“Good. I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon! Strike me down with all your hatred, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!” – Emperor Palpatine, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
You gotta love a great villain, especially one with deliciously quotable lines like Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars series. (Besides, that overused Yoda quote “Do or not do, there is no try” is a bunch of smarmy self-righteous crap.) Palpatine’s taunting statement made me think about anger, how we express it, when to use it to our advantage, and when to let it go.
Last night in sparring class a teenage green belt and I were minding our own business, snapping kicks and punches and chasing each other around the ring when we heard an eruption of anger from the other side of the room.
“I’M DONE! I DON’T NEED YOUR BS!” screamed a teenage black belt who has a history of mouthing off and losing his temper. For whatever reason he started shouting at our instructor during their sparring match. He stalked out of the room, leaving my partner and I to continue our fight under our instructor’s watchful eye. I felt a little bit like I did those times my brother got in trouble and I was left alone at the dinner table saying things like “Uh…this corn is good!” and trying to please my parents any way I could. There is an anger in this kid that is threatening to be unleashed. I know from experience that that type of anger will only destroy him while the rest of us look on unscathed.
Sparring can either bring out the best in us or unlock our demons. Most of the time I’m positive, curious, ready to work hard, and even jovial. I got hit in the face last night and just laughed it off, taking it as instant feedback that I needed to block and dodge faster (and I was really really thankful I always wear a mouthguard). But I can’t claim total innocence as I’ve lost my cool a few times during sparring class—no screaming eruptions like my classmate, but a I’ve thrown a few glares and muttered nasty comments under my breath. Those few times I did lose it had nothing to do with my partners or instructors or even anything to do with taekwondo. I was angry at things in my personal life and angry at myself. My hatred was poisoning me and taking me closer and closer to the dark side, whatever that means for you.
I have felt a lot of anger and hatred lately in my personal life. It ebbs and flows, reaches a boiling point and then simmers down until the next trigger is pulled. I feel intense boiling hatred for someone I’ve never met, someone who interfered in an important part of my personal life and indirectly led to the end result. This person’s interference and tricks pulled behind my back humiliated me, and I have my moments of wanting revenge. I feel my hatred toward that person much more acutely than the anger I’ve felt towards the person directly involved in my situation (I’m trying to keep this anonymous; ya’ll’ve figured out there are two people I’m talking about, right?).
I’ve been able to gain closure and do whatever forgiving I can with the person directly involved. But it’s still easy and in a way comforting to hate this other person I’ve never met, the one who interfered in my personal life when they had no business doings so. They exist only as an idea, an effigy, a target on which I can pin all my frustrations and blame. The poison of this hatred feels good, like a hit of a dangerous drug. I’m not quite ready to let it go.
This teenage black belt and I share some of the same demons, although I’ve never disclosed that to him. The demons are not an excuse for certain behavior; they simply serve as an explanation. At this point I’m not sure sharing my story would help him. I don’t think he’s ready to be helped or to take responsibility for his own feelings and actions.
While he was aggravated and explosive, sparring class actually quieted my own anger and stress. By the end of class I wondered what all the fuss in my head was about. Taekwondo usually has a way to twist and work my mind and body to the point that my frustrations, worries, and fears are obliterated, like stamping out a burning cigarette. They’re gone with a quiet hiss. Unfortunately for my teenage classmate, I think his demons and anger are far too strong for him to, as my yoga teacher says, “rest and receive his practice.”
There are some people I can’t forgive. A particularly abusive ex-boyfriend from many years ago, a toxic former friend, this person whom I’ve never met who contributed to a very painful situation in my personal life. I know I am giving them too much lease space in my head, and I know I will never be free if I continue to hate them. But I like the anger, and I like the way the bile and bitterness feels in my veins. I rarely think of the former two people any more, but I’ve never forgotten how they treated me. My anger and intense hatred towards the third person are still raw, and I haven’t yet figured out how to put it all behind me (don’t tell me to forgive; that’s not happening).
If there’s anything positive to gain from it it’s the sense that I now have a better understanding of human nature. Some people simply can’t be trusted, and some people are snakes in the grass, waiting to strike. Anger doesn’t necessarily need to be squelched. It can be a healthy emotion that keeps us from being abused and taken advantage of. Anger can been a feedback tool to show us our own insecurities, and I’ll admit that some of my current anger and hatred stems from my own insecurity even though that other person still is a triflin’ no good dirty bi–never mind.
Uncontrolled anger turns itself back on the one feeling that emotion. It’s the old adage of swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies. They don’t tell you that the poison tastes like Coca-cola and cupcakes at first. When you discover how disgusting it is it’s too late.
I can hear my instructor saying in my head, “Don’t let it escalate,” so maybe that’s the best thing to do at this point. You can walk away from a bully or a snake. You can still be angry at them and they’ll still exist, but you’re not wasting your sight or breathing space on them anymore. It doesn’t kill them, but it keeps your fear and anger from killing you.
Sometimes just acknowledging that you feel anger and figuring out the reason why you feel it can help lessen its power.
Ahh, I feel better already.