DEBATING THE ISSUES THAT MAKE YOU WANT TO CRY

I love a healthy debate as much as the next over-zealous millennial, but sometimes I find myself debating issues that make me want to do nothing more than burst into tears, pull all of my hair out and beat my oponant over the head with a toaster all at the same time.

Mug from Emma Bridgewater

As a lot of people my age do, I feel incredibly passionately about a number of things; disinclined to let injustice pass me by and as a result I often find myself in the throes of a disagreement. For the most part I’m pretty good at it.

I can argue the merits of reality TV, the short-comings of the education system and the importance of all-encompassing feminism until the cows come home.

But there are some ‘debates’ that I find very hard to have.

Rather, there are some people I find it very hard to ‘debate’ with.

I use the word ‘debate’ loosely. I don’t particularly like it. When I think of ‘debating’, I think of my school days or of Wednesday’s in the House of Commons. I think of something healthy and productive, and I think of it finishing with a winner and a loser. I think of it really as being a sport, something to be enjoyed.

On the whole, there aren’t many debates that I enjoy having anymore.

See, whilst I don’t make a habit of fraternising with homophobes or racists or Tump supporters (more often than not you get three for the price of one with that anyway) it has become apparent in recent years that not everyone shares my liberal way of thinking.

Hrhuum Brexit. Hrhuum Trump.

It should also be noted that not everyone I spend time with is my age, or female, or with a penchant for Ru Paul’s Drag Race… sadly.

And so often the debates that I end up having are ones that I can’t believe that I am having to have.

Whether on Twitter or IRL, when I find myself having to actually argue for a woman’s right to choose, a man’s right to wear makeup or a family’s right to enter the UK after fleeing a war torn country, I am flitting constantly between feelings of exasperation and heartbreak.

For the most part people aren’t disagreeing with a vengeance. So much as to say, whilst they might not be ‘pro’ any of these things, they’re not necessarily actively anti-them. For a lot of people the issues that mean a lot to me are simply not a priority to them. In situations where this is the case, nine times out of ten you’ll find that you’re not debating evil, you’re just debating ignorance.

The fucker there of course being that it is damn near impossible to argue with ignorant. Where ignorance is concerned, you’re unlikely to find reason, rationale or a desire to learn. These debates might evoke tears, but normally only of frustration.

So that’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here today to talk about the times you find yourself up against more than just ignorance.

It is a very tumultuous time to be alive, or interested in politics at any rate.

As a nation, our opinions on things like immigration, for example, differ massively.

On issues such as that, there is rarely common ground, or an understanding to be reached… and definitely not during a wine-fuelled-apres-supper-debating-session.

A few weeks ago I went to go and watch a play called The Jungle in The Playhouse Theatre (if you never listen to anything else I say ever again, GO AND WATCH THIS PLAY), which told, in harrowing ways, the story of the migrants in the now bulldozed Jungle at Calais and it reaffirmed in me a burning sense of injustice that, despite having always been there, I am now feeling in new and painfully passionate ways.

(The last time this feeling was this acute was after reading AA Gill’s book Lines In The Sand – something else I wholeheartedly recommend).

Without getting totally into it (fine, ok, you twisted my arm, let’s do it…), the fact that there are humans, H-U-M-A-N-S, desperate, alone and without shelter on the other side of The English Channel that we, as a nation, are at best apathetic towards, at worst actively cruel to, sickens me.

As far as I am concerned a nation that closes it’s doors to people in need is not a nation I’m proud to be a part of.

AND SO, when I found myself in the midst of a ‘debate’ on this very topic recently, I was not surprised when I felt hot tears begin to burn in my eyes.

I am not very good at debating. I’m too passionate apparently. (This according to the person who thinks it should be tougher for refugees to come to the UK, if they should be allowed to come at all – “Em, they’re building an army, we can’t let them in!”).

They were right. Not about the army thing, obviously. But about the passion.

I am too passionate. Too passionate to be reasonable at least.

(Yes yes, I’m the unreasonable one here).

I have a passion that, no matter how well-meaning, how well-placed, how right it is, will mean I will never win a debate like this.

Because ladies, lest we forget, the minute we get too passionate we are at risk of being labelled as hysterical. As shrill. As emotional, hormonal, irrational.

Not to be taken seriously.

A silly little girl.

I have watched the most capable, knowledgable, RIGHT women crumble at the hands of too much passion.

Hell, I’ve done it countless times.

I did it whilst ‘debating’ the refugee crisis. I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing, the conversation I was having. It didn’t feel like fun or like a sport. It didn’t feel like I was winning, it didn’t feel like I ever could. I wasn’t even educating. I was just getting more and more upset.

