Sunday 22 July 2018

Brendan O'Connor: 'We just need to find a new, ambisexual phrase for 'Man up''

Is there a danger the Russians will walk all over our feelings
Is there a danger the Russians will walk all over our feelings
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

So the story so far is that for many years in this country we were very repressed. We didn't really talk about things and we pushed down our feelings. Men are especially blamed for this. The classic Irish father came in from the farm in the evening and sat silently eating hairy meat and lumpers of spuds. If you did express yourself in any way back then you were regarded as some kind of weirdo or homosexual. And that was only if you came from one of the more progressive parts of the country where they knew what a weirdo or a homosexual was. Young men especially were discouraged from having feelings, and if they did have them they were encouraged to push them down. The encouragement being that if you did mention any feelings you would possibly be beaten to a bloody pulp and told to "Man up".

So then we came into the 21st century and the 1960s came to Ireland and we realised that this had been all wrong, and that it was unhealthy for people not to express their emotions and their feelings and their dream and their true desires. This change of heart came about through a combination of factors. Foreign media didn't help it. And then there was the odd person who would go to America, become corrupted by that more open society and would come back wanting to talk about everything at Christmas. Those who were left at home resisted this initially, as once the Yank, who had possibly been in therapy, got everything out of their system, and caused mayhem, they could head off back to America, and the others were left to deal, for the whole year, with the fall out of all the "Truth" that had come out over Christmas.

But gradually it caught on, and soon everybody was showing their emotions and being vulnerable, and letting it all hang out. But I've started to wonder if we have gone too far in the other direction now. No one is suggesting we go back to the past, when we kept everything in. But maybe a little bit of mystery would be no harm? I obviously won't dare use the discredited phrase "Man up". But maybe there is such a thing as too much vulnerability and maybe we all need to learn to toughen up. And I include myself in this.

It's the Russians I'm worried about. What I know about the current state of Russia is gleaned from the odd TV show and the one or two Russians that I vaguely know. But it seems to me that the Russians think that people should be tough. They are survivors, which is understandable given their history and climate. I suspect that they are just watching us, all going around being hypersensitive and vulnerable and easily offended, and they are laughing and biding their time until they finally just walk in and take over, while we sit there crying about how they are triggering us and how we suffer from various labels that we have put on perfectly rational responses to life.

I thought I might be alone in this, but then I saw an article about this book called The Art Of The Good Life by Rolf Dobelli. It was one of those handy articles that summed up the whole book, so you could read the article, vow to change yourself and then have forgotten it all by the next day, which is handier than spending a week reading stuff you're going to promptly forget.

Here's Rolf on emotions: "Trust your emotions! Listen to your inner voice! That's the fashionable life advice nowadays, but my suggestion? Don't bother." He treats his feelings as if they don't belong to him and he basically lets them come and go.

He follows this up by taking to account the fashionable notion of authenticity: He's against it for two reasons: "One: there's the simple fact that we don't really know who we are. As we saw with emotions, our inner voice is far from a reliable compass. It's more like a hodgepodge of constantly conflicting impulses. Two: you're making yourself look ridiculous. Name one famous figure who regularly blurts out their innermost feelings. You won't find one."

Because I don't have what you might call a consistent self I am not promising I'm going to stick by Rolf's advice on these things. But mark my words, this is the next big movement in self- help. We just need to find a new, ambisexual phrase for "Man up".

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