CA: the perfect place to refresh and reflect

Given the anger we see every day in American society and culture, I am grateful to be working at a school where sounds of laughter are heard every day. Colorado Academy is a joyful place, and we need to do all we can to sustain that happiness, even in challenging times. As schools are human institutions, any human emotion can be seen on campus—and anger periodically rears its ugly head. We all have an emotional investment in our children. In an increasingly competitive world, we worry about our children’s future—not only for college, but also for their livelihoods. So, when things don’t go the right way, our fear can sometimes lead to anger. What’s scary is how anger can drive us and affect our well-being.

Anatomy of anger

The physiology of anger is fascinating. All emotions emerge from the amygdala. The amygdala is essentially our body’s alarm system. It sends out an alarm when we sense threats. It works so effectively that our anger response races faster than our ability to actually process the threat. How many times have you witnessed someone having an absolute temper tantrum over an absolutely irrational issue?

When we get angry, neurotransmitter chemicals are released and boost our energy: heart rates and blood pressure rise, breathing becomes more intense, and blood flows into extremities to prepare for a physical response to the threat. We literally get “fighting mad.” In our brains, our focus will narrow on the issue that made us angry, preventing neurotransmitters from the cortex (the part of the brain that controls our rational response) from responding. Thus, we become even more irrational.

Driving emotional responses

Our society has become more angry than ever. A number of observers have noted the role social media has played in manipulating collective anger. You likely saw recent news stories about Facebook and how their algorithm rewards anger. The Washington Post reported, “Five years ago, Facebook gave its users five new ways to react to a post in their news feed beyond the iconic “like” thumbs-up, adding “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry.”

Behind the scenes, Facebook programmed the algorithm that decides what people see in their news feeds to use the reaction emojis as signals to push more emotional and provocative content—including content likely to stir anger. Starting in 2017, Facebook’s ranking algorithm treated emoji reactions as five times more valuable than “likes,” internal documents revealed. The theory was simple: Posts that prompted lots of reaction emojis tended to keep users more engaged, and keeping users engaged was the key to Facebook’s “business.” Facebook’s own employees warned that this made their users more angry and would create more posts of abuse, as well as share misinformation.

Guiding our children

So, how do we help our kids navigate an angrier world? One way would be to avoid social media. I know that is hard and probably too big of an ask. The next best step is to educate yourself on how these platforms work and monitor your child’s engagement. Another way is to model, as much as possible, how to manage conflict in calm, respectful ways.

Our kids are always watching. They pay attention to how we respond to adverse situations. Learn to walk away or take a minute to think before saying something that might be hurtful. It takes the body a while to wind down once our brain has triggered an angry reaction. Exercise at that moment can help the body calm down. In the end, we also need to resolve the issue that made us angry. Kids can talk to you, or their friends, or a counselor and express what made them angry and process their response. At some point, they will probably need to confront the person or issue and learn how to do that calmly. All of these are important life skills.

A lesson from Ted Lasso

Lastly, I might channel your inner Ted Lasso! Ted Lasso is a hilarious comedy. (Note, it is adult-oriented and not appropriate for young viewers.) It’s about an American football coach, played by Jason Sudeikis, who is brought to England to coach an English football team, because that owner wants to sabotage her own team. It’s a complex story, but it’s a lot of fun.

Coach Lasso is this character that constantly exhibits optimism and kindness, while deep inside he struggles with his own issues that he is not confronting. Lasso’s kindness is juxtaposed with the absolute cynicism of nearly everyone he encounters in Britain. He is constantly insulted for his lack of true football knowledge. What makes the show great, in my opinion, are Lasso’s inspirational quotes that are a mixture of one-liners and humorous observations. Even when he is baited to get angry, Lasso always keeps his cool. (Except when he becomes his alter ego, when he feels he needs to yell at his team.) But even the Led Tasso alter ego can’t convincingly show anger, because Ted is just too nice.

Some of my favorite Lasso quotes include:

  • “I think if you care about someone and you have a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothin’ you can’t get through together.”
  • “Takin’ on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doin’ it, you’re probably doin’ it wrong.”
  • “You know what the happiest animal on Earth is? It’s a goldfish. You know why? Got a ten-second memory. Be a goldfish, Sam.”
  • “Even Woody and Buzz got under each other’s plastic.”
  • “I have a real tricky time hearing folks that don’t believe in themselves.”
  • “I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad. And that is being alone and being sad. Ain’t no one in this room alone.”
  • “As the man once said, the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
  • “Be curious. Not judgmental.”

This is the time of year when stress levels go up and tensions rise. There’s less time outdoors to get out and enjoy a little sunshine. The bustle of busy schedules and holiday planning can get the best of us. There is a lot in life that we can’t change or that we have little control over, but we do have control on how we respond. And if you ever need a break to refresh, visit CA and take in the laughter and smiles as our students play and connect on campus. Or find an episode of Ted Lasso and just laugh for a bit.