take a deep breath

Could we all just take a deep breath and calm down a bit in the western world?

In the US, feelings having been running high for months as the bitter war of words divides the electorate into apparently almost equal sides over who will be elected US president this week.

Barak Obama had trouble controlling a crowd of Clinton supporters as they booed an elderly Republican for shouting out for Donald Trump. It was minutes before he could continue in any coherent manner, such was the rumpus.

‘I told you to be focussed, and you’re not focussed right now’, he said, visibly irritated as he waited several minutes before the crowd calmed down, as you might have to in front of  a rowdy class in primary school.

In the UK, post the referendum on Brexit, the High Court this week ruled that the government could not trigger Article 50 before Parliament had voted to do so. An apparently reasonable legal point, you might think.

But no, this was evidence of corruption, a scheme to frustrate the will of 17 million people who voted to reject the unaccountable rule of Brussels for BRITISH RULE. (But who didn’t like the British rule when it was meted out).

The Mirror condemned the decision of the three judges – calling them ‘Enemies of the People’ – adding insult to injury by reporting that one of these dreadful people had ‘funded a EUROPEAN (i.e. beyond the pale) law group; that one had squandered millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money (horrendous anti-capitalism) and that the third was an openly gay former Olympic fencer (sharp intake of breath….)

The Mirror in turn was slated on social media for ‘attacking’ the openly gay Brexit judge, while Nigel Farage calling the ruling ‘voter betrayal’. Attacking and betrayal are increasingly emotive words, used to describe mere facts.

It seems every reaction demands an increasingly hyped reaction, ad infinitum. That’s how wars start isn’t it?

If we could all just take a deep breath and consider what we’re doing when we react.

Everyone reacts; we would be machines with reactions, but one thing counsellors, teachers, parents, police and ministers (to name a few) have to learn is to measure their reactions to things; to listen, think, weigh up and stay calm. If someone is venting, we watch how we react, especially if they’re touching a ‘hot button’, or the whole thing could get out of control.

Reacting and being reactionary are two different things. Imagine a downward (or upward) spiral, an argument that gains momentum as it spins and gyrates like a tornado. The more debris it picks up the bigger and more destructive it becomes. That’s why in some way the US election has already been lost – because it has not been about facts but reactions.

We look back at terrible things that have happened in history, especially during wars, and we say ‘how could that have happened?’ It happened because it was at the end of a chain of reactions that got increasingly less humane and reasonable and increasingly more overblown and unthinking.

‘A gentle answer turns away wrath’ is a gem from the psalms.

Of course entirely unreasonable people do exist, and maybe it’s impossible to even engage with them. It’s interesting that in the Old Testament book of Daniel, featured in the daily lectionary at the moment, Daniel could engage with the megalomaniac Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God gave a chance for repentance, but with his successor, Belshazzar, no such engagement was possible.

Sometimes silence is the only sensible reaction.

In the face of shouting, booing, heckling, jeering, insult trading, scapegoating, try taking a deep breath, or whispering a prayer for wisdom, for deliverance, that we don’t become the thing we mock.

Silence. Deep breathing. Praying.

And, perhaps, weeping.

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