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Thinking About Nonviolent Anger
Continuing on from yesterday... At the height of his fame in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi spent an hour a day with his adolescent grandson instructing him in the discipline of nonviolence -- telling him stories and giving him exercises to do. Arun's biggest problem was anger. Grandfather accepted that anger was part of our nature. But what we did with it -- that was our choice. Anger is like electricity, he said. It can be used productively or it can wreak havoc.
You don't much hear about the productive use of anger. Gandhi made his grandson write 2 lists: the good uses of anger and the bad uses. At the time young Arun couldn't think of anything positive to do with his anger. From my brief conversation with Arun, it was clear that "positive" use of anger did not mean suppressing it into playing sports. You have to use the anger positively toward what makes you angry.
Interesting challenge, isn't it? When you google "anger" all the hits are about managing and controlling anger. The advice is largely about getting a grip on yourself (Breathe. Count to 10 before screaming.) and developing the virtue of patience (like through practicing Buddhism).
But what Gandhi was getting at (I'm thinking at this moment) was, first, using anger to give energy to action. Do something! But here's where the genius (and sainthood part) comes in: if you are angry with someone, have compassion for them and do them a great act of kindness. On occasion, you will turn an enemy into a friend. Or under different circumstances, your act of generosity will take the power away from the bully.
Where I begin to understand this is in the area of customer service. One Friday afternoon an Ebay customer decided to get all snotty about my shipping & handling fee. I was furious at the jerk for making an issue over a buck. But I'm smart enough to know that getting into an email pissing match over a sale detail is pretty much a no-win situation. I took a deep breath and looked out the window to the beautiful sunny day. I spent enough years in the quality business to understand that going above and beyond to fix a complaint often results in the coveted "customer delight." I wrote him a very nice note and refunded ALL his shipping and handling fee. He was totally surprised and disarmed. His anger vanished. My anger vanished. And, gosh, wasn't the world a better place that Friday afternoon?
So I think I get it on this small, episodic scale. As Gandhi famously said: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
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Legacy of Love: My Education in the Path of Nonviolence by Arun Gandhi