On Anger, Empathy and Taking Action

Sometimes I just want to scream!
Sometimes I just want to scream!

On Anger. . .  

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau

Yesterday, I went to a local salon and got a pedicure and manicure.  I was ready for a bit of pampering and relaxation, but what I got instead was a bloody, scraped foot by the pedicurist, anearful of how horrible marriage is from the manicurist, and a cold shoulder from the store manager.  I was physically hurt, stressed out, and angry.

My reactions intrigued me.  I had every chance to yell at the pedicurist because she was handling my foot roughly and not paying any attention.  I also wanted to kick her in the face.  I didn’t.  Instead, I winced and told her to please slow down and lighten her touch.  Instead, she ranted about how she was so upset that she had to babysit her nieces on Christmas Eve and cook for them and her brother on Christmas Day.  The angrier she got, the harder she filed away the dead skin on my foot.  When she finally saw that she had filed away my skin and left a bloody scratch, she stopped what she was doing and said, “You’re bleeding.  How did that happen?”  I told her how it happened and prompted her to go get a clean towel and take care of me.  She did, and she slowed down and she finished my pedicure with a bit more awareness than when she started.

After my annoying manicure with a different woman, who griped about her ex-husbands and swore she wouldn’t marry this great boyfriend of hers no matter how much she loved him and how wonderfully he treated her children,I received my bill.  I rolled my eyes as she told me that the women that work in the store can all be bitches because they all get their periods at the same time.  I said, “I hear ya,” and half-smiled.  She got up and left and went to go have it out with her boss. (The manager had stopped at her station earlier saying she needed to talk to her.  I assumed that was what prompted the whole “women + periods = bitches” statement.)

At the cash register, I noticed I was only charged for the manicure.  I thought about the 2 miserable hours I had been confined to the torture chairs and scraped, poked, prodded and talked at instead of talked to, and I wondered if I should only pay what was on that receipt.  I was upset enough to do it, but my conscience got the best of me and I realized that the damage was over and done with.  It would have been dishonest of me to take out my anger by skipping out on a bill.  (Plus, I would never be able to look myself in the mirror without knowing I had somehow wronged myself.)  So, I had to deal with the angry manager.  I told her she had to charge me for a pedicure and a manicure, and she was annoyed that she had to punch more buttons and revise my bill.  I still payed.  I even included tips for both women.  I signed my credit card receipt and simply nodded my head when the manager absently said, “Have a nice day,” as she was looking at the register and putting my tendered bill inside.

I left the store feeling like I was a punching bag for others’ anger and desperation.  What more could I have done with my anger?  I was mad and had missed some opportunities to really voice my disdain.  But, I chose not to.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a pushover.  Far from it.  In many situations I have used my anger in a positive way and raised my voice and stood up for others and for myself.  But this incident was different.  I was in an awkward social setting.  I was trying to be polite and not anger them any more because I was at their mercy to a certain degree.  The experience left me dejected and confused:  Why was I so mistreated?  Why did I want to kick someone in the face?

I see you, can you see me?
I see you, can you see me?

Empathy. . .

 “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” -Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

A lot of times, we use our anger incorrectly.  We