Monday, 1 April 2019

Start the Week - Emotions at the Free Thinking Festival, Sage, Gateshead

At the weekend Sage, Gateshead was host to the Free Thinking Festival, which this year, was focused on emotions. This week's BBC Radio 4 Start the Week programme, presented by Tom Sutcliffe, explores the art and science of communication. 

The American diplomat William J Burns played a central role in American foreign policy from the end of the Cold War to the collapse of relations with Putin’s Russian, including secret talks with Iran. He explores the language of diplomacy.
Harriet Shawcross is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist. She reflects on how as a teenager she stopped speaking for almost a year. In her book Unspeakable she considers the power of silence. Harriet Shawcross talks about how, when one does not speak about emotions, one begins to have a muted emotional experience. Speech makes the experience emotional. When writing a text message or an email, there is a lot of control, forethought and there is no room for spontaneity. She writes about ways to use speech as a cure to selective mutism. She discusses her experience of volunteering for the Samaritans and how volunteers are trained to not respond immediately (somewhat against the trend in social media), but sit with what is being said, not offering solutions, but trying to go alongside someone into the dark places that normal conversations do not normally go. It does not close down the emotion or dismiss it, but acknowledges that it is there and the person is guided through dealing with the emotion. 

The musician and composer Kathryn Tickell roots her work in in the landscape and people of Northumbria. She is the foremost exponent of the Northumbrian pipes, and tells the story of Northumbria with - and without - words.
Thomas Dixon studies emotional outbursts as the director of the Centre for the History of Emotions. He unveils the scientific and philosophical underpinnings of anger and weeping. He talks about the importance of distinguishing between passions that may be troublesome violent and evil and affections that may be gentle and virtuous. We dont need more anger. There seems to be a change in how society judges the actions that we take in a given set of circumstances to what we feel in a given set of circumstances. Whereas we used to judge people on what they did, with the rise of social media we are tending to see the constant re-representation of feelings which might be miles away from any actual feelings. By talking about anger are politicians legitimising anger? 

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