Making it Right (and the difficulty of anger)

The world is not right, though it will insist it is, bashing you in the face as many times as necessary to prove it.  History does not proceed by justice, the law does not concern itself with trifles, like the American lynching that was winked at for a century after the Civil War.  You get a flawless receipt from every ATM you will ever visit, along with the exact amount of money you ask for, plus applicable fees, yet the same company that makes the ATMs will insist it’s impossible to guarantee the same accuracy in counting electronic votes in US federal elections.  There are a billion examples, literally, more than that if you go inside families, friendships, workplaces.

In a world as insistently corrupt as our own, how does an individual make it right?   We have the serenity prayer, which at times may guide us to accept the difference between truly maddening things we must fight and things that will only madden us.   I have nothing much to offer here, except to consider for a moment the role anger plays in these proceedings.

A friend’s recent reaction to anger caught my attention.  This cheerful, agreeable woman got angry, years ago, over something she took as a slight.  Her unusual show of temper was mentioned recently (note how slyly the passive voice is used) and she became very apologetic about it, almost worked up that we recalled it.   The words angry and mad are used interchangeably, and both are emotionally fraught words.  A stigma is attached to both, and for understandable reasons.  Angry, mad people often do terrible things.  Seeing people out of control, or feeling out of control ourself, strikes terror.

You read the book Everyone Poops?  A delightful Japanese book pointing out the obvious and showing various creatures pooping.  Here’s an illustrated post about it, keeping it classy, as the author says.  We all poop, very important.   It is clear what must be done regarding poop and we do it as often as necessary.   A very good thing it is, too.   We all get angry, and even funnier, we all have a right to be angry much of the time when we feel it.  It’s what to do with the anger that is the perplexing puzzle.    

It often gets turned inward, which goes badly almost every time.  We blame ourself for something as natural as pooping and wind up using it against ourselves– very bad, as bad as not pooping.  It gets barked at the wrong people, also bad, for at least two reasons.  The source of the anger remains untouched and a person who did not deserve blame got barked at.  Very fucked up.  It’s threatening to express anger to someone who can retaliate, so those who can’t or won’t fight back are often targets instead.  Speak truth to power?  Want to get fucked up, go right ahead.  Unless of course, that truth flatters power; power doesn’t mind that.

My old friend was determined, when he became the father of a brilliant and provocative child, to learn not to react to his child’s provocations with anger.  This sounds easy, but try it for twenty years or so, every waking moment, tired and distracted, in sickness and in health.   His mother had not done well in this department, not well at all.  Not many angry people do well in this department.  My friend did the hard work, I am always proud of the job he did in not repeating what was done to him.

We get mad when somebody hurts us in a strikingly unfair way, or in a way they know will hurt us.  This happens.  What we do after that makes all the difference.  I think of that wonderful line I saw at Buddha Bodai restaurant, under the glass on the table:  remain soft spoken and forgiving, even when reason is on your side.  Wonderful advice.   Hard advice, but consider– if you care about the person who made you angry, what better way is there to respond?  If you have reason to be mad at yourself, what better way to speak than softly and with a tender willingness to forgive?

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