By Erin E. Robinson
I’ve been angry. I’m not an angry person. I’ve found myself reacting in different ways to everyday stresses, such as traffic, my young sons arguing. I am alarmed both at how quick emotions escalate and how palpable the anger and anxiety is in our society right now.
As a mom, I am used to boys arguing and getting physical occasionally. What I am not used to is how fast the escalation of emotions seems to be occurring as of late. This is not just evident by observing the frustrations of boys arguing over the latest Pokémon find, but instead an escalation of emotions across all sectors of society. As we look at the latest media cycle, it is evident we are quick to argue, fight and even kill over our anger toward someone.
As a sociologist, I study sociocultural patterns of human behavior. I notice these patterns and connect them to norms and values that embody our culture and society. As members of a civil society, we are responsible for how these norms and values are created, replicated, supported or rejected.
Language is a powerful tool for the creation and legitimation of social norms. Discourse of these ideas then becomes the reality based on the language being used to represent an idea. This is not a new idea and the tone of the political season is not without blame. It is hardly news to hear about the latest death of an unarmed person of color, college sexual assault and rape being dismissed in court, plots against refugee communities and everyday talk of objectification of women being treated as locker room banter, in the everyday vernacular.
However, the latest use of language to objectify and legitimize sexual assault and violence against women is an example of how, once elevated by someone running for president, it becomes particularly dangerous. Presidential temperament legitimizes words. Words are powerful. Words become actions and actions need to be accounted for.
Many report feeling high levels of stress and anxiety – 59 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats report experiencing significant stress over this election. We are often told to tune out, turn it off, ignore … but it is dangerous to tune out the words of this election. It is important that an informed electorate engage and vote. I ask that we turn inward. Between consolation and desolation is quiet discernment. We need to embrace this and move forward with good intent for the welfare of ourselves and our communities.
I am reminded that our compassion includes justice for our natural and human environments; that we seek an understanding that we as members of this society are more than words – we are our actions. We rise above the derogatory language and live with action and inspiration that we have power to move beyond the anger and fear and vote our hearts this November.
Erin E. Robinson, Ph.D., is a sociologist. She lives in North Tonawanda.