The Time Traveler: Hugh Ellis

In the wake of the anti-femicide protests in the last few weeks, many of us men might, I think, be feeling troubled.

Many of us are overwhelmed by the stories we heard of rape, murder, assault and harassment. Many of us are ourselves victims of the same violent tendencies in our fellow men. And many of us have been complicit in gender-based violence.

We may not be the B1 Butcher, but we know we could have done better in our dealings with our significant others, one-night stands, or female relatives.

If this is you, I’m writing this, the first in a series of three articles, for you, my fellow Namibian man, so we can do better by our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives and our friends.

I don’t claim to be an expert; indeed, I’m as complicit as you. But maybe my reading of gender theory, my knowledge as a conflict management trainer in the Alternatives to Violence Project, and my four decades of life on this earth may yield a few gems.

Today I want to talk about managing anger.

Gender-based violence is fueled by men’s position of power in society, by the way poverty is forced upon many groups of men by the World Economic System, but at least part of it is also due to men not being educated about the necessary tools to manage our emotions.

Emotions in general, and anger in particular, are not bad things.

Anger gets things done. It keeps us alive. It served our ancestors well in helping them avoid becoming a lion’s lunch. But it is dangerous to let anger and rage be the basis of complex relationships with our fellow vulnerable human beings.

The first key is to recognize your anger, and one of the easiest ways is to check your body.

Are your shoulders tense and raised up towards your ears? Are your hands shaking? Can you feel a tightness in your chest? Check your breathing – is it quick and shallow? Do you feel a tightness in your stomach?

If you are feeling any these in an argument, it’s time to withdraw. Take at least half an hour to be alone and re-assess. What is it, exactly, that was upsetting you? Are you sure what you thought you were defending was actually under attack? How could you approach the situation differently?

Some people find a ‘traffic light’ approach helpful.

Do you feel fine and can you see the disagreement as one issue among many? That’s a green light. Feel free to continue the discussion.

Are you starting the feel some of physical signs I described above? Is the disagreement is starting to dominate your thoughts? That’s amber. Slow down, pause before you respond, and continue to evaluate if you should be in this discussion at all.

Are your hands shaking, short of breath, and you can’t think about anything else? That’s a red light, and you should excuse yourself immediately. Go for a run, take out your rage on a set of weights or a punching bag. Return to the situation later.

When we can manage our emotions around an issue, we are still left with what to do with the disagreement in the first place.

While our cultures see disagreement as a problem, it can be an opportunity – to find a third solution that is better than the two competing ones.

How do we find such a solution? The first step is to fully hear your opponent’s argument. Even if you disagree. The next is to search for whatever truth, however slim, her argument holds for you. You and her can then use these slivers of truth from your contradictory positions to build a new way forward.

While doing this, specifically ask for a non-violent solution. Trust that the process of finding a third way will work out.

If it does not – you have the right to walk away. Divorce is better than an unhappy marriage. Going on strike or resigning is better than living eight-to-five under a bullying boss. Moving out of the family home is better than domestic misery.

For any of this to happen, of course, you need two deep beliefs – respect for yourself, and respect for the other.

Why is this respect so often lacking in our society when it comes to male-female or ‘masculine-feminine’ relationships? That will be the topic of next week’s column.

Hugh Ellis is a Namibian citizen and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication of the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com