Frustration pushes us to expressions that are mostly just placeholders for the words we might come up with when matters settle. If we’re lucky, matters settle so that we have time to reflect and generate productive insights. Alas, many times, as soon as matters settle, other issues arise and we are left with unresolved conflicts. A conflict could be as simple as the one between me and my daughter: I am interested in minimizing the variety of yogurts we consume; she needs to explore whatever is out there. It could be (and does become) as complex as divesting the world from relying on fossil fuels while investing in technologies that are not a direct promise for humanity’s survival.
In a simpler world, there used to be expressions of frustration that could sound very literal. There are many examples for conflict between parents and kids. Milk spilling on the floor; a tennis ball breaking a hole in the wall: the expressions of frustration many parents burst into, might be familiar. “I’ll Kill you!” or “You are no good for nothing.” Was the world ever simpler?
The simplicity I am referring to is when parents treated kids as lesser human beings. I still worry when I observe new generation parents exhibit such attitudes. Is the world much more complex these days? Maybe.
Because and thanks to that complexity, our capacity to deal with frustrations becomes even more pressing. Added to that is a tension that is hard to resolve. Parents’ interest in regarding their kids as equal to them is being challenged daily. Children’s evolving capacity to deal with frustrations of adults makes them pretty vulnerable. When a voice of authority charges at them, children can be pretty helpless. When that voice of authority is frustrated, a child has to endure the outcome. And then the child absorbs and learns. The word some parents use these days is very simple. In their frustration their intention might be merely tongue in cheek. They might even be trying to be ‘cool’. So they resolve to what they themselves grew up with. They just say “Fuck!”
Thinking of it now, I find the literal version to be an honest expression of simplicity. The first time a child hears their parent saying “I’ll kill you”, they might literally fear for their life. But as time goes by, they realize the lack of intention. They absorb and learn. As they grow up they even try to improve on the level of shock their own expressions generate.
Then comes Eddie Murphy and shows us how far (or low) we can still go:
And I’ve already given some thought to the people whose vocabulary is a beacon of simplicity. Their discourse can be summed up by a few simple words that decorate the spew of ‘fucken’, which is the main sound they emit. I used to hear our neighbors, a bunch of thirty somethings who at some point rented the house beside us. With a ‘fucken’ this and ‘fucken’ that, their conversation had always sounded energetic, interested, caring.
For years I have been looking for and practicing verses to clearly articulate my message. Occasionally I even think I’ve managed pretty well.
But frustration never takes a break. It’s a driver of both innovation and defeat. If you ask people what their preference would be, innovation is probably going to trump defeat. Reality however, shows us that people’s choices can be in conflict with their own good. Even the worst parents want to see their children succeed. Telling your kids they are no good for nothing, I’m sure, is not helpful. Still, even while employing “clean” language, some of the best parents fail.
So what the #_@&! can I do? Grow up?
Is this true to society as well? What does society need in order to grow up? If I break down the process of growing up in a single human being into its experiences, can we scale it up?
When I went with my father to a soccer game I was about fourteen. Neither of us were huge soccer fans. But among the teams on the field we had our favorite. The game started and immediately something strange happened. The referee blew the whistle, called one of the players from the team of our choice and drew a yellow card. The crowd hummed in disapproval. What the player did didn’t look offensive, neither intentional, let alone worthy of such a grave warning.
As the game progressed, “our” team scored. We got the desired lead. The game had a long way till the finish. The referee kept blowing the whistle against “us”. Then the game heated up. Our team was playing better. Not much better. The other team was a good match. The referee kept blowing the whistle against us. But we scored another goal! Roars of excitement filled the stadium. We could win! But the referee kept whistling. It was obvious he was against us. Every time he stopped one of our players the crowd roared in contempt. My father and I joined in shouting.
“NO!” or “THATSNOTFAIR!”. These felt somewhat benign compared to the typical fucks and son-of-a-bitches around us, but this is what I knew. This is what I was used to.
A score from the other team. It was getting tight. If the other team scores again, there would be a tie. We wanted to win. Then, we scored. “YEY!” and “YESH ELOHIM!!! (A god exists)”. The referee blew the whistle. He canceled the goal. WHAT?! The stadium erupted. It wasn’t the noise that was astounding, The whole block of concrete bleachers hummed along with the vocal cords of our human volcano.
For the first time in my life I heard my father beside me shout “Hashofet Benzona! (The referee is an S.O.B)”
The other team scored a tie, then our team scored again and we won.
It was a great game. It was over with a sense of fulfillment. I felt a bit out of place but was happy with the experience. The intensity of it left me with many questions. My vocabulary expanded unintentionally. But the questions keep leading my way.
In his essay just a few days before the 2020 US elections, Eddie Hock talks about euphemisms.
Eddie is the son of friends we visited just a few days before the 2016 elections. Together, we’ve watched in subdued horror the last debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Since then, the horror show of the Trump presidency kept its momentum. If it only were directed at constructive outcomes, the past four years could have been admirable. Every day that passed raised the same question: is this ever going to end?
Eddie’s current essay triggered in me an urge to put a few thoughts of my own together. They are not related to politics in any specific way. However, the sense of collapse in the wake of the 45th POTUS requires a rebuild that begins with the smallest step possible to move forward. Wishing us all a complete process of healing. The leading goes to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It would be every one of us that will allow the healing to happen. Thank you Eddie.