Incredulous at what I was hearing I threw myself into being appalled; shouting, crying, doing anything I could to make the people I was talking to realise how hateful they were being.

I don’t think I changed their minds.

I don’t think I ever stood a chance to be honest, but the minute I let the passion take over and the tears come, I lost what credibility I had had to begin with.

It’s hard though. Because what are you really supposed to do?

Sit and let racism, transphobia, homophobia, whatever it is swoosh around your head unquestioned? Ignore a Trump supporter as they tell the group at large that he might actually be the BEST President America has ever seen – if you can look beyond the ‘women’s issues’ ? (I’ve really heard that as a sentence before btw). Nod and agree with a climate change denier as if what they are saying makes wayyyy more sense than… y’know…. science does???

That’s just irresponsible surely? To forgo your responsibility and let what you deem (probably rightly) to be stupidity go unquestioned?

To shy away from the difficult conversations is to shirk responsibility and deny progress.

But how do you win a ‘debate’ like this?

How do you keep your cool when all you want to do is jump onto the table, grab your opponent by the scruff of the neck and shake the idiot right out of them?

Well since I’m still made up of about 90% passion, I didn’t think I had a clue.

But as I realised about ten minutes after the person who patronisingly told me that I had too much passion walked away (because the best comebacks are always fashionably late); I’ve made an entire career out of my passion.

I don’t have too much passion.

My problem is not my passion. My problem is with harnessing it.

Harnessing it in a way that means I don’t cry when confronted, rather, I turn the tables in a way that for once sees me win an ‘un-win-able’ debate.

So here’s a little lis of tips for ya to put into practice should you ever find yourself, god forbid, surrounded by people who are using their horrible opinions as a means of making you cry, whether that be with frustration or despair for the world.

  • TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
    And by that I mean, when you find your standpoint in whatever debate it is, don’t leave from your post. Pretend the leader of this very cause came to your table and gave you a sash to wear declaring you IN CHARGE of this point of view.You’ve got a big job on your hands now and you can’t just back out when the going get’s tough or throw in the towel, you’ve got justice sitting on your shoulders for crying out loud – use every tool you have available to you to ensure you do the best job you can.
  • COUNT TO TEN
    Oh revolutionary, you’ve never heard this one before but trust me when I tell you IT WORKS. Absorb what the other person is saying, formulate your answer and before you launch into it, count to ten. It gives you a chance to gather your thoughts, but more importantly it slows it all down enough for you to make sense of what the other person is saying.
  • BREATHE OUT
    For the simple reason that breathing out (slowly) will help you to manage your emotions and keep a lid on your temper. If you, like me, are prone to a shaky voice and a bit of lashing out when tested, this is really important. It stops me shouting, quaking or saying something heated that I will go on to regret.
  • LET THE OTHER PERSON SPEAK
    There is simply no way of winning an argument, properly, if you don’t listen to the other person’s point of view. By talking over someone you begin to sound, dare I say it, shrill and you won’t be taken seriously. One thing that I find myself contending with time and time again when debating is the other person saying “were you listening to what I just said?!” – you really need to be able to say yes to that one if you want any credibility at all. You will also not be able to formulate a proper response without listening exactly to what you’re up against.
  • KEEP YOUR VOICE LEVEL
    And by that I mean, don’t shout. As much as you want to, as much as you need to, women in particular need to be really careful when it comes to not shouting, especially if you find yourself arguing against a man who will, I’m sorry, use your emotions against you.
  • REMOVE YOURSELF… MENTALLY
    Although you have taken on the responsibility of the cause by taking on this debate (you’re wearing the sash remember!?), if it’s getting too much it’s okay to remember that you don’t need to push yourself to breaking point for this cause. As important to you as it is, the person that you are debating is not a policy holder, a world leader, someone capable of the change you are fighting for, single handedly at least.If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed take a mental step back. Whilst your investment in the cause is admirable, you don’t need to give everything you have got to this one fight. The minute this conversation is over you’ll go back to your normal lives, as frustrating as that is, don’t put everything into this one discussion.
  • REMOVE YOURSELF… PHYSICALLY
    As much as I hate to say this, sometimes walking away is the best thing you can do. It doesn’t need to be a dramatic storm off, a flounce, or a door slamming charade. You are well within your rights to say, at any point: “I’m sorry, but I can’t continue to have this conversation with you. I’ve said what I have to say and I don’t believe you want to hear it. We are going around in circles and we don’t need to fall out over this so I am going to remove myself before one of us says something we regret.” It might take everything in your power to do it, but remember you’ve got it in your back pocket. You don’t need to fight to the death, you can evacuate at any point.

Personally I don’t great pleasure in debating issues I am ‘overly’ passionate about, mostly because the reason I am passionate is because there is an injustice at play.

I don’t, try as I might, find debating these issues enjoyable or see it as ‘sport’ or as ‘fun’.

But that doesn’t mean I should shy away from it when it arises.

Sometimes you can’t get away from it; have to fight for what you believe in… even if it takes everything you’ve got.

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4 Comments

  1. Deborah Hearnden
    September 4, 2018 / 1:45 pm

    I have read most of your blogs and enjoyed them but this one has had a very personal effect on me. I have a passion for animal welfare and last year was “debating” the subject of the dog meat trade in China, poaching and animal cruelty with two people who didn’t understand why this subject was important. I ended up becoming tearful and left the room. When I returned they looked smug, and I could tell they felt they had won the argument. It still hurts me tremendously, not because I care about their opinion, but because I didn’t defend the wildlife I love with a compelling argument. I felt I had let all the animals down. When I read this blog post I felt every word you had written was about that day and my experience. You have made me feel that my passionate love of all living things is not “my bad” but something I need to channel to be an effective advocate for treating all life with compassion and care. You don’t know me but you have had a profound effect on me today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Deborah x

    • Emily Clarkson
      September 4, 2018 / 8:04 pm

      Deborah! You made me cry- thank you so so much for this comment. I’m SO pleased you resonated with this and that it will help you going forwards. I’ve got so teary about this subject in the past too – fuck their smug face and use that as a powerful tool next time you’re confronted with it. All my love xxx

  2. Nicci
    September 4, 2018 / 10:05 pm

    Emily, this post really, really spoke to me! Any form of social justice work is highly emotional. In fact, the social sculpture research unit share that warmth (or inner mobilisation) is actually one of the most important elements of alchemy or transformation. Crisis shows us where there is a need for change, and form shows us the repressive social structures, but warmth creates the movement which enables new structures to emerge.

    I love your heart and that you continually engage with these matters. i don’t think we ever stop crying. My professor, when I shared with her how I could sometimes wish to weep, pull my hair or act like the Hulk, shared that she sometimes still cries in frustrating moments.

    I think we need to question the social conversations which speak of ‘silly girls’ as emotional…and therefore irrational, and why we value rationality so deeply over feeling. It’s like Freud’s crazy comments on crowds as regressive, or behaving ‘like women or children’ as though this is somehow faulted too….

    This is the wonderful Rumbi https://rumbiwrites.com/2015/01/07/but-is-it-racism/ who shares about how racism (substitute sexism, nationalism, ablism, uses superiority to make you doubt yourself. And how the need to listen (not necessarily agree, just listen) is a crucial element towards change.

    No matter how we learn to dismantle conversations, unconscious bias can be endlessly frustrating. Don’t let it weigh you down! This is what David Theo Goldberg describes as the burden of race – the need to constantly convince others that a problem truly exists, a problem privilege blinds us to. We only know the barriers we reach when we knock against them.

    I think that as social justice workers we need allies that we can speak to, share and connect with, and who understand. Don’t take on the burden of gender though. You’re great, you’re doing excellent work, and your feeling and passion moves you. Crying doesn’t make you silly. It makes you a complete, living, breathing, feeling human being with the inner movement to properly care. Tenderness or compassion means feeling along with. It isn’t rational. It can never be.

  3. Nicci
    September 5, 2018 / 9:38 pm

    Hi Emily, I was thinking so much about this post last night. I work in the social justice field, and I understand the frustrations which make you want to pull out your hair. I feel this way such a lot myself. As a person of privilege, I can only imagine how it feels if your livelihood or social circumstances depend on feeling heard! The feeling that to some extent, I can withdraw from the conversations if I have to is both a relief and a privilege. We know the myth of the angry and outspoken ‘other’ who (after a great deal of time trying to be heard) resorts to frustration. People who riot, too, are so often told to be respectful, when the system itself has never really treated ‘other’ people with any respect.

    There are so many myths about how ‘the rational voice’ is seen to be the only one. And yet, passion and emotion are sources of transformation. James Hillman’s model of alchemy depended on warmth or inner mobility to create change, and this depends on care or compassion, and can be inspired by all emotions including anger or guilt, which are channels for change or transformation.

    I say follow your heart! Systemic injustice is often a part of the collective unconscious, and it can drive you mad when you see it and want to change it, but I think, as Zimitri Erasmus shares, that our very efforts are a form of political love, even if we don’t win every battle.

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