The Remedy to Wrath
Do you ever struggle with being quick to temper? Sometimes your mind is boiling in personal offense, and contriving all sorts of antagonistic narratives about the behavior of others? Do you shut down, become passive aggressive, manipulate, become excessively assertive, and seek to make the other person feel small, unimportant, or rejected? Do you quickly vent with friends, exaggerating that narrative, or ruin their reputation as a form of retribution? Have you avoided direct and open discussion with that person if it’s safe to do so?
These are all concrete signs that you are struggling with the deadly sin of Anger. Anger, as an emotion is a passive dimension of the human experience. Such an emotion is caused by the convergence of two attitudes: 1) something unjust has occurred, and 2) you hope to overcome it. This is at least according to the Psychology of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Experiencing anger does not automatically mean that our emotional state is aligned to the facts. But the problem with anger is we tend to not want to check in with ourselves about the facts. We launch into a control frenzy which can be either done directly and indirectly. When we are personally offended, there tends to be a lot at stake in our identity, value, and sense of safety. Fear in this sense can be hidden from our own awareness. But it can nonetheless drive and fuel our various reactions.
There are many things that we impulsively consider unjust that are not unjust. There are also other things that we do not have control (hope) to fix. So we have to examine critically whether these two attitudes are actually reasonable. This means that before we act on our anger we need something humble called curiosity. We need to begin by asking questions rather than accusing.
So what is Missing?
When Mary found Jesus in the Temple, many parents might identify with an angry reaction. However, this was not on display with Mary’s reaction. Rather, Mary asked a question rather than passive aggressively or directly accusing Jesus. She asked why Jesus did what He did, giving Him an opportunity to explain Himself. Giving Him the benefit of the doubt as far as reasonably possible.
This interior disposition of Mary is best described as meekness. Meekness gives us the interior capacity to bend to the possibility of an alternative narrative that is contrary to the one which causes anger in ourselves. We are able to listen to the facts, and not filter them through our own insecurities, learned reactions to betrayal, and gossip that we hear. In other words, meekness depicts a strong mind, capable of not being moved by an automatic anger, but by contemplation, and discernment.
Questions to ask Ourself
A reflection on righteous anger is always worthy of our time. But for the sake of brevity this particular reflection is on meekness as a response to our own anger. You will see more about anger in an upcoming chapter on that deadly sin in my book on Error, Sin, and Christ. In the meantime, my suggestion to overcome this deadly sin, I would recommend looking to the people you regularly complain about. Ask yourself: What automatic judgments do I make about this person? Is a way to become curious about this person in a way that helps me understand them better? Could I be wrong about how I see their behavior?