Friday, August 29, 2008

Anger

In Buddhism anger is held to be one of the three roots of evil. Dr. Suzuki felt that anger was unnecessary and for a long time practiced not being angry. Our own family is a little shy on anger. The kids express hurt, but rarely anger. When they do, it's an anomaly and usually leads to a serious discussion about how things escalated that far. For a long time I thought that my inability to feel and express anger was a personal deficiency, that it meant I was a repressed person who couldn't deal with her own feelings. I'm not so sure now. Not all of my coping mechanisms are healthy, but I'm not sure anger is any healthier. What is clear, though, is that my kids are growing up in an environment where expressions of anger are very unusual.

Today Fiona and I went to Nelson to attend a Passport Clinic. One of the trickle-down repercussions of 9/11. Because the U.S. wants to be seen to be tightening border security, Canadians will soon need passports to cross the border in their cars, something half a million people do every day. And so there's been an incredible bottleneck in the passport application process. Waits of over 4 months were occurring with predictions of worse to come, though recent efforts like travelling Passport Clinics have cut the backlog.

But with Erin travelling at the end of December, we decided to use the Passport Clinic to be on the safe side and expedite the process as best we could. Fiona and I drove down to Nelson prepared to wait a few hours in line. As it turned out our arrival was well-timed and we had only an hour to wait on the street, and another 45 minutes inside.

It all went well. Except there was a man at the desk next to the one where we were being served who had waited the same 90 minutes as us. He was applying for a passport for his son, and not only was his signed Guarantor ineligible to be so according to the [new] clearly-stated rules, but his son had been the subject of an oft-revised custody agreement. The application clearly said that if this was the case the applicant was to bring "all documents" pertaining to the custody situation. He had brought nothing. And so he was angry. And while he did not explode with vicious language and vitriol, his anger was palpable. He raised his voice, he expressed loud incredulity, repeatedly proclaiming the procedure a "joke" and asking the clerk what the heck he was supposed to do now after spending almost two hours in a queue for nothing?

Fiona was not happy about overhearing this, about being within earshot of his anger. It probably didn't help that the man in question was an imposing physical presence as well. It was probably the most traumatic thing she's experienced in recent memory. And really, it was fairly benign in the grand scheme of things. If she hadn't been there I would have felt some sympathy for the clerk and then forgotten about the incident within the hour.

We talked a bit about how sometimes people feel things differently that we're used to, and sometimes they express their feelings in ways that sort of forget about other people's feelings. And I explained that I thought the clerk responded exactly the right way ... she was polite and firm and didn't get her back up and just reassured the man about what his options were.

So I think Fiona recovered. But is this a good thing, to raise children so far outside the realm of anger that they are traumatized by an irate man in a passport queue?

6 comments:

  1. Too bad your trip got spoiled that way!
    I am not sure though whether Fiona's reaction really has much to do with her home environment. I wish I could say that my kids do not experience anger, but unfortunately I do have a tendency to get upset at times. Nothing major or truly horrible but definitely not pure harmony at our house.
    However, both boys still have a really hard time with anger, especially if expressed by strangers. Maybe I wouldn't go so far as to say they get traumatized but defintely quite upset. So I think part of it is probably a question of personality.

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  2. Miranda, we are a very low-anger house, too. I'd never thought about it before as a lack of anger, though, more like an abundance of peace. William leads a very peaceful life, and I know he would have been disturbed to witness the scene you described, too. Because ends *can* be reached and situations brought under control without anger entering the equation, I like to think it's a positive thing that he isn't learning to use anger as a tool of some kind. I can't help wondering if once she overcame her fear of the big, loud man, Fiona might have concluded that it was odd for a grown up person to be conducting himself in such a manner. I mean, really, it happens all the time, but logically, how is getting angry at the clerk going to help the situation? I'd look at it as a teaching moment, which you obviously did, and not worry about a long-term lack of exposure to anger. Once she is bigger and older herself, the big loud man won't seem quite so intimidating. (Now having said that, I still find big loud men pretty scary, but I can keep it in perspective.)

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  3. I'd much rather that children think anger an odd behavior than that they think it normal. I think you handled it well.

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  4. Scibhneoir11:24 am

    I am sorry that Fiona had an upsetting morning. It's difficult for many people to be around anger I think. Is it easy for anyone I wonder? I know from that even some people who are used to expressing their own anger can be frightened by the anger being expressed by others, while others are desensitized to it.
    You know what - I am on a roll here and will continue over on my blog...
    Thanks for the inspiration and thanks for so honestly sharing your experiences...

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  5. Hmmm, I'm not sure what to think. I grew up in a semi-angry household where my mother was angry a lot of the time but I was not allowed to be angry. Or at least I was not allowed to express the anger. So, I grew up feeling very resentful and angry but never being able to express it. I worry about my kids growing up feeling the same way so I always feel like I should allow them to be angry.

    I guess it would be ideal that they not FEEL angry as much but they do. I don't know how to change that...

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  6. Hi Miranda,

    I'm the Alison who hosted Musette Moose and took her to the St Louis Arch many moons ago!

    I just started blogging and I was wondering how you do the list of posts by category because I can't see that option as a widget.

    If you could visit my blog and let me know it would be great!

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