What to say or do when we feel provoked?


I struggled to write anything at all today, as right now I feel a sense of true sensory overload.

I’m typically able to hold many thoughts at once as well as process multiple emotions, both as a natural ability and through many years of training and experience as a coach, not to mention being a father of three.

However, sometimes we have these moments where it is all too much to process, so we can go into a kind of “lockdown”, certainly one that can stop me getting into a writing “zone”.

Today then, my apologies, but I can’t write much.

So, what happened to tip me into this sensory overload?

Was it the video of an elected government minister assaulting a woman protester, grabbing her by the throat and marching her out of a black-tie dinner?

Was it that the entire audience simply sat there and said and did nothing at all?

Was it that a large portion of the public and journalists then looked to justify his actions?

Yes, all of those things and more.

For a long time now I’ve been struggling with the descent into the depths of human behaviour of public and political discourse, not just in the UK, but in many other countries.

I am someone who believes in the innate goodness of humanity, so, in my work, look to work with leaders and organisations that see themselves as primarily purpose-driven and a force for good for others.

So, living in London, it has been difficult to be at the epicentre of the polarisation of a country, with, in particular, an elected government that for years has blithely and consciously done the opposite of being a force for good for others, instead consistently promoting the needs of the “haves” over the “have nots” in more and more glaringly obvious ways.

This, then, has always been sitting with me at a level of, yes, disgust and outrage, but I have been able to “bottle it” and instead look to do my part to foster positive change and transformation. I believe so many things are radically wrong, but I see my ability to make a difference more in working within the system than in being radical about it.

However, yesterday that changed.

The news cycle in the UK has been dominated by the soon to be “coronation” of a Prime Minister who is so far out of line with my values that when I was in the same room as him last year at an event, I had to physically distance myself from him to the other side of the room, that is how repelled I felt. That has been difficult enough to sit with silently.

Yesterday, though, all of that was pushed out of the way by a video of one of his political party grabbing a woman by the throat and marching her out of a black-tie dinner, whilst, as he did so, nobody in the room did anything at all to stop him.

It is not that words fail me, simply that I cannot possibly express the level of emotion and thoughts that flow from me in the face of this glaring example of so much that is and feels so wrong.

We are living in times that strain the positivity of even someone as optimistic as me.

I feel on edge and highly reactive about this, such that I simply can’t talk about this right now, I need time to process it. Sometimes better to wait until I feel in a space to respond rather than react. Frankl’s teachings come to me, in that we always have a choice as to how we respond to any external stimulus. Boy, it is hard to hold back my anger right now though.

What does come to me at the moment as an anchor is a quote made in 1770 by the Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke:

“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

A powerful phrase that has been adjusted and repeated for many years as :

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

What do we do in the face of actions large (such as the actions of a government against large groups of people) and individual (as in this elected government minister, his assault on a protester, as well as the non-actions of everyone else in that room)?

I am not sure what to do or say, but I am feeling more and more that the UK seems to be descending into a real-life version of “V for Vendetta” combined with “The Handmaid’s Tale”, a dystopian state where a nation is gradually being sucked into quietly acquiescing with a system of politics that, little by little, then all at once, will see any semblance of democracy removed, such that we then live in fear at so many levels under totalitarian rule.

Sorry, I did just then start expressing my own thoughts and fears.

For now, then, apologies that I didn’t write one of my usual posts today. Today is a day for me to process and reflect.

Also published on Medium.

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