It’s Ugly Out There.

It’s Ugly Out There.

Why is everyone so damned angry? What is it these last few years that has made people so aggressive and impatient and ready to have a go at anyone with whom they disagree. Why the coiled spring? Why the poison pen and acid tongue? What happened to the old dictum that ‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything?’

Just when did this behaviour move from the football terraces onto our streets? Why is now seen as perfectly reasonable to criticise anyone who says anything you disagree with? What has made people so belligerent and judgemental of others that they are prepared to resort to sharp words without a minute’s thought to the consequences or hurt inflicted.

It’s everywhere. Last week, I stopped to let someone through an underpass when I had the right of way – my mistake as I misread the arrows, but not a grievous one although you’d think so from the reaction of the motorist who passed me gesticulating wildly, pointing to the arrows in a truly spectacular sideshow of digital signage and frothy mouthed obscenities.

It could of course, just be my driving that engenders road rage, but I think not. Unusual? Not in the least! Everywhere, it seems, people have become impatient, more aggressive in their language and behaviours, as evident in the increase in domestic crime, violent crime and cyber-bullying.

The problem first became manifest when the internet opened a window to our souls and created the verbal equivalent of a maelstrom. With the speed and availability of e-mail, reflective thinking went out the window as people became used to firing off missives without thought, demanded instant responses, to words written without reflection.

Look at the comments pages on any news or sports stories and you will see the nasty underbelly of our society exposed. When occasionally, the pent-up anger breaks cover from the shadows it is not some fist-fight, but knife crime or some brutal and vicious act that can only make us wonder where our humanity has gone.

In reading comments on-line on almost any subject, a small number are invariably critical of the writers and their provenance, although surprisingly few directly respond to the content of the article. Rather, the norm is that discussions polarizes and disintegrates into acrimony and attacks ad hominem before ending up debating questions of class, political allegiance, social mobility and opportunity, all of which speak of a wider malaise. The problem isn’t the debate, it is the intemperate language, the refusal to countenance another point of view and the underlying hostility.

The same belligerence is evident almost everywhere as litigation and criticism become the norm. For instance, the teaching profession, already facing a problem with recruitment and retention, has seen more than 20% of its workforce subject to false accusations in recent years, by pupils and parents with nearly 50% of allegations proved to be unsubstantiated, malicious or unfounded. Why? Because they can.
Perhaps at the end of another year we need to look at the implications of the way we are heading and ask if there is anything we can do to arrest it, to engender and promote the values of patience and tolerance, empathy and courtesy for without them we are in danger of losing any sense of community and becoming a very mean-spirited society indeed.

By Peter Tait

A retired teacher and head for 17 years, now focusing on writing, both on education and further fiction and non-fiction (previously having published two novels and a non-fiction book on Thomas Hardy's wives and other women, a biography, poetry and numerous articles on education).

1 comment

  1. In general, people already have a natural tendency to be self-centered in want of attention, which is why we need discipline and boundaries. In my opinion, the internet makes it easy to ‘take center stage’ with expressions of anger, intolerance, mockery, etc. This has led many to become very self-centered without self-control in every aspect of their own lives. Sad, very sad.

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