Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Zen and Anger

Anyone can become angry that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way this is not easy. Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) Greek philosopher

Over a conversation this week with visiting guests, we had a discussion about what makes us angry. Most around the table said they reacted to people who shoved their way in line ahead of them, or who cut them off in traffic.

I could feel the sense of injustice our guests felt when they talked about these slights. It was as though they alone were the protectors of good behaviour.

For my part, I said I had a Zen about these situations. If someone cuts me off in traffic or in a grocery store line up, I first figure that they must not be aware of what they’re doing. Or perhaps they’re in a hurry, they need the space more than I do.

I’m not being righteous, but I can honestly say I’ve never been bothered by this situation. It’s not that important to me. Period.

It was at this point in the conversation that Dave said, “Yes, but you have things that make you see red, too.” He mentioned an incident in a restaurant we had several years ago where a server (male) taunted me twice to finalize my order. Or at least he tried. His exact words the second time were, “don’t ask him (meaning Dave), focus and tell me what you want.” It was because I wanted to share something with Dave that I was hedging. I thought I’d explained that to him the first time he asked. He didn’t seem to recall that, nor was he particularly concerned about how he was coming across.

In his condescending tone, I reacted. I gave him a talking down, asked to speak to the manager, wrote a letter to the establishment and refused to leave a tip. I’ve never darkened their doorstep again. I still get angry when I think about it and did so again, during the conversation with our guests the other night.

Okay, so I’m not a saint. But I like to think I get angry at the right times over the right issues. The discussion made me analyse the situations that make me angry. Typically, I react to: disrespect, a condescending attitude (not only towards me but also towards others), lying, misrepresentation, and not being heard. And it’s true, as Dave has told me many times, under these circumstances I take no prisoners. He thinks it has to do with something from my childhood, which is interesting coming from him, because he usually teases me for my compassion of others, particularly those who cut him off in traffic or the grocery store line-up.

And I suppose this attitude of mine does come from my childhood. I was raised to believe I am an equal, that we are all equals and should be treated that way. This means no condescension, no lying, and no misrepresentation. There is no grey area. There is no “I’m having a bad day”, here. It’s that plain and simple for me.

I suppose, as well, this is why I usually use this blog to rant. And there’s a lot to rant about. Case in point, the sexist comments made by Justice Minister Peter MacKay, how he sees a mother’s role versus a father’s role in the rearing of children. Shortly after that, there was the release of new statistics showing fewer women today under the Conservative government are appointed to leadership roles at Crown corporations, federal boards and agencies than when the Liberals were the governing party. These facts came a week after the Minister for the Status of Women Kellie Leitch said, the Conservatives are doing 'outstandingly well' when it comes to appointing women. Really?

Then there’s the whole issue of the oil sands and what the federal government tells us in their rhetoric compared to what they actually do. Their political spinning drives rifts in this country. There is no excuse for this behaviour from people who are supposed to be our leaders.

So aside from disrespect, condescension, lying, misrepresentation, and not being heard, I guess I’m also not happy with those who try to fracture rather than build on all that we are so lucky to have in this country.

I’m not being very Zen like with my anger after all. As Aristotle says, it’s easy to be angry. It’s a lot harder to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way. In my defence, I can say I’m trying to understand what makes me angry and to respond appropriately. It’s a start.


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