I’m afraid this will be a bit of a ramble, a kind of a hack through some thoughts of failure, of watching a TV interview of a sportsman from the 1970s and then one last week, of media training, of war, of politics, of anger, of disconnection and of fear. I haven’t time to concoct a proper playing out for them, but something about them needs to be said right now, rather than me carrying them, and feeling angry as I carry them. So here we go. Failure. I’m admitting it from the start.
Failure is a disconnection, and usually a painful one. In my work as a psychotherapist I see reality failures each day. Reality being life being lived now, experienced in the present. People experience moments in life as if they were, in more respects than they need to be, not just echoes of the past but replays of past moments attached to things going on in the present. They feel fear or anger as powerfully as those emotions were first felt in response to an event in the past, not the one happening now. The fall in love – again. And again. And the same thing happens. All of us, we in some way fail to find clean connections to reality: ones unsullied by detritus from the past. And we keep on doing this until someone points it out; and then usually we dismiss them. Outside intervention fails.
Recently there have been a couple of spectacular failures: the English football team losing to Iceland, and the Remain side failing to convince half the country of the chaos and aggression that would be unleashed by an ‘out’ vote’ (the destructive spiral of hate crimes, political implosions and financial crises).
What can I do here to describe the things which, with hindsight, seemed to predict failure to me? What can I do, because I did predict how these things would fall.
I had a very strong feeling that England would lose their football match, not because I know anything about football – it’s about twenty years since I saw a game – but because the day before the game with Iceland I caught sight of an interview with one of the English players. In the manner of many sporting professionals he seemed oddly encapsulated, neutered, tedious and predictable. He’d ironed himself out.
If I turn my mind to a sport I know far better, cricket, I’ve always been interested in how the teams with the best interviewees usually win. Free spirits, non-compliant people, win things as long as they accept there is some kind of law they can’t go beyond (and or that they need a strong captain or manager). Shane Warne stretched that to the limit but as a player he always seemed to have some kind of respect for the laws of cricket. That English footballer I saw, something in him had been milled down. He’d gone from porridge oats to Ready Brek. There was a level of deceit to him, seemingly utterly anodyne, that felt as if it couldn’t been true. How do you turn that off, that castrated plodding? And where did his anger go at being so horribly circumscribed? How could that not lead to the clumsiness, lack of coordination and deflation of that game?
Media training disconnects. It sets people up to fail. What’s it like, I wonder, to talk about yourself and your team-mates when it feels as if (or perhaps it’s the case that) your speech has been rewritten by somebody else? What’s the effect of that? Anxiety, almost certainly. Maybe a false calm. A veneer of solidity.
People who succeed feel themselves, or have experiences where they can feel themselves, as often as they can. If they can’t, then in some way they start to fail, to come apart. Under pressure that doesn’t play out well.
Maybe watch interviews of sports stars from the 1970s if you want to succeed. Ignore media training (if you’re unlucky enough to have it thrust on you). Make the occasional gaff, be yourself and know not just your limits, but the limits.
Brexit, then. Speakers from one side of the argument during the referendum seemed to avoid and attack facts. They focused on ‘project fear’ and ‘taking control’. They tapped into an aggressive, destructive surge – Gove in particular, orchestrating what felt such a symphony of hate. Or perhaps you only feel that keenly if your name or your skin marks you out s a possible object of hate. Polish vermin, for example. It seems now I am a rat?
Leave. If something makes people feel much better in themselves, especially if they were feeling unbearably bad to begin with, you try getting between them and it. Leave. Think of leave as a drug, leave as a cigarette, leave as a glass of beer and Brexit makes sense. How long have packets of cigarettes carried messages saying smoking kills? And how many people still smoke? It makes sense as long as you don’t deny how angry British people were not just at the time of the referendum but at others, and how at those others they weren’t allowed to let it out.
Well it’s out. Leave. And Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are doing their media training thing, glossed and strangely confectionary, so I imagine they’re done for now. People need somebody to remind them, or even show them, how angry they are. Gove and Johnson do. Jeremy Corbyn does. That strange paleness, that prickling in the fingers, those raised shoulders and shortness of breath; that headache, that sleepless night, that slamming of the door by mistake. That treading on the foot. That push. That shove.
We used to have wars closer to home. Then we found ways to have them and forget them. Now they’re coming home again, I fear, unless we find ways of calling them before they begin. No more media training, please. No more gloss. Politicians need to show us how to get angry and sports players need to show us how to compete – sometimes brutally, but inside the rules. Within the law.