The Clare Spark Blog

May 20, 2012

Kick Me Again

Peter Bregman

The Harvard Business Review has distributed this blog http://tinyurl.com/87xxvjl  by management consultant Peter Bregman, “Do You Know What You Are Feeling?” urging businessmen to get in touch with their feelings, even to confide them to persons who make them feel angry, resentful, or insecure. Bregman begins the story in a rural setting: he and his wife Eleanor are mulling over whether their yoga practice, meditation, and continued inspection of their personal feelings are merely “navel gazing.”  He then describes their differing reactions to a group of younger men on a deck, noisily partying. Bregman is delighted by the outcome of his confiding his feelings to his wife: he will not [regress] to childish clinging to a mother surrogate (Eleanor), out of jealousy or some other negative emotion, because each has “communicated” with the other.

We then learn how dangerous it is to repress anger:

[Bregman:] “Simply being able to feel is a feat in itself. We often spend considerable unconscious effort ignoring what we feel because it can be painful. Who wants to be afraid or jealous or insecure? So we stifle the feelings, argue ourselves out of them, or distract ourselves with busy work or small talk.

But just because we don’t recognize a feeling doesn’t mean it goes away. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Not feeling something guarantees that it won’t go away.

Unacknowledged feelings simmer under the surface, waiting to lunge at unsuspecting, undeserving bystanders. Your manager doesn’t answer an email, which leaves you feeling vulnerable — though you don’t acknowledge it — and then you end up yelling at an employee for something unrelated. Why? Because your anger is coiled in your body, primed, tense, aching to get out. And it’s a lot safer to yell at an employee than bring up an uncomfortable complaint with a manager.” [end, Bregman quote]

(Bregman’s image of anger as “coiled” is instructive: Is anger a coiled serpent, unseen and ready to strike, or is Bregman a jack-in-the box, his body coiled as a child’s toy that once represented a boxed devil might be? Perhaps both. In any case, Bregman’s image suggests that anger is demonic, and perhaps associated with Eve who succumbed to the serpent’s wiles. What it is not is a materialist account of the effects of cortisol on the immune system and/or the social structures and irreconcilable antagonisms that impel us to have the feelings we think we have. Hence, lacking this understanding of hierarchies and what can or cannot be said to another, we are stuck in the Middle Ages. Bregman is giving advice to a would-be Good King or Platonic Guardian, empathic with the People under his care, and alert to preventing factions that could topple his regime, reducing King to clown.)

Jack in the Box toy

In his essay on the (restored) value of navel-gazing, Bregman then switches to another scene. In the midst of one of his management talks, a woman with whom he works interrupts him, expresses dissatisfaction with his presentation and directs him into another path. He is angry at this interruption (though the revised talk goes well), and in a subsequent email exchange with the froward (not a typo) female, he communicates his hurt and vulnerability, which brings her to an apology and a happy ending to their troubling interchange. [Bregman:] And, just like that, all my anger uncoiled and slithered away.” So it was the anger-serpent after all, and Bregman’s technique of what he takes to be full disclosure has beaten the devil within.

Cole Porter Can-Can scene

I have written about touchiness and touch before on this website, see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/02/touch-me-touch-me-not/, that begins by criticizing a demagogue (Rick Santorum) who adopts the identity of his coal-mining grandfather to persuade an audience of miners that he is indeed in touch with their feelings, of which of course, he is fully aware.

I could go on and on, reflecting upon how middle management feels about subordination to CEOs or other superiors, be these government bureaucrats, school principals, legislators, party bosses, husbands, abusive, negligent parents of either gender, older siblings (but add your own authoritarian figure). Bregman imagines that the unnamed woman (presumably a member of a management team with whom he consults) is not deferring to him out of fear, but is telling the truth; she is really sincere. He has not grappled with the truism that illegitimate, irrational hierarchies breed deceit. But in the New Age in which we find ourselves, truisms, like truth itself, have gone the way of all flesh. Kick me again. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/, or this one: https://clarespark.com/2010/11/18/harvards-alpha-dogs/.)

Are hierarchies inevitable? How can they be made rational? How do we know when our feelings are our own, or conversely, were they put there by other persons, acting out of their own needs to dominate, to compensate for past injuries? What a terrible thing that Freud’s materialism and family history-inflected self-examination  has been discarded in favor of New Age mysticism and the abnegation of self. And most pointedly, why do we give our love to unworthy objects, to those who “obviously don’t adore us”?

[Music outro: Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out of You.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T6SG0t9jfQ&feature=share), or if you don’t like Ethel Merman’s tempo, try Patti LuPone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YC12OelJYQU. The LuPone video is especially interesting: the “fabulous face” belongs first to her, and then to the audience at the end. Singer and audience become one “fabulous” entity.]

Peter Blume The Eternal City

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