Re: Arguments & Arguers
From: Stuart Staniford-Chen (
Date: Wed, 25 Aug 1999 17:07:40 -0600 (MDT)

Sharon Villines wrote:

> 1. My children consider me to be very manageable and predictable because
> when I am angry I yell and it's done with. Others stew over it for days and
> the tension drives them crazy. They top toe around and get stomach aches.
> Children can understand that people have different ways of resolving issues.
> Expressed anger can be viewed as more honest than "polite," "tense,"
> "conversation."


> 3. When people yell, they are having strong feelings. People with strong
> feelings make strong community members. You want these people around. It is
> as much to your advantage to understand and resolve the issues as it is
> theirs to understand how you feel when they yell at each other.
> There are rules for fair fighting--name calling is not one of them. Learning

If I understand you correctly, you are asserting that yelling and swearing
may be [part of] a good and appropriate way of handling conflict, though you
draw the line at name calling.

I strongly disagree.

Clearly, there are wide cultural and class variations in how anger is
normally expressed.  I don't want to make any global judgement about other
cultures, but I'm interested in what is culturally appropriate amongst middle
class white North Americans and similar cultures (since that covers 99% of
the likely potential recruits for a cohousing community represented on this
list).  In this context, community members expressing their anger via yelling
and similar behaviours carries a number of very significant costs.

Firstly, it makes other community members acutely uncomfortable.  Not only is
this bad per se, but a community where this behaviour is frequent is likely
to lose members and have difficulty attracting new members.

Secondly, it creates serious power imbalances and distortions.  Many people
are instinctively and strongly fearful of someone who blows up regularly. 
Group members are likely to avoid opposing them on decisions where the angry
one is known to feel strongly or avoid bringing up issues that might elicit
that kind of behaviour.  It has a strong chilling effect on the group's
ability to frankly and honestly discuss their problems.

Thirdly, my experience is that, in relationships where people have some
option to hate and ignore each other, that is what open expressions of anger
and hostility will cause them to do.  It works very differently between two
neighbours than it might in a marriage, say.  In the latter case, yelling at
each other does seem to be cathartic and helpful for some couples.  But I
have yet to see a case where community members felt better about each other
and more prone to interact because they yelled at each other.  Instead they
avoid each other and think badly of each other.

Finally, in many cases, it is explicitly against the group's agreements on


Stuart Staniford-Chen --- President --- Silicon Defense
                   stuart [at]
(707) 822-4588                     (707) 826-7571 (FAX)

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