Martín gave me a book of quotes on Sunday, because he knows I love quotes, and the day before I had seen one I particularly liked in the wine country.
I randomly opened the book and saw this quote from Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, from his Nicomachean Ethics:
“Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
It took me a moment to absorb the message, and then I realized that it was something I really agree with. Our culture often tells us that anger itself is bad, and modern psychology has countered that it is an important and useful emotion. So we are now taught to express our anger when we might previously have suppressed it. The trouble is we are not very practiced at it (probably because of all that suppression), so we overcompensate and blow up with bad timing, at the wrong person, for the wrong reasons. This doesn’t mean we should avoid anger - it just means that we should understand it better.
Aristotle is expressing what Inside Out (the new movie from Pixar that I love) might say: anger is one of our emotions; it is useful in the right place and time.
I hear you saying, but aren’t we meant to love and not hate? To which my answer is: what
has anger got to do with hate? Anger, rightly employed, can be a manifestation of the deepest commitment to a cause or a person. Sometimes anger is exactly the right response to a situation, and no other response will do. In her book, The Alphabet of Avoidance, Lisa Borden says:
“If you aren’t outraged, then you just aren’t paying attention.”
So reflect on how you employ anger. Think about Aristotle, and Inside Out, and Lisa’s aphorism. Anger can be a good thing: it releases energy, it motivates, and it helps to make the world a more just place.
Oh, and if you were wondering what the quote I saw and loved in the wine country was, it comes from Winston Churchill – source of many of the best quotes of the 20th Century:
“Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne.”
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven...
So speaks the greatest anti-hero in all literature, Satan, in Milton's wonderful epic poem, Paradise Lost. He says this after he and his followers have been cast out of heaven and realize they have to rebuild a life in hell. It was a classic modernist perspective: that by an act of imagination we can perceive terrible circumstances to be wonderful, and then by force of will make them so.
I reflected on how right Milton was - that our perspective on our circumstances does have a powerful impact on how we inhabit them.
I also reflected on how wrong Milton was - in that he perpetuated a mind body separation that has been prevalent throughout much Christian history and theology. The mind is not its own place, divorced from the physical surroundings that it occupies - it resides in a body, and the body is affected by the environment. This is why I feel like the world is a better place after I go for a five mile run on Bair island.
Children raised with low expectations, bad nutrition and in an environment of poverty have their life chances curtailed. Tragically, only rare exceptions escape the poverty trap. The American dream, that we can transform our circumstances by force of will, is often a fantasy.
So I am left with these reflections. The body and the mind exist in a continuum and both affect each other. My prayer life must be somatic (by this I mean physical and not just in my head - walking while praying, or running are great). The environment affects us greatly, and it affects others as well; so, as those blessed with gifts of intellect, spirituality, economy and influence it is important that we are mindful of the needs of others, and how we can help all to reach their fullest potential.
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.