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ANGER, PART III. . .

I was in 6th grade when I truly became aware of the anger that I carry.  On 4 April, 2010 the following poem emerged into my consciousness.  I wrote it down and then typed it out.  I have not edited the poem.  Later that year my friend George sent me a photo he had taken.  As I looked at the photo I immediately connected it to how I feel when I am experiencing my anger.  I have attached George’s photo to the end of my poem.

I CARRY ANGER. . .

I carry anger and rage within me
As someone carries concealed weapons;
I am not always aware they are there
Yet when called upon they are within easy reach.

Simple things can summon them from their resting place;
An interruption when I am concentrating,
A question that challenges me in some way;
I sense no pattern although I believe one exists.

Sometimes I wonder where all of this anger and rage comes from;
Sometimes I simply accept the reality of their existence.
At times I am puzzled, if not perplexed, by their presence;
At times I surrender to the reality of their residence.

Although I have experienced their spontaneous awakening
for many years I am almost always taken aback by their
intensity.

The spark that ignites the flash in the pan is the result
of a remark, observation or question.  The flash of fire
touches the black powder that explodes and sends my
anger and rage ripping through the once calm air;
This is an anger and rage that tears into someone like
a mini-ball does when it spreads soft skin and shatters
bone and organ leaving deep wounds and permanent scars.   –4 April, 2010

ANGER, PART II. . .

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy. –Aristotle

When I view my own aggression in the primordial light of our hunting past, the intensity of my urge to anger and to attack is easier to understand.  I strive to remember that in addition to being compassionate we are ferocious at birth.

Elias Canetti captured this as follows: ‘The human body bristles with power.  The most innocent seeming gesture recalls the primitive seizing and devouring of prey.’ Gentle Reader, if you’ve ever been in a crowded store on the day of the ‘big sale’ you know of what Elias writes.

We are each endowed with an anger instinct that seeks for discharge and waits for the proper context to be expressed (some would say that a number of us humans are waiting for ‘any context’ within which we can express our anger).

Zoologists tell us that if human aggression were more or less at the same level as that of other mammals that human society would be peaceful and nonviolent.  Most mammals are aggressive only in situations of crowding or limited resources.  We humans can, as we well know, behave cruelly and destructively in the most benign situations.  Humans who are ‘anger prone’ tend to eagerly await (and often help create) situations that permit their rage to engulf all.

A conclusion: ‘Anger’ requires ‘mindfulness.’  Gentle Reader, consider this:  Repression is an underrated strength in our Culture obsessed with liberty.  Repression IS a faculty of ‘Mindfulness.’  As a Culture dedicated (or is it ‘addicted’) to the proposition that all men are created equal, and that all ‘free’ men should let their freak flags fly, we have come to underestimate the value of ‘holding back,’ containing, suppressing and sublimating.  We have adulterated ‘freedom’ into ‘license.’

Research supports that more repression, not less, enables folks to be happier and more contented.  Now this might seem ‘Un-American’ to some who are ‘freedom-obsessed’ it is truly about ‘what’ we repress and ‘how’ we repress it (in this case –anger).

Mindful self-censorship is more liberating than oppressive.  All moral-ethical behavior is rooted in limits and paradoxically, the limits are liberating (again, this makes sense if one views ‘freedom’ as rooted in responsibility and not in license).  To put it another way: ‘Freedom’ is not the result of blowing our top every time we feel like it.

The Buddha, as is his wont, can be helpful to us.  In his teaching on right speech the Buddha provided us with three criteria that will guide us as we seek to determine the wisdom of shooting from the lip:  First, ask our self if it is ‘true.’  Next ask our self if it is ‘kind.’  Third, before we blast somebody we must determine whether or not our assault is ‘necessary.’  This type of ‘repression’ can actually set us free – we can be ‘free from…’ in order to be ‘free to…’

An angry man is again angry with himself when he returns to reason. –Publilius Syrus

ANGER, PART I. . .

The opposite of anger is not calmness, its empathy. –Mehmet Oz

Consider this: Anger is neutral.  Anger is survival-based energy.  We can use it for good or ill.  The Buddha did remind us that ‘anger with its poisoned root and honeyed tip’ can seduce us into self-righteous aggression.  Anger requires me-you-us to pay attention to proportion, appropriateness, timing and targeting – the question, of course, is how often do I-You-We actually pay attention.

