Crafting Gentleness

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Tools Of Our Emotional Landscape

Anthony, I will try to answer some of your questions. It was about 10 years ago when I was performing as a "guest lecturer" at a local Latino community center called El Centro de la Raza, facing a room of about 15 teenagers almost all of whom could easily have decided to become gang members, that the reality struck me. It's true: I can drive all night across town and never have to worry about getting pulled over by the cops. And if I do get pulled over chances are good that they woun't beat me up. Not true for these kids. They have a different pathway laid out for them and I know it. This is racism I'm talking about. I am a privileged white guy. And they're sitting there in that class room thinking, why am I listening to this? I had to wonder the same thing. And my mind started racing around and I realized that these kids had been told over and over again to stop being so angry, to lighten up and be nice, in short "don't worry, be happy." And I knew that such an instruction would bury them as human beings.

When your father is an unemployed second class citizen who drinks to make himself feel better, when your mother has to clean up after other people's spoiled children, when you yourself have no future that's worth a damn - you might get angry. And you have a right to. Your complaint is legitimate. That's when I developed the anger as a weapon idea. And yes, it's a good idea. I know a semi-homeless woman, a local poet and writer, who cut that part out of an interview that I did and put it over her sink. It means that you matter, that your predicament is a important as anybody else's and that if the system wants to sweep you under the rug you are not going quietly.

You can call it anger, you can call it intent, you can call it anything you like. Just don't say it isn't there or that it has no value or that the victims of a larger force should not have the feelings that they have. Personally I like calling it anger because that's what it is. And remember, anger is like fear - they both exist for a good reason. It was anger and fear both that kept me from going to Vietnam and I'm glad they did.

I maintain that it was constructively educated anger that ended slavery. Child labor. Apartheid. It will free Palestine and get the US out of Iraq. Foolish blind anger is dangerous and messy and that's the kind that everybody always wants to talk about , because if that's where the conversation stays then they can say don't worry be happy. But when you deal with it realistically then people's real feelings have to be allowed and addressed.

And by the way, Soooz makes a comment about "appropriately selecting feelings to match the situation," which is good, but a lot of people don't have that luxury. Their feelings are no less legitimate for being heated and immediate. We as human beings, as members of societies, will never get anywhere until we deal with the realities of all this. If we don't want people to be angry then we have to listen to their complaints and stop making them that way. That's what I think.


  • Hi Jim, I can empathise with your words tonight. A quote which I found recently defined anger as "An integrity-producing response to the invasion of your personal boundaries". Seen in that context, and certainly survivors of any type of abuse or discrimination may actually find anger - whether expressed or internalised, but certainly acknowledged - helpful in some situations, if even to say "hey, what happened to me was wrong - it hurts, I am angry."

    Personally I have found anger so alien to me, all my life - or so I thought, until recently I realsised that what I have been doing is transforming my anger into art, music and other forms of beauty. It has worked for me - continues to work for me.

    I was brought up to believe anger was wrong. To always be nice. To supress one's negative feelings.

    Does that mean one must stand by and allow ourselves to be victims? No, I believe anger and fear are emotions, just as important as gentleness - tools as well as emotions, tools which can help us,when used above all with gentleness- if that is possible, to grow into survivors and thrivers rather than victims.

    Perhaps the challenge here is to try to transform the initial feelings of anger into gentleness, and perhaps this can indeed be done through understanding where the anger comes from, to ask ourselves what personal boundaries are being violated or threatened so that anger wells up inside, probably hand-in-hand with fear.

    I have been, many times at the receiving end of anger - and it was only very recently that I began to question, one by one, the backgrounds of the people who felt free to lash out at me. And one by one, I found that they had either been abused, discriminated against or rejected by others. Now, I understand that a lot of their anger go back to incidents in their lives, many years ago.

    All you wrote tonight really strikes a chord with me. I am a gentle person, an advocate of gentleness - but the examples you gave resonate with me greatly.

    I think the key word here is balance. A good integration of our emotions to weave together a strong yet gentle whole. Not forgetting to examine our emotions, and face them - with gentle strength. It is possible.

    By Blogger Brigid, at Thursday, 21 September, 2006  

  • Hi Jim

    I hear you talking about the constructive side of anger. Anger that invites potency, power and change. I agree with brigid there must be a balance. Too much gentleness could lead to passivity. Too much anger can become senseless rage.

    By Blogger Shelley, at Thursday, 21 September, 2006  

  • What I notice is that we (as a social order) are trained to select anger first(an invisible social worldview - visible in our daily news stories of war, hatred and environmental distruction) .

    For me anger is great, it's so instructive, it helps... but when it is unhelpful, when people die because of it or when the feud continues for generations and the people in it can't remember why, or when it is unhelpful because we turn it inwards and become depressed... then gentleness is called for.

    Appropriately selecting feelings is not only a luxury for all people ( but it's a necessity). It's only appropriate though if you notice first - notice that x always makes you angry and then ask why... you might then notice that the answer is a gentle one, just paying attention to the invisible,(the blind spot) makes it visible.

    In that regard I think that we are never going to see change in the world if we don't get past old wounds, heal them, feel the anger and the despair and then find the gentle way forward. Let it go and move on.

    It's true anger works, it's also true that jealousy and rage and greed etc work... but for who? Certainly they help the individual cope, frog in a ever heating saucepan style, but actually what is needed is for the person to use those 'negative' feelings to get out of the situation that's feeding them.

    Certainly, no stranger to the stuff you are talking about Jim, I hear it and I ask, who does it serve to be angry?


    ps. not being a christian I reckon 'turn the other cheek' is crap. I'd rather move away from the slap... not help, not hinder

    pps. I think I'm chanelling, sorry :-)

    By Blogger Soooz, at Thursday, 21 September, 2006  

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