“Anger is a habit.” Years ago, I heard this as I was listening to the radio, hearing someone interviewed about anger. Anger management classes were trending at that time and sometimes as a therapist I referred people to them. But all of a sudden this was about ME and MY anger. I recognized immediately that I had developed a pattern. We had taken a teenage boy and his younger sister into our home as foster children. His sister had a habit any time things were going well, to inject something into the mix that was destructive. And I would get angry. This was, of course, the exact response she wanted. It provided emotional distance if she was starting to feel too close, too cozy in the family. Foster children often have that tendency. After that program, I made an effort to be less reactive. At least sometimes I was successful in that. Not nearly often enough, I think.
“While anger can bring about change, it can ultimately only lead to more conflict,” writes Brother Phap Dung, a monk at Plum Village in France. He points out this can be true in our personal lives as well as in the fate of a nation. His suggestion is to first find one’s center, when faced with a situation that invites anger or aggression.
“Nonaction is sometimes very powerful. Sometimes we underestimate someone sitting very calm, very solid and not reacting and they can touch a place of peace, a place of love, a place of nondiscrimination. That is not inaction,” Brother Phap writes.
One time in particular, I was quite irritated with my daughter. There was some task I had asked her repeatedly to do and she had never taken care of it. I recall so clearly my hand on the doorknob, ready to storm upstairs and read her the riot act. But I stopped. I thought what the outcome would be. She would be upset. I would be upset. If she did the task at all it would be with resentment. So I didn’t storm upstairs. I sat down and wrote something to the effect of what it was I wanted her to do, how I felt because she had not done it and my appreciation for her taking the time to complete it. I carried the note up to her, handed it to her wordlessly and left. In a little while the task was completed. She was not angry. I was no longer irritated. I still marvel at the simplicity of that interaction.
When I consider the anger in our country, indeed in our world, I imagine what it might be like if everyone paused with their hand on the doorknob and took stock before they took action.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: A breathing practice: (in breath) Peace in Oneself; (out breath) Peace in the World. Repeat frequently. 😊
P.S. This is the blog I intended to write last week when I came across the story about Shirley the elephant and elected to write that instead. Next week will be on fear, as I think anger and fear are the biggest obstacles in any movement towards a more peaceful coexistence.