Re: Arguments & Arguers
From: Stuart Staniford-Chen (
Date: Wed, 25 Aug 1999 19:00:30 -0600 (MDT)

Sharon Villines wrote:
> > 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 did not mention swearing in any of my post. I warned you I was being a
> devil's advocate. People have emotions. They act  on them. Emotions are not
> bad things. 

I agree that emotions are wonderful things and I'd be lost without mine :-). 
However, every culture has rules on how they may be expressed.  If I get
angry at my boss, I may not hit him as a way of acting on my emotions.  Just
because you are angry, doesn't mean it's a good idea to express your feelings
by yelling.

My point was that I do NOT get upset when people yell, at each
> other or at me. I view it as an emotional response that is as sincere an
> expression of feeling as other feelings.

I agree it can certainly be sincere.  It's also usually counter-productive. 
You are unusual in not being upset by it.  Most folks are, and this is why,
in both of the cohousing communities I have been heavily involved in, there
has been consensus that members may not express their anger by yelling (at
least in meetings).  My questions have to do with what should happen when
members are unable to follow through on the commitments that they themselves
consented to.

> I question whether the touchy feely expressions of undying love for all
> members of the community--which cannot possibly be "true"--are healthy
> either.

I agree that untruthfully pretending to feel love for people one does not
love is a bad idea.

> I would suggest some training in not being intimidated by other people's
> feelings. 

I see.  Your need to express your anger by yelling is valid and healthy.  But
other people's need to express their emotions of fear by avoidance of angry
people yelling is something that they should be trained out of.  You're
entitled to your perspective, but if training is useful (something I'm unsure
of), I think it should be applied to the angry ones, not the fearful ones. 
At the very least, there's a lot fewer of the former.

But yelling out of a sincere expression of one's feelings I
> clearly said is NOT THE SAME AS BULLYING. Bullying is directed at power
> plays. Anger is not. Anger is anger.

Just because it isn't a conscious power play doesn't mean that it doesn't
have the effect of unfairly enhancing the power of the person who gets angry
(oversimplifying).  And expressions of anger in humans are at least partially
consciously controlled or permitted.  Most of us have a lot of neurons
between our frontal lobes and our amygdalas.  And many of us are familiar
with that split second of cool cognition after the offense when we feel like
we have a choice whether or not to blow up in response.  However, people vary
widely in their ability to regulate their emotions (anger and others).  It's
known that genetic factors are important in this.  It's also known that
children who do not form a secure attachment to their parents are likely to
regulate emotions poorly as adults.

A big question in my mind is - how much can someone learn to regulate anger
better as an adult (any emotion psychologists or neuroscientists on the

> > Thirdly, my experience is that, in relationships where people have some
> > option to hate and ignore each other,
> Whoa----------is yelling hating and ignoring?????

No - hating and ignoring is the most common response to yelling (in my
experience).  I speculate that this is biologically rooted and would be hard
to change via training.  Thinking of us as social primates for a moment,
people getting angry is a social signal that they might get violent.  It's
evolutionarily adaptive to avoid violent people, and hate and fear are
emotions that cause us to avoid other people.  So genes which causes primates
to have an instinct to hate and fear others who yell at the primate might
well have a differerential advantage (grossly oversimplying the analysis,
since I really ought to get back to work :-).


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

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