Nobody’s Angry

Public domain Clipart

Nope. Not angry. I just carry this rolling pin around for kicks.

Yesterday was the last day of Camp for 2012 and Oscar (who comes with me to Camp every year) had picked all the pieces of processed, dessicated lamb out of his “lamb and rice” dogfood the day before, so that he had about a breakfast-sized serving, but not with any of the (presumably) delicious bits in it anymore. As I do occasionally, because sometimes it seems to work, I began lecturing him a little about how he should have thought this through and either eaten all his dinner the previous evening, so he could have a fresh new bowl of kibble in the morning, or left all of it for the morning so there would still be something yummy in it. As I was finishing this perfectly reasonable suggestion, he got up and went and hid in the corner.

I hadn’t been yelling, but obviously he got a vibe of displeasure, so I said, “Nobody’s angry at you,” and then, as light began to dawn, I continued, “We’re just pointing out your failings.”

It occurred to me then that I’ve had a lifelong tendency toward this attitude. Most recently notably,  I once had a pretty long-term relationship which, come to think of it, seems to have operated primarily on the premise that nobody was angry, we were just pointing out each other’s failings. (I spent years–during the relationship–feeling guilty that I was the only one who did this, although it latterly came to my attention that the attitude was mutual. There are some types of mutuality that prevent compatibility, it turns out.) Sometimes we did get angry, though. Also–as another example–during high school, I used to preach to my compatriots (I probably couldn’t legitimately have called most of them friends at the time, largely because of this behaviour), but they just never changed their music or movie preferences, or toned down their hormones, and so I once got so fed up with the entire student body (admittedly a small one) that I went to the faculty advisor and ranted at him about what a travesty it was that this was a Christian school and nobody seemed to care or to act like a Christian. (Presumably “except for me” was what I was thinking the whole time. Presumably, too, the faculty advisor was perfectly aware of this.)

I sat on the bed in the bunkhouse after telling Oscar I wasn’t mad, just pointing out his failings, and thought about these examples, and some other ones, and about Camp since it was the last day of it, and I wondered if there were ever virtue in not getting mad, or in being able to point out people’s failings, and also whether such attitudes and behaviour always led to anger or even rage in the end. We had had two (maybe three, depending on how you classify them) fairly major meltdowns the day before, and both of them seemed to have arisen from a build-up of frustration at other people’s perceived failings.

I thought about how I annually try to run a Camp for children and youth from ages six to seventeen, and for adult volunteers from eighteen to seventy-five, and about all the nagging that goes into it–especially towards the teens and young adults. It’s no lie to say that I work with a fantastic group of young people, but it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance, and there were many times over the past two weeks when they need to be reminded what they were supposed to be doing. Or not doing. I wondered if it’s really helpful for them to be constantly reminded of their failings, but never to have anybody get mad about it. I wondered if a little self-controlled anger would be more efficient in remedying behaviour, or less so. I guess I’m still wondering. For someone who has been so habitually critical (including of herself, as it turns out), but has simultaneously had trouble creating and maintaining appropriate boundaries . . . well, I guess I’m wondering how to do that. Some behaviours are intolerable (sometimes in general, and sometimes in context). Some boundaries need to be set. Some responsibilities need to be maintained. I’m just not empirically convinced, from a lifetime of doing it, that not getting angry but pointing out people’s failings is the best way to do it. But I’m also not sure what is.

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5 thoughts on “Nobody’s Angry

  1. Awesome thoughts. This reminds me of the (in my opinion idiotic) idea that we ought to love the sinner and hate the sin. We could say to them, “I’m not angry, I’m just pointing out your failings.” In many cases, it would be naturally for them to say, “I am angry because you are telling me that these fundamental parts of who I am ARE failings.” It is of course, a slightly different issue when everybody is operating from a similiar definition of what counts as a failing.
    It seems like Jesus mode of being was most often to do a heart and motivation check on the person who was pointing out the failings. Occasionally instead he would do something uber-confrontational instead, like braid a whip and chase everybody out of the temple. On other times he would do something so unexpected– and sometimes funny– that it shocked everybody into realizing what they were doing with out him saying anything.
    I’m thinking about how the derivation of the word ‘sin’ is that it’s an archery term, referring to missing the target. In my brain, this connects to the importance of a team sharing a sense of purpose. I think when you have pre-established goals your working at together, a discussion doesn’t have to be about somebodys failings per se; it can be about how they are not very effectively achieving the outcome that you’re all working toward.
    It is of course, infinitely easier to hypothesize on these things than act them out. As you might imagine, my recent life has been chock full of explaining I’m not angry, then listing off where somebody’s failings are. It is not the only cause of my struggles but it hasn’t helped the situation any, either. So I feel your pain.

    • Pretty sure you’re feeling more pain than I am these days, my friend. I’m sorry.

      Your observations are good ones. But also, your reminder that hypothesising is easier than doing, is a good point. I think in the context of camp, which is my most recent experience of this, there is definitely a strong case to be made that we are a team who should be moving toward the same goal, but sometimes a person’s developmental maturity isn’t even there for the team concept yet. And sometimes there are different ideas of what the team’s goal actually is. And sometimes . . . well, you get the idea.

  2. Hmmm, so many thoughts here I’m not sure which direction to go in. I think it’s a lot easier for me to say I’m not angry than it is for me to follow through on what ever infraction I deem necessary to call attention to. This isn’t one of my strong suits in regards to others… I am really good at beating myself up, which is sad actually because I should be more angry with myself than I usually am, if you know what I mean, and if you do, will you please explain it to me! I guess I fall in with Jeff and finding some obscure way to bring the point to light in the least confrontational way possible is more my speed. I don’t know… is it pretty normal to want to avoid confrontation?

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