has been interrupted, and they cannot avoid the resultant shame.
So how does this relate to Brexit you ask? Well imagine a nation as having a collective sense of positive emotion. One way to describe this would be a feeling of pride (the counterfoil to shame). Most people would agree that a Britain would say their's is a very proud country (you could probably argue that each and every country could say that they are proud, Ireland included). So what has happened Britain's sense of positive emotion/pride lately? Leaving aside the arguments that they may or may not have done this to themselves, I would contend that their country's sense of pride has been well and truly interrupted lately (a bit like me breaking that vase). They are the butt of a hundred new jokes a day in the European Parliament (never mind around the rest of the internet). They voted to leave a club and now find it's all a lot more complicated than they thought and they are struggling to get out - anyone who ever tried to get a taxi home at the end of the night and failed can surely relate to this feeling. As a country they are feeling shame or, as a recent columnist in a national paper astutely identified, humiliation even (humiliation being shame, but to a much heightened degree). Again it doesn't matter if Britain is responsible for this or not (and people will argue this for another hundred years I'm sure), the feeling remains the same.
The next, and most crucial, question is how does one react when they feel shame? It turns out there are just four ways. I can tell you how I reacted when I broke that vase and it's the first way most people react - I ran. The technical term for this is to Withdraw. Other ways of putting it you are probably aware of - hit for the hills, go to ground, take to the bed, duck for cover, get out of Dodge, etc, etc. The list is endless but the intention is always the same - you just want to get away from it all. Back to Brexit then. This is not really much of option. As much as some might like to raise anchor on the whole island and sail away from Europe to Norway, Canada or Australia (now wouldn't that be an interesting meeting), they do not have the option of withdrawing (note: withdrawing is rarely effective anyway - I still had come back for dinner and face the music after the breakage - so other options are needed).
The next way people react is to beat themselves up (technical term Attack Self). Again I went through this with the vase. "Why didn't I head the ball instead of volley?", "Why didn't I dive faster for the vase as it fell?" Why, why, why? Again you'll be familiar with people attacking themselves when something goes wrong. We do it all the time - people often blame themselves for their house being robbed, or if they were assaulted, etc. It's a human instinct and perfectly natural. Again, looking at the Brexit connection, there is a small element of attacking self in certain sections of British society. One "leave" caller to a radio station broke down crying and apologising to the nation and had to be consoled by the DJ and asked not to take sole responsibility for the actions of 17 million people who voted the same way. But his instinct was to beat himself up for it. On the whole however Britain is not attacking itself but, as I see it, engaging in a combination of the final two modes of reaction. And this is where they contrast entirely with me and the vase and, where things get really interesting. And, maybe, where things could get quite scary for people in Ireland in the next few months.
The third way people (and countries) react to having their bubble burst is to pretend it's not happening (Avoidance). Unfortunately this was never even remotely likely to work for me (how do you you disguise a broken vase?), nor would it be in keeping with my personality (different personalities and different upbringings will lead towards different reactions to shame). Think here of how people can just put their head in the sand when trouble arises. People routinely just ignore bills, crazy as that may seem, or head to the pub instead of dealing with what's in front of them. Some will just tell you black is white and it's more like they're lying to themselves than to you and trying to convince themselves that a problem doesn't exist. Herein lie the roots of a lot of addictions, when such behaviours are taken to extreme levels. We all exhibit avoidance however at moderate levels. We have that niggling, gut feeling about something and we just ignore, or avoid it, be it our weight, our slipping exam results, our children's behaviour, you name it. It is here that it seems the Brexiteers are engaging in classic avoidance. They cannot, or will not, accept the situation in which they find themselves, and that things are far more complicated than they originally envisaged. Again the image of "head in the sand" comes to mind. And things might not be too bad if they were to stay at that. However, there is one more way to react, one which people go to when all the others are just not working - and, in Britain's case, things are clearly not working.
The final way to react to shame is to Attack Others. This instinct (often used in conjunction with avoidance) is the cause of much, if not all, the sadness and destruction in the world and, in the case of Brexit, may yet lead to Ireland experiencing a large degree of collateral damage. Looking at the situation through the lens of RP and shame, it seems clear to me that Britain is experiencing massive doses of shame, to the extent of being humiliated. Again, it doesn't really matter the causes of this. The fact is, from Britain's perspective, they had a picture in their mind of what they wanted and it has been well and truly sundered. The net result is shame/humiliation and the more shame they experience, the more likely they are to lash out, even to their own detriment. Why would they do this? Have you ever been told by someone else not to eat that last bun or, not to have that last drink, "for your own good"? Have you ever deliberately eaten that last bun or had that last drink, just to spite them when you know you are actually damaging yourself (I think I am hardly alone in having done both)? As I said at the start, I am not a political expert but I know the signs of someone being pushed too far and what they can do, and the danger signs with regard to Brexit are looming larger and larger. And, by this I mean the chances of the feared crash-out scenario, which would be devastating for Britain and everyone on this island. So what to do?
There is but one antidote to shame and it is empathy. Yes, I know what this means. I know the relationship between Ireland and Britain. I know the calls for Ireland acting in Ireland's interest, and not anyone else's. But I also know how people react when pushed into a corner, when laughed at, when isolated, when no-one comes to their aid (it's not pretty), and I suspect countries are very similar. And I know what RP teaches me to do in those situations. And I cannot react one way with a young person or a colleague, and then another when it's a country. Marshall Rosenberg says you can either empathise with yourself or the other. As I see it, we in Ireland and the EU are empathising too much with "ourselves", and not enough with "the other". Yes, I know it's not fair (is life ever really fair anyway)? Nor, is it fair with a young person who has terrorised a house for a whole night, refusing to sleep, name-calling and harassing people non-stop (yes, yes, another true story). But, here's the thing. When you've empathised with them first, when you listened to them first, understood them first then, and only then, can you help them empathise with you. This works with out of control teenagers, with colleagues/children/spouses/friends/neighbours and, if tried properly, countries. For what it's worth, my view is that we need to empathise with Britain, understand their needs and wants, and then show them we have understood them. Then, maybe, their shame will lessen and they can reciprocate and understand us better. Otherwise we may discover how King Pyrrhus felt when he defeated the Romans but discovered he had lost everything, all his armies and friends, in the process. Beware the prhhhic victory!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.