Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On anger

Not long ago, I suffered a petty injustice. To make it worse, I was maneuvered or manipulated into a situation where I was offered two unpalatable choices. I decided to take the more generous path and put the matter behind me. I went on with my life. In the grand scheme of things, the whole situation was tiny.

Yet the experience rankled. I found myself getting furious thinking about it. I was angry that the episode was handled so ungraciously and furious because I felt I had been "played." And more furious when I contemplated that I was "played" over something so small.

I had realized awhile ago that the person I labeled "the antagonist" carried a vein of anger under a smiling facade.

I could say that I've been that person -- and I'm sure I have and that we all have at one time or another in our lives if we're honest with ourselves-- but I don't want to go in that direction.

What struck me as I've thought about this was the viral nature of anger. This angry person was transferring his or her own pent-up rage to me. I've noticed that angry people do this, trying to alleviate their own anger by radiating it out or transfering it to others. We spread rage quickly by wronging others because we've been wronged, by retaliating, by gossiping.

I was reminded of the Westboro Church. This "church" came to Westminster. Md. when I was working for the newspaper there. The Westboro people protest at the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq to publicize their belief that the Iraq war is God's judgement on the U.S. for tolerating homosexuality. They were due to protest at the funeral of a young local man killed in Iraq.

As religion reporter, I went to their Web site to find out more about them. The Web site spewed hate. It wasn't religious at all. It was the rantings of people filled with toxic levels of anger.

As we discussed the Westboro group in the newsroom -- the kind of language they were using to describe gay people as well as their plan to disrupt the funeral of grieving parents-- we grew angrier and angrier until one editor said "if I had a gun, I'd go and kill these people."

At that point, we realized we were being infected by their hate and becoming the thing we loathed. They were, with extreme efficiency -- a Web site and some foul language -- transmitting their anger and hostility to us. We were quickly turning into them.

Jesus understood the power of anger and hate to radiate outward and spread. He must have seen this phenomenon often in occupied Israel in the first century. He recognized how destructive it was and also that it could be--always--overcome with love. Love could radiate outward. Radical forgiveness could stop the hate in its tracks and replace it with a spirit that would allow all of us to become more fully human/humane.

So I decided, as an act of will, to love the person who'd wronged me. I made a choice not to get sucked into the vortex of hate. I didn't react or say any of the things I could have said. I kept my lips zippered.

I knew, however, that I would need grace not to harbor a grudge.

So I prayed for grace.

As it happened, this same person very recently did something generous and uncalled for to help me. Suddenly, I felt lighter, as if a weight I had been lugging around had lifted. I felt a surge of genuine good feeling toward this individual that was not merely an act of will or smug moral superiority. I felt grateful I had turned the other cheek and not said a word. I experienced the grace of knowing that demonstrably imperfect people can do things that are kind and good.

I know such stories don't often have a happy ending and that working through the injustice when the pain is not alleviated is much more difficult. But I wanted to celebrate this story and its good outcome.


Anonymous said...

The Westboro group threatened to return to Westminster a few months ago to "protest" the funerals of 2 young teens killed in a car accident. They said this was in retaliation for the federal lawsuit against them that was initated by the father of the soldier whose funeral you covered for the paper. They also believe that God has cursed Maryland and these children's deaths prove that, and they wanted to gloat.

Local people wanted to organize a human shield, a sort of guard, around the family and mourners during and after the funeral, to protect them from the Westboro church members.

The families of the dead children requested no shields or guards, and that the Westboro protesters be ignored entirely, except to pray for them or give them a blessing. I thought this was a very graceful and beautiful response to hatefulness and cruelty. The Westboro church did not come to the funerals (thank God), and the families buried their children in peace and quiet.

Lisa S.

Regina said...

Wow, what a story. I had heard of a group that protested at the funerals of young soldiers killed in the war but I did not realize it was because of their belief about homosexuality! I thought they were protesting the war- not that that would make it alright to protest at a funeral either...
It is hard to fathom thinking like this and to handle it with some degree of tolerance, but Jesus was surely the greatest example of love and tolerance.
I am glad your personal situation, Diane, came to good after all. It is amazing what a little love and forbearance can do to affect another person's heart.
Thanks for sharing your story.

Diane said...

Thanks Lisa, for the update on this group that just won't go away. I think the families you mention made the best possible response to a terrible situation. Regina, thanks for your comments.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen. I've experienced both ends of that as well, I mean being drawn in, and blessing the one who cursed me. The latter seemed to have a good outcome over time. But good to hear your thoughts here. How true, and important for us to remember to help us avoid conveying what is destined for being cursed, instead of what's destined for being blessed, in Jesus.