Just as self-righteous anger drives folks to revenge and prompts good people to guilt-free murder for their faith, anger may also activate our moral behavior.  Anger can be directed toward the good.  We are often critical of aggressiveness, but without it we humans would have been dead in the water, literally.

The psychologist, E.O. Wilson has identified seven different types of human aggression.  Consider these: protective anger, sexual anger, anger geared toward dominance, anger as rage and ‘empathic anger’.  Empathic anger enables us to identify with others who’ve been wronged and provides us the energy to fight on their behalf.

There is, as we well know, a trap.  Since anger tends to be self-justifying, as well as morally blinding, it is too easy to cloak my selfish anger in the robe of righteousness.  I have put on this cloak and I don’t believe I am the only cloak-wearer afoot.

There is acute anger and chronic anger.  Chronic anger is one of life’s banes, wanton anger seeking its own release, ruining relationships, health and morale.  Proneness to chronic anger is a stronger predictor of dying young than smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol (so the researchers tell us).

The ferocious anger that is rooted within one overwhelms one.  ‘Seeing red’ is more than a figure of speech.  When rage grips the limbic brain, a scarlet veil of bloodshed from millennia past seems to color the rational mind.  It is crucial that you-I-we remember that we’ve inherited a ‘carnivorous psychology.’  We humans have lived 99% of our time on earth as hunters.  We owe our biology, psychology and many of our customs to the aggressive legacy of our mastodon killing forebears.

Our intellect, interests, emotions and basic social life are all products of our hunting heritage.  I also found it sobering to learn that war is viewed in much the same way as hunting.  The psychologist, Richard B. Lee, noted that ‘war has been far too important in human history for it to be other than pleasurable for the males involved.’  Thankfully, warfare as sport is no longer tenable in a world where clubs and spears have morphed into A-Bombs.  Sadly, warfare as sport is still practiced by too many of us (in our Culture we have taken two metaphors and morphed them into one – the ‘war-sports’ metaphor).

We must not deny our carnivorous roots.  We must never forget that it is easy to teach a human how to kill, and it is a daunting challenge to teach a human how to be peace-full.  We are reminded of this every day.

Our carnivorous roots continue to provide us, at a primal level, a fascination with blood…

A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever. –Jessamyn West

If you do not trust the people you make them untrustworthy. –Lao Tzu

Our revolutionary Founders discerned the need for character to reside within ‘We the People’.  ‘Moral Character’ was essential to the vitality of the Founders’ experiment in ‘Democracy.’  In 1801 Thomas Jefferson wrote: ‘The steady character of our countrymen is a rock to which we may safely moor.’

For Jefferson, the significance of ‘Moral Character’ was a reverberation of all he knew from the lessons of history.  Consider his words: ‘It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor.  A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.’

James Madison offered a complement to Jefferson: ‘Is there no virtue among us?  If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.  No theoretical checks – no form of Government, can render us secure.  To suppose that any form of Government will secure liberty or happiness without any form of virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.’

For Jefferson and Madison, ‘Moral Character’ was a major tap root that nurtured, sustained and enabled our Democracy to develop from the potential to the actual – to move from the ideal to the real.

Two generations later, Alexis de Tocqueville toured our American countryside and discovered that the hopes of our Founders had been provisionally realized – virtue was, in fact, central to the vitality of American democratic life.  He wrote: ‘These habits of restraint are found again in political society and singularly favor the tranquility of the people as well as the durability of the institutions they have adopted.’

As I reflect upon all of this, I am not surprised that the challenges we are facing today are rooted in a weakening of our ‘Moral Character.’  History – theologic and philosophic – teaches us that the flourishing of ‘Moral Character’ is rooted in essential virtues that nurture and sustain justice, mercy, caring, compassion, empathy and democracy.   ‘Moral Character’ is part of our inheritance and it is part of the Legacy of our Founders.  ‘Moral Character’ matters!

If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm. –African Proverb

Jealousy is a strange transformer of character. –Sherlock Holmes (aka A.C. Doyle)

Still… Today most of us share an awareness that profound changes are taking place in our society, in our world, and that children reflect, promote, and bear the intended and unintended consequences of these changes.  Given this, most of us also agree that ‘Character Matters’ (think: Moral Lives).

