I am not sure why aggression is such a prickly issue for me: something obviously from my up-bringing in England, where people are relatively crammed together, both physically and socio-economically. Everything is more aggressive there, whether it is soccer hooliganism or dogs. (One of my surprises coming to Canada was to see leashed dogs being mostly very civil to each other when meeting on the street. There is just more space for a dog to just be a dog.)
There was always violence bubbling under the surface back then, and being short and a bit pudgy didn’t help me. There were strict rules about who was entitled to give and receive aggression: a bit like a Mafia code in retrospect. I was routinely beaten up by other boys for the sin of being short and pudgy and for my father being a teacher (teachers in those days being seen as some sort of arch enemy: thus, “Another Brick in the Wall” etc.).
Then of course there was organized violence, otherwise known as rugby in my school. This was deemed to be a healthy way for young men with raging hormones and the constant teasing of modern society (which throws all manner of unattainable temptations at you through the media) to let off steam.
Having coached girl’s and women’s soccer for many years I can now attest to this not being only a male issue, and watching any of the Kwantlen Eagles games, men’s or women’s, raises my blood pressure alarmingly. (I pretty well know how I am going to die: in a decade or so (I hope), with my 3D holographic, high definition goggles and headset stressing out as I watch the Canucks blow another playoff series.)
Even playing board games with the family is a problem for me: I simply have trouble not taking it all too seriously; it is as if my very sense of self-worth and manhood hinges on the next game of Boggle, as opposed to being,…..well….. a loser.
Which brings me more generally to the issue of sports, or competition of any kind really. Maybe it is just me, but I can feel my blood boil as soon as any sort of competitiveness is in the air. I can thank the games teacher at school for that: his competitive streak was fierce. If you were not ready to die on the playing field for the glory of Ranelagh, he would give you a withering stare that would categorize you as forevermore useless. Oddly, there was a strict code of conduct for the rest of us, win or lose, no gloating or crying, no criticism of the referee etc. Stiff upper lip, and all that.
(Speaking of conduct, is it me or is there now a complete absence of good sportsmanship? Now and then a penalty is called for excessive displays of celebration or for taunting, but it seems to me that the entire world now behaves badly: faking injuries, illegal contact that no referee can keep track of, outrageous gloating when winning, plus of course constant psychological warfare. Even the crowds get into it: shouldn’t it be a penalty when the home football crowd tries to drown out the ability of the opposing team to call a play? What are we teaching our children when we do that? Of course, you could take them to visit the Legislature or the House of Commons to learn the same.)
I am a great supporter of athletics in all its forms, and I so admire those who can play hard and, win or lose, behave with grace and dignity, enjoying the sheer physicality and beauty of the game whether as a profession or as a pastime. Of course, there are plenty who, like me, struggle with that.
Sporting games were developed as a way to train for fighting, and games are a reasonably safe way (nowadays anyway) to simulate battles and war (in hockey, it is not sometimes not just a simulation). It is not surprising then that some of us are more hot headed than others about it all.
And it is interesting how metaphors for sports and games are used so much in our society, whether it is friendly (with reference, for instance to “teamwork” or “goals”) or more aggressive (with references to “beating the competition” etc.) and indeed with regard to all sorts of rankings and market positioning.
I had a colleague at VCC who, anytime I used a sports-related metaphor, would quietly express her dismay. She felt that not only were the allusions somewhat trite and impoverished, but that they reflected what is wrong with the world in general and its insane race to doomsday and planetary collapse, all driven by global and local economic rivalries, and the related wars that we fight.
Why not use other models for how to make progress, she argued: those based on coöperation and the common (i.e. global) good? You are more likely to find these in the ways that (and I am getting into tricky waters here) women approach problems, and from a variety of diverse and collaborative human endeavours. The Arts are one of these areas: watching musicians rehearse is illuminating even to people from other artistic fields: how generous and coöperative they are while also giving and receiving criticism quite openly. No doubt there are cases where good old combative human nature also comes to the fore, and I was just reading about the acid attack at the Bolshoi Ballet…….. but I digress.
I was once at a euphemistic “leadership retreat” where about 30 of us educators were introduced to a game intended to build teamwork. We were divided into four teams, and each team was given a stack of playing cards: a random selection drawn from four different decks. The idea was for us, using negotiation and trading, to see which team could get a complete deck together. The teams quickly decided that, if they put their cards literally on the table, we could all get a complete deck of 52 cards and all “win” together. However, one team had been given all four Jokers, and a couple of competitive and persuasive men on that team wanted to use that advantage, and so did not disclose the Jokers.
So, when the results were shared, three teams thought they had cooperated only to realize that the Joker counted as part of a complete deck of 53 cards, and that the fourth team had therefore, through deception, actually won the game. The ensuing discussion was incredible: the jocks on the fourth team bragging about their cunning and gamesmanship and arguing that that was the whole point and that the end (winning) justifies the means (deceiving the opponent). There were tears and acrimony, but the competition versus coöperation divide was never better illuminated.
Anyway, I got onto this aggression kick whilst driving the other night. My job involves driving a lot across the south Fraser region, and I enjoy psycho-analyzing the other drivers based on their conduct.
95% are orderly and quite polite. Then there are the aggressors: those who are desperate and/or always late for something (usually in an old beater, or in a minivan with kids), those who hate their lives and their jobs (usually in a pick up or utility van), those who feel completely unassailable (usually in an SUV), those with a strong sense of entitlement (usually in a luxury car), and those who feel both unassailable and entitled (usually in a luxury SUV). It’s not just young people in souped-up sedans.
And a new and maybe unintended form of aggression now comes at night, with those new high-end halogen headlights which, even on low beam, are blinding. This is great news for the drivers of course: they can see better (and so feel they are entitled to drive more aggressively, based on how closely they tailgate me in my little Prius), but the rest of us are blinded. Goodness knows what they are like on high beam.
Isn’t this technological madness, wherein an individual’s safety overrides the safety of others? Are we all supposed to get equipped with these blinding lights? Then what? We all drive around feeling safer but actually blinding each other? Do those responsible for transportation not think about this?