Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 3, 2007
Tame those destructive, angry emotions
Anger is all around us today. We see it all too often in the angry motorist who boils over quickly at someone else's real or imagined driving sins. We see it in TV shows, families, workplaces and even charitable or religious organizations. By their indignant, feigned anger, politicians hope to convince us of the rightness of their cause. Above all, we see anger in ourselves.
Anger destroys families and communities, and sets up barriers between people that may take decades to heal.
It is not going too far to say that ours is an angry age. Why is anger so widespread? Perhaps it is because we are so used to having our own way that when someone blocks us from meeting our desires, we rush at them with violence.
The people of our time are also freer in expressing their emotions, both good and bad. It is better to let it all out than to keep it bottled up inside, it is often said. Oh, but the price of letting it all out!
We may believe that our own anger is a sign of our virility, our strength of purpose, our ability to triumph in the struggle. Yet from the outside, another's anger appears as foolishness and undisciplined weakness. We rightly judge the angry motorist as lacking in maturity.
Why is it that we judge others' anger as weakness and see our own as strength? St. Francis de Sales wrote, "There never was an angry man who thought his anger unjust."
Francis advised never to let the slightest bit of anger enter our hearts. As soon as it enters, "it will become mistress of the place." Instead, he advised, to always be meek. Repair any act of anger immediately with an act of meekness.
"Speak all your words and do all your actions, whether little or great, in the mildest way you can."
Meekness may seem insipid, sugary sweet, to those schooled in passionate outspokenness. We brush aside Jesus' words, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." How unlikely! History shows us that it is usually the bombastic and overbearing ones who call the shots.
Contemporary Catholic ethicist Servais Pinckaers writes, "Far from being associated with weakness, true meekness is rather the outcome of a long struggle against the disordered violence of our feelings, failings and fears." The meek person - supposedly weak on the outside - is the one disciplined enough to control "the world." Worldly resentments, jealousies and other inner turmoil are reined in by the gentle person.
So, the meek, while perhaps winning no acclaim, really do conquer the earth. It is they who build strong families, pass on virtue to their children, and strengthen their workplaces, voluntary organizations and other communities by their ability to bear, without anger, suffering and even injustice done to them.
A society without an ample quotient of meekness would soon crumble into a war of all against all.
We cannot tame the lions within and become meek on our own initiative. It is too difficult. Without a lively sense of God's kingdom, a faith that what really matters is something far greater than our own reputations, bank accounts or sense of being right, we will never see the point of fighting those lions.
But when we see our own sin as sin and then experience God's forgiveness, we are on the way to humility. Francis de Sales advises us, "When we find that we have been aroused to anger we must call for God's help like the apostles when they were tossed about by the wind and storm on the waters. He will command your passions to cease and there will be a great calm."
There is not much we can do about others' anger except to confront it with reason and without a trace of passion. But even that shows that we are taming our own lions and, as such, bringing God's kingdom a little bit more to light amidst the turmoil that swirls around.
- Glen Argan
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