Sunday 20 January 2019

Since when did stiff upper lip become a bad thing?

Joe Brolly's column caused controversy this week
Joe Brolly's column caused controversy this week
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

It wouldn’t be normal week in Irish life if Joe Brolly didn’t cause consternation in some circles. But for once the Northern motor mouth can be forgiven for wondering what he did wrong.

In his most recent column in the ‘Sunday Independent’, Brolly mentioned that he had recently volunteered with a local under-10 in a final which they lost: “At the final whistle, their coach, my old friend Giles McNicholl, danced across to his troops punching the air with delight, and why wouldn’t he? Our lads, meanwhile, were all sobbing like contestants on The X Factor until I snapped at them, ‘Quit yapping, boys, it’s embarrassing’. At which point the tears were switched off.”

That’s a common sight across every pitch across the land at the weekend – a bunch of kids lose an important match and when they’re upset, the coach gets them to man up. It has happened to all of us at that age and nobody feels a sense of deep injustice quite like a kid who has just had victory snatched from them. But good underage coaches know that there is far more to their job than merely imparting tactics, it’s also about teaching invaluable life lessons.

So, some of the kids started blubbing and their coach told them cop on. If anything, the most troubling element of Brolly’s piece was the bad language used by one of the mothers at the side of the pitch and her excuse that: “That’s my son playing, I’m just looking after him.”

But rather than use that incident – and you don’t have to be a fan of Gaelic games to enjoy Brolly’s writing – as an example of the woeful parental behaviour that has become a feature of too many juvenile sports, former Cork star Conor Cusack decided to chastise the former player for not indulging the players’ tears.

In what remains one of the wildest leaps of imagination anyone has seen in recent times, Cusack tweeted that it was: “Distressing to read this in a national newspaper. And we wonder about the high rates of men’s suicide.”

While most people respect Cusack and certainly admire the way he has opened up abut his own battles with the Black Dog of depression, his attempts to draw a link between kids being told not to cry because they lost a match and male suicide is spurious in the extreme. But it is also indicative of a wider malaise in Western society which now places an absurd premium on public displays of emotion and views any display of stoicism as callousness.

The world has moved on from the debilitating stereotype of all men being the strong, silent type. But in the rush to marginalise traditional male reserve and make a virtue out of weeping, we’re in danger of creating a generation which simply cannot cope with failure without bursting into bitter tears. Obviously, it’s good that we’re more aware of mental health issues than ever before, but we’re now in the perilous position of not just being in touch with our emotions but being controlled by them.

One needs only to look at the response to the Syrian crisis to see that rational thought has been evicted by fatuous emoting, where people now compete to show not just how upset they are, but how much more upset they are than everyone else. It’s a form of emotional Top Trumps which uses desperate refugees as a mere prop for their own psychodrama. There are several reasons for this collapse into emotional incontinence. It would be easy to blame social media for this trend, and the likes of Facebook and Twitter hardly lend themselves to rational, clear thinking when an hysterical rant will do. But it’s also deeper than that.

You could certainly argue this obnoxious, coercive compassion, which now demands that people feel suitably, and publicly, moved by something, is another sign of the further feminisation of society which unilaterally decrees that traditional male characteristics are seen as something sinister of which to be wary.

For instance, it was interesting to note that Cusack’s supporters on his social media feed tended to be women, while those criticising his stance were men.

Maybe it’s because, statistically, men are more likely to have spent time in dressing rooms than women and understand the way things work – you win some, you lose some, and you walk away from both with your head held high, knowing that you gave it your best shot. That’s what maketh the man, not group hugs and sobbing.

The women who supported him, on the other hand, were more concerned with giving the tearful kids a cuddle than telling them to cop on.

Cusack has done sterling work in highlighting male depression. But that doesn’t mean he’s infallible and on this issue he is merely the latest person to surf the tidal wave of our collective obsession with emotions and feelings.

In this culture of the self(ie), those feelings are now considered more important than rational thought.

And under those circumstances, is it any wonder that we’re becoming dumber and weaker as a culture?

Irish Independent

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