The collective wisdom of the ages attempts to teach us that Character Matters a great deal.  In both ‘Classical’ and ‘Scriptural’ Cultures – the civilizations that have been, and continue to be, so deeply formative of our own Culture – folks understood that there is a direct association between the moral character of the person and the moral character of the Culture/Society.  Cultures/Societies are simply individuals and relationships writ large.  Our moral character is essential to decency, order, justice, mercy, compassion, and caring within public life.  Where moral character became corrupted so did the Culture/Society.

Moral Character AND Social Welfare were consequential in both biblical and classical civilizations – the two civilizations that are the tap roots of our own Culture/Society.  The wisdom writer of Proverbs (29:2) reminds us: ‘When the righteous are in power, the people rejoice, but they groan when the wicked hold office.’

The ancient Greek philosophers were also clear: There is a direct connection between individual moral character and our collective well-being.  For example: In the Republic Plato held up moral character as the defining qualification of the ruling class.  This was for a simple reason: Rulers rooted in and nurtured by a moral character were ‘most likely to devote their lives to doing what they judged to be in the interest of the community.’  Social dis-integration and social dis-ease was inevitable if rulers failed in the development and in the sustaining of their moral character.

Plato noted – and reminds us even today – that ‘the community suffers nothing very terrible if its cobblers are bad and become degenerate and pretentious; but if the Guardians of the laws and state, who alone have the opportunity to bring it good government and prosperity become a mere sham, then clearly it is completely ruined.’

This powerful scriptural-philosophic legacy impacted and framed the Enlightenment Intellectuals.  This powerful triad directly impacted our Nation’s Founders and hence our Nation.  One of the Enlightenment’s impactful voices was that of the French philosopher, Montesquieu.  Montesquieu reiterated the case to us when he observed that ‘the corruption of each government almost always begins with that of its principles.’  Nowhere is this truer than in a democratic regime.

The essential ingredient for a democracy, Montesquieu noted, is virtue.  Montesquieu noted (and reminds us today) that: ‘When virtue ceases, ambition enters those hearts that can admit it and avarice enters them all.’

Consider our American Revolutionary Founders…

Is there no virtue among us? –James Madison

We decide for the next seven generations. –Iroquois Confederacy

Morality Counts.  Character Counts.  Moral Character Counts.  Thanks in great part to easy access to social media, today, more than ever before in our history the moral character not only of individuals but the moral character of collectives (think: The U.S.A.) has moved to the forefront of many conversations.  Much of this conversation is rooted in anxiety.  This anxiety is fed by a major tap root, the ‘fate of our children.’

We have deep concerns about our children and their future – including the development of their moral character – as individuals and as a ‘collective.’  During our discussions we like to announce that our anxiety is important because ‘children are the future!’   The ‘truth’ of this is obvious.  The other ‘truth’ is that this is a national cliché.  Sadly, it is also code phrase.

Before I expand on this code phrase I need to step aside and share a bit of my cynicism with you.  What’s the cliché here?  ‘I want to be fully transparent.’ My cynicism, sadly, has recently increased in response to a number of voters in school districts across our nation who recently voted down tax proposals that would have directly benefitted public schools and CHILDREN!

To return to our topic.

It is true, ‘Children are the future!’  And our future is, indeed, uncertain – although if we continue to follow certain paths the children of our children will not have much to work with.  Now, Gentle Reader, I also invite you to consider that this favorite phrase, ‘Children are the future!’ is also a code for speaking about ourselves (which might be one reason why voters can guilt-free deny our public schools the funds they need – it is really not about the children at all).

‘Children are the future!’ is a linguistic device.  Through this device ‘WE’ talk about our own desires, commitments and ideals – we talk about ‘OUR’ world; we are not talking about THE world our children will inherit.

We, adults, compete with one another about what is truly in ‘OUR’ best interest – we live in the trickle-down illusion that what is, today, best for us will, tomorrow, be best for the children.  History tell us – oh how I wish history would truly ‘teach’ us – that we are living an illusion.  We deny, among other things, history’s lesson.

Children become an ideological weapon that we wildly wield.  Children become a ‘tool’ (we are still immersed in the Mechanical Metaphor in our Country) and they also become an ‘asset’ (our current major Cultural Metaphor is the Banking Metaphor).  Some of these assets are more valuable than others – hence our ability to vote down the funds that will help our schools.  As ‘tools’ and ‘assets’ our children become weapons for our politicians and their agendas.

In loudly claiming that ‘We put children first!’ we actually put them last – we dehumanize them (‘tools’ and ‘assets’) and we use them as ‘weapons’ in our ideological wars (I almost wrote: idiot-illogical, which is what our ideological wars are truly rooted in).

Still…

We become our thoughts. –Aristotle

 

 

A mystic once asked, ‘Where is God?’  After a pause [mystics loved to pause before they responded to an essential life question], the mystic replied, ‘Where ever we let Him in.’   For as long as I can remember I have heard, and held, the question, ‘Where is God?’  It appears to me that the ‘mark of Cain’ has replaced the ‘mark of God’ upon our world.  There has never been as much distress, dis-ease, dis-trust, pain, agony, and terror in the world as there is today.  At no time in history has the earth been as soaked in blood as it is today.  It appears as if so many of us have morphed into profane beings rather than sacred beings (some would say ‘mundane beings’ rather than ‘sacred beings’).  Is God directing this play or is God indifferent to the play and the players?

It appears to me that as humans our major folly seems to lie in our shifting the response-ability for our plight from ‘we’ to ‘God.’  Rather than admit our own guilt – after all, we are both the play writes and the actors in this drama we call life – we seek, like Adam, to shift the blame to someone else.

For multiple generations we humans have been investing our lives with profanity and now we step back and wonder whose fault it is.  It seems that we view God as someone we hired to prevent us from using our loaded guns; God is the parent who will protect us from ourselves.  Having failed us, God now becomes the scapegoat; God becomes irrelevant – God was not the all protective Parent that we desired.  Like angry children we stomp about crying, ‘It’s not our fault; we are not responsible; don’t blame us!’

We live in an age when most of us have been desensitized and so we have ceased to be shocked by the increasing breakdown in morality; our consciences have decayed as a result of our accepting the many forms of ‘violence’ that we continue to allow to wash over us – again and again.  Where is God?  Some say that God is silent.  I think that we have chosen to silence God.

Oh, there is faith.  But it is a faith in miracles of the past, an attachment to symbols and ceremonies.  God becomes known via hearsay; God is a rumor fostered by dogmas and narrow beliefs.  For eons, God’s voice cried out to us; God’s voice came to us in many guises.  But we humans are clever.  Look at how skillfully we imprisoned God in our ‘houses of worship’ and in our dogmas and in the illusion that ‘we have the only true way’ to God.

Consider the many ways we have distorted God to fit our desires.  We can see that as we have engaged in this distortionGod has withdrawn; God has gone into hiding.  In seeking to honor our selves while demonizing the ‘other’ – thus missing the image of God residing in the other – and in seeking to glorify ourselves – we have driven God into hiding.  Moreover, we have become the Golden Calf.

God chooses not to interfere with our choices nor does God choose to intervene in our conscience.  As I recall, we humans were the first to hide from God and God came searching for us.  God came for us.  Then, out of our arrogance, we began to shut God out; we slammed the door on God.  We betrayed our relationship with God, God withdrew leaving us to ourselves.  I don’t believe God withdrew out of volition; God was expelled.  We exiled God.

The mystics and the prophets do not speak of the ‘hidden’ God but of ‘hiding God.’  God’s hiding is a function; it is not God’s essence.  It is when we humans break our Covenant with God that we drive God into hiding.  God is not obscure; we have, in a real sense, hidden God from ourselves.  God’s essence is not one of being hidden; God is a ‘hiding God, not a hidden God.  God is waiting patiently for us to come and search; God is waiting to be invited into our lives.  The direct effect of God hiding is the hardening of our heart and conscience (think about this idea while asking: ‘Who is my brother’ and ‘Who is my neighbor’).

Our task is to open the doors of our heart and soul to God; to welcome God into our very beings and to mend the Covenant that we have broken.

I remember playing hide-and-seek with my older brother (this was many years ago).  I hid and waited patiently for my brother to come and find me.  Time passed; more time passed and even more time passed.  Finally I came out of hiding and found to my great dismay that my brother had simply left the house to be with his friend; he had not taken one step in order to seek me out.  I remember running to my mother; eyes full of tears and complaining wildly.

God, too, says to me-you-us, ‘I hide, but there is no one to look for me!’  Will I choose to look for God’s hiding place today?  Do I care, really, to search for God in my life, today?  Do I choose to seek to find God residing within each person I meet along my way today?  Do I choose to look deeply into the mirror and perhaps catch a glimpse of God hiding within my own soul?  Do I dare to search for the hiding God?  What are the consequences — intended and unintended — if I actually find God?