I was involved in a car chase this week. It wasn’t very Starsky & Hutch. No large empty cardboard boxes to bump into, no removal men walking across the road with a giant piece of glass, just an angry man chasing me because I had merged into a single lane in a displeasing manner.
I pulled over and wondered if he was armed. I also wondered: “What are the rules of engagement here? Is this a confrontational moment or a nursing moment?”
“Didn’t you see me?” he asked quietly, perhaps realising that he had pursued a car down two streets without a clear idea as to what he would do if the car stopped to see what he wanted.
I should have thought: “Blimey, he must be having a really bad day,” but instead thought: “What a stupid car - you look like Richard Hammond without the hair care”
“Yes,” I said, “I saw you.”
“But but… I had the right of way.” He wasn’t angry. He seemed slightly bemused. “Well,” I said, shrugging, “It’s a merging lane and we merged.” He shrugged too and drove away and I went home troubled.
On reflection, I was troubled by two things. First, how close to anger so many people are these days - on the roads, in the papers. People seem cross about everything from striking public service workers to who is winning The X Factor. Second, I was troubled by my own response.
At my best, I would have simply said sorry. But I didn’t say sorry. I wasn’t confrontational but I wasn’t particularly generous. His crossness was contagious. I should have thought: “Blimey, he must be having a really bad day,” but instead thought: “What a stupid car - you look like Richard Hammond without the hair care.”
Antagonism breeds antagonism, doesn’t it? And, in the wrong state of mind, we don’t manage antagonism, anger or frustration gently or kindly; we are more likely to greet it with crossness, irritation or, at best, a curt efficient ambivalence.
I think these are times of low lying misanthropy. This is illustrated by the idea of “fairness”. There are two ways of thinking about fairness. Either it involves thinking about other people having too much or other people having too little. Modern politics is focused on other people - public servants, the unemployed, immigrants - having too much. It is a politics of moral outrage and it seems to be part of a culture of anger.
The outrage at striking firefighters demonstrates this. “How dare they go on strike when we need them,” cried the media, unsurprisingly, missing the point. And, who knows, maybe public service strikes will spread further, maybe even to nursing and the paradox of our age will be exposed further: “We don’t value you, we don’t think you deserve pay increases or decent pensions but you can’t possibly withdraw the labour we hold in such contempt because we need you!”
I think one of the things that happens when people are cross - especially when they are cross a lot of the time - is that they think less. Certainly, they think about other people less.
Crossness breeds misanthropy and it is to that backdrop nursing is having to currently function. It is for that reason that I think these are worrying times.