Don’t go forward in anger

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With chaos and uncertainty rampant, being clear on our values and emotions is vital. The past seven days have brought two inspiring examples of how to achieve this, from Ariana Grande and Minister Chrystia Freeland.

We are living through an age of anger. This is according to Indian author Pankaj Mishra.

Mishra argues that “the election of Trump revealed an enormous pent-up anger” that has built relentlessly over recent years.

I see Mishra’s point. These are truly extraordinary times. The history of this era will likely be a picture of chaos, of polarisation, of anger, intolerance and inhumanity (even moreso than is usual for this human race of ours).

Chaos and uncertainty have been rampant in the UK of late. The terror attacks in Manchester and London. The remarkable result of the UK general election.

In the midst of chaos, I think it’s more important than ever to be clear and certain in one’s outlook, to be intolerant of anger, and to respect and celebrate the intrinsic worth of every human being. Our emotional lives have an important role to play. Mishra puts it better than I ever could:

“The stunning events of our age of anger, and our perplexity before them, make it imperative that we anchor thought in the sphere of emotions; these upheavals demand nothing less than a radically enlarged understanding of what it means for human beings to pursue the contradictory ideals of freedom, equality and prosperity.”

The past seven days have brought two inspiring examples of perfectly judged emotional clarity in response to the current chaos. They come from two extraordinary women: Ariana Grande and Chrystia Freeland.

Depthless humanity and humility

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The One Love Manchester charity concert (on Sunday 4 June 2017) was a spectacle to melt all cynicism. What Ariana Grande did was extraordinary. Her behaviour these past few weeks has been exemplary.

Others might have buckled and withdrawn in the face of terror and tragedy. But Grande has moved swiftly and with depthless humanity and humility to do all she can to help those directly and indirectly affected by the Manchester attack.

The emotional impact and aftershocks of appalling events such as those in Manchester and London are real and profound. The other day, my friend Julie Drybrough tweeted of how she was “moved beyond words” to visit Manchester Victoria station following the attack.

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By organising the One Love Manchester concert, she has helped provide an
emotional release for those directly caught up in the attacks and for
thousands of others deeply upset by this spectacle of inhumanity.

By perfectly understanding human emotions – and by pitching her own response so perfectly – Grande has helped so many people find a way forward.

The Guardian’s Elle Hunt hails “Grande’s colossal empathy”. She provides a great summary of what Grande achieved with the One Love Manchester show:

“Some of the victims’ families had bristled at Grande hosting the concert so soon after the suicide bombing that killed 22 people, but her earnestness and emotional acuity meant that for thousands of people, this was an event that soothed and uplifted. She also helped raise another £2m during the three hours of the concert alone. It could so easily have been maudlin, but was not. The concert was heartfelt, joyful, even defiant. It was, as Grande said tearfully, ‘light, and filled with fun, love and bright energy’. Dressed in a sweatshirt and stilettos, the 23-year-old hosted rather than headlined, with deep feeling and sensitivity.”

Grande’s manager, Scooter Braun, delivered a moving speech as he introduced Grande’s performance. He concluded with a simple message from one of her fans – a 15-year-old boy named Adam – who had been injured in the attack on Grande’s Manchester concert. These words are a perfect (and perfectly Mancunian, if you know your music) response to the age of anger:

“Don’t go forward in anger. Love spreads.”

Not two solitudes

Anger is not the answer. Our emotions and values should help us work toward unity, not division. Now more than ever, people and nations must not seek to cut themselves off.

“The world abroad and the world at home are not two solitudes. They are connected.”

So says Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland in a speech from Tuesday 6 June 2017 setting out her nation’s foreign policy priorities.

I would have completely missed Freeland’s wonderful words if my Twitter friend @karinevolve had not been so thoughtful as to share them with me. Karin describes the speech as “an antidote to the divisive commentary that is so prolific lately”. I highly recommend you take a few minutes to read it in full (or watch the video, above). Chrystia presents a clear-eyed, profoundly human response to the age of anger and the current chaos.

Freeland’s words are informed by, as she puts it, an “appreciation of the common interests of the human family” and “a deep yearning toward lasting peace”. She argues that “peace and prosperity are every person’s birthright.”

She pledges that Canada will be “tireless in working to create a rules-based international order for the 21st  century.” But she is also clear-eyed as to the scale of the challenge, and the uncertainty of success:

“[T]hese are ambitious objectives. There is no guarantee of success. We set them, not in the assumption that success will come easily, but in the certain knowledge that it will not. We will venture, in noble and good causes. We will risk. We will enjoy victories – and we will suffer defeats. But we will keep working toward a better world…”

Through clarity on our emotions and values, and by treating every human being we encounter with the respect they deserve, we can all play a tiny role in working toward a better world.

Don’t go forward in anger.

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