This was written in response to an email list discussion about anger and responding to inappropriate behavior.
Most Excellant Emotions!
"Thinking about how important anger is to my health. I forget this at my peril. Anger is such an excellent emotion. So maligned by proper society --too necessary for the oppressed. It is with the clarity of anger we can sense freedom. The blade of anger cuts through confusion and illusion. Anger is the warning shot for our boundaries & rights. Only possessing anger can anyone be free. Stifling my anger I cannot handle, stand or face my oppressors."
© 1998 Katrina C. Hopkins
I was thinking about how maligned anger, and rage are as emotions. And how necessary these emotions are for our health and sanity. And how they provide boundaries for a healthy community and healthy individuals.
My infamous remark at a Reclaiming gathering a few years back was that I had attended more civil meetings decades earlier when we had guns on the table. The remark brought surprised laughter and most folks seemed to get the gist of my statement. But the truth of it is that I sometimes wonder if pacifism actually removes barriers to inappropriate behaviors.
In my minds eye, as a warrior, I sometimes wish I could pull my sword from its hilt just a bit to signal to others that they are getting too close to the line on what I will and will not tolerate. I fantasize that the sun gleaming off the polished steel would act as an early warning signal, so that they could make better choices in their tone, word selection and stance. Without the benefit of such feedback, nor the threat of facing my fully unsheathed sword, what besides a tongue-lashing does anyone expect for letting it all hang loose.
Maybe the mechanism that is more appropriate within Reclaiming pacifism is the use of "Ouch". But still, we need some way to signal what is and what is not appropriate behavior before it gets out of hand.
Years ago I made a pledge at the urging of Maya Angelou and Johnetta Cole to not participate in my own nor anyone else's oppression. This means I must act to interrupt oppression in all ways that does not add further to my own oppression. Often this involves channeling, expressing and acting out of righteous anger and rage.
My personal path is not a path of pacifism, so I am sworn to act with appropriate force up to and including taking a life as necessary. Nothing that has transpired within SpiralHeart or Reclaiming has ever come close to forcing me to consider anything more than raising my voice or acting as a physical/energetic barrier. But I sometimes wonder if the lack of a threat of physical violence somehow dulls our senses and turns off the feedback loop of "Is this appropriate to say, or do? Or "Will this cause undue pain or distress?" And in response, because we are trying so very hard to be open and compassionate, we may fail to react with anger when it is wholly appropriate.
Anger does not mean violence by any means, but I get the impression that since the two are often equated in popular notions that this may lead to the kind of indirectness Sherry spoke about so elegantly.
So on one hand we need to be able to express our anger, confusion, sadness, fear and distress, while at the same time not using these same emotions as a carte blanche to trod heavy handedly over the boundaries of others. I agree with Kila and Sherry that our personal perspectives and experiences colour or even taint our experiences of each other. But some things are absolute as they both agreed. There are such things as boundary violations, up to and including assault, torture and murder. So we cannot simply dive into self-reflection at every instance of perceived abuse. Sometimes it is appropriate in the moment to say "Ouch", to say "Stop", to walk away, to walk forward, to get between, and to fight back. Later we can reflect and own our parts of the madness in the continuing process of "polishing our own jewel".
So although I generally wish folks gave more thought to their criticisms and negative reactions, I truly understand that in the moment there may not be the time or inclination to do so. So then Sarsen's adage of thinking well of others and assuming the best intentions till proven otherwise comes in. If we can simply think well of each other, and give the benefit of the doubt in the moment, then we may have time to reflect before we react. We may still need to ask questions, make judgments and even be angry, but maybe we can treat each other more gently in the process.
Because as much as I am nostalgic for the old days, I really do not want to see us packing any weapons more potent than the jewels in our own hearts.