We need to have more edgy conversations.
I'm a journalist. I believe in the role of the media. So I'm ashamed to admit this. But since I started studying psychotherapy, I have found it hard to consume as much news as I used to. There is so much pain in it, in so many different ways.
If you feel it too intensely, sometimes you have to protect yourself from it. I can only take it in small doses. You know what the news cycle can be like: the bile, the rage, the sense of helplessness, the splitting, the need to make someone into the "dark object".
Do I really need to provide an example? Okay. (Two seconds later). Almost the very first thing on my Facebook feed is this: Mike Hosking says striking teachers need to "get real". Someone on Facebook replies: "Mate f*** off. Ya uneducated f***ing troglodyte."
Sigh. I just fail to see how consuming this kind of discourse is very helpful to me, or anyone really. So I don't. But what happens if we all switch off and disengage from politics, issues, and social problems? That's not good either.
The truth is, we need to learn to be able to have edgy conversations. If you avoid edginess, you avoid growth. You can see that in stagnant marriages: the couple in the cafe with nothing to say to each other, too fearful to have a hard conversation ("I actually never liked the way you do X,Y, Z ..." ) . The love dies. We need to have the courage to express difference, to be angry. But we also need to understand the anger iceberg.
Anger is like the tip of the iceberg, visible above the water. Anger is easy for us to see, but it tends to be a secondary emotion. Most of the iceberg is hidden below the surface of the water and when we're angry that anger covers our more vulnerable emotions: primary emotions such as fear, envy, loneliness. Often, it is hard to see that mean or vicious behaviour is sitting on top of a lot of pain underneath.
Going below the waterline can provide what's known as a "corrective emotional experience". But how do we have deeper conversations?
One thing is for sure, we can't uncover those deeper emotions when we argue like sulky teenagers. It's like we are stuck in our adolescence phase and we need to learn to grow up and realise people are not all bad or all good. It's okay to get things wrong. It doesn't mean you have to turn into a puddle on the floor just because you concede you're not 100 per cent in the right.
Because you can choose to protect your ego, protect against your sensitivity to humiliation and shame - or you can choose to learn. Protect or learn? I'd prefer to learn.
So I'm always interested to find conversations where there is difference, but no one has to be made bad. It can be done.
Last week the NBR Rich List came out. It was a record year for wealth creation - for the first time the combined valuation surpassed $100 billion, up from $80b the previous year. Normally this is a cue for one of those snarky eat-the-rich conversations. I thought that was what we were going to get on Morning Report when Guyon Espiner interviewed Max Rashbrooke, an academic who studies wage inequality.
Espiner challenged him. "Rod Drury is on the Rich List. If Rod Drury had decided I've got this great idea for a cloud computing system but I can't be bothered doing it, would we be better off? Build a company that supports hundred if not thousands of families. How would we be better off if Rod Drury didn't become rich?"
Rashbrooke (in a calm voice): "No one is saying Rod Drury shouldn't do what he does. I think we are all grateful for the fact there are people like Rod Drury who have ideas, and produce innovations".
Espiner: "They end up on the Rich List because they do well."
Rashbrooke: "Sure, but if you go back to my point about company profits, go back 20 or 30 years and you had the same person setting up the same company, everything would have happened the same, they would make a very very substantial profit, but a larger share of those profits would have gone to the people who Rod Drury relies on to do the work, just as they rely on him to have the original idea."
We learnt Ministry of Social Development statistics do not show that there has been an increase in income equality of the past 20 years. I was surprised about that.
Rashbrooke conceded that was true, but stuck to his point that over the past couple of decades the share of company profits going back to employees has fallen from 60 per cent to 50 per cent. He estimated the average worker would be about $11,000 better off if workers had maintained getting this share of company profits. This seemed like a grown-up discussion.
But a little later in Parliament, in a debate on the teachers' strike, politicians were screaming at each other, more like toddlers than teenagers.