Politics & Grumpy Old Men


Images from the campaign trail:

–Former President Bill Clinton in angry exchanges with hecklers,

–A red-faced and finger-pointing Clinton angrily lecturing a reporter in South Carolina,

–Senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain exposing his dark side in a debate with Mitt Romney showing a dark smile of satisfaction when he thinks he hurts his opponent.

McCain has a long history of temper tantrums and has been referred to as “Senator Hothead” by several publications. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

–“F—you,” he shouted at Texas Senator John Cornyn last year,

–“Only an a—-would put together a budget like this,” he told the former Budget Committee chairman, Senator Pete Domenici, in 1999,

–“I’m calling you a f—-jerk!” he once retorted to Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.

These guys remind me of the loveable curmudgeon Max Goldman (played by Walter Matthau) in the 1993 movie Grumpy Old Men. But when out of control, Clinton and McCain are not loveable. How would behavior like theirs be treated in your workplace?

Chris Crowley wrote in “Younger Next Year” that men get noticeably grumpier when they reach the last one-third of their lives. We snap at our spouses, blow our horns, and stick our middle fingers up in traffic. Even the most even-tempered of us may suffer a general impatience just below the surface of our outwardly sunny dispositions.

I am about the age of Bill Clinton. Generally optimistic and idealistic, I too have a general impatience just below the surface of my normally calm exterior. The older I get, the less tolerant I am of selfishness, incompetence, political correctness, and the games people play.

Anger is an unpopular emotion because it scares people and can cause tremendous harm. But anger is part of who we are–it cannot be wished away. If we try to banish anger from our psychic system, we drive our aggression underground into the unconscious where anger will find expression in destructive ways. Anger is not the problem. The problem is our incompetence in facing anger within ourselves and others.

A peaceable young man asks a rabbi:

“Are we not to forswear anger and live peacefully with all men?
The rabbi answers, my son, God made anger for a purpose. If he
had not intended for us to use it He would not have put it in our souls.
Only be careful how you spend your anger. There are many things we
should not be angry about. We should save our anger for those things
which demand it.”

We have plenty to feel angry about in today’s world: lies told, trust betrayed, innocence violated, reality denied, power abused, and incompetence rewarded. Our anger provides the energy and motivation necessary to bring about change. We desperately need leaders who will stand up, speak up, and take actions that remind us of our own best possibilities.

The grumpy old men on the campaign trail need to develop some self-awareness and fight their crankiness. They are making fools of themselves. They along with the rest of us need to learn to express anger fully, maturely, and courageously. They also need to be role-models and mentors to others, young and old.

Tom Heuerman, Ph.D.

(Heuerman is an organizational consultant and former Secret Service agent and executive at the Star Tribune newspaper.)