Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Anger vs Compromise

Anger has been on my mind a lot lately. Not that I'm an angry person, because I'm not, but I have to deal with other people's anger. Daily I end up being the bearer of bad news. I'm grateful to have gone through de-escalation training during my work in call centers. I was quite good at it then, and have used that training so much since, that I think it should be taught in high school as core curriculum. Our crime rates would plummet. I digress.

Forgive me for being slightly vague for obvious reasons, but I was giving some bad news to someone the other day. I got the response, said as an aside to a witness: "I get so frustrated sometimes that I could grab him and just smash his face into the dirt." As he said this his face was red, his ears red, his hands tense, and all two hundred fifty odd pounds of his quadruple XL body focused on how angry he was.

Keep in mind, we're a Kilometer from the highway in the middle of a vast gravel lot, a day hot as hell, dusty, and with tempers flaring. What he was talking about was a piece of paper. I didn't write it. I didn't force it on him. All I did was come to explain it.

I stepped back, and looked at the ground, and then up to this big man in front of me, and understood that I had nowhere to go, trying to remember my karate that I have been neglecting lately. I did what I know best. I put on a poker face, and talked. In the end I made promises I know I can keep, and we shook hands. I don't judge him. I understand that things are not easy for him. However, there are a few points I would like to make.

First, it is not my anger to take on, so in writing this I have to remind you it is not yours either. I'm not trying to pass it on. Relax. This study is more philosophical than newsworthy. I apologize if I've made you angry. Deep breaths.

Second. Conflict is my business. I have coping techniques. Don't feel bad for me. This is what I do.

Third, in looking around at what we've build up in this country, we have it pretty good here. There is not a lot of room for personal anger in my world unless it really is personal, because I thank my stars and my creator every day for how lucky I've been. Life is good. Often luck is what people use to hide their excessive cleverness, but not in this case. (or not entirely...) I really do have horseshoes up my ass.

So I came away obsessing on anger, turning it over like an odd object in my hand. What are we, as a culture, so angry about? Is it my imagination, or are people quicker to anger than they were before? Is it the new fast paced modern lifestyle, the ability to connect to issues that anger us? One has to admit that in all its imperfections (and we have many) Canada is about as good as it gets in this world. Why do we have so much anger all the time? Media? Politics? Human nature?

I started to think there was something wrong with me for NOT being angry all the time. I never lose my temper. Perhaps I should. Sure, I'm passionate about things. Politics, spirituality, writing, and in protecting and nurturing my family there are no bounds to my passion. But anger? Anger has always seemed to me degrading, a loss of control that serves to invalidate people's words. There are instances where I have felt that people's anger was justified, after the loss of a loved one, or when their land was taken away - but when it is directed at people who are not responsible, and vented when inappropriate, it's silly. It makes me take them less seriously.

At heart, I believe there is no value in anger when other emotions serve so well to change things. Passion and perseverance go much farther toward our goals because in the end we all have dignity to protect, and reputations to bank on. To accomplish anything in this world we must build consensus. Perhaps that is my failing, is that I have to put so much thought into what I want to change, that when I fail to change things, I merely work on a different approach instead of resorting to frustration. My eggs are in many baskets.

I am more a fan of compromise. Anger is so self-centred. It says: Look at me! I can identify something is wrong, and I don't like it! Consensus-building requires putting forward solutions, which is, in the long run, much more challenging. It means taking ownership instead of pushing the onus on someone else to fix things.

Have we forgotten compromise? I know it doesn't give people the vindication they crave, but it has always served me so well personally. Perhaps I will succumb to anger in the future, if ... God forbid ... something were to happen to my family, I think I would be capable of great wrath. It's in my family tree, that's for sure. The anger my grandmother had when she was elderly and had to go into a home was legendary. She was angry at everything, indiscriminately, to the point of enforced physical restraint. Now, this was not a peaches-and-cream sweetie pie throughout her life who suddenly became angry. No, she was an angry person for much of her existence, making my father's early years a living hell. When my family moved, and I had to finish my school year at 16 years old, I was supposed to stay with them for three weeks. I am a very tolerant person, but I only lasted two days before going to my best friend's house instead. They were harsh people.

It makes me wonder what is in store for my father, my brother, myself, my sons and daughter? We joke about the "Sprung temper", but is it genetic, or learned? I believe that what we live becomes us. My grandmother carried anger for her entire life, and in the end that anger consumed her. I hope that my father, in being the good person he is, will be mild-mannered in his old age, and that in diffusing anger throughout my life, in confronting things rationally, and passionately, but with reason as my guide, that in my old age reason and compromise will still rule. Perhaps there are some things genetic that can be overcome?

In the end, I apologize if this post is more questions than answers. That's just the way things are sometimes. No neat, clean package today. I hope that doesn't anger you.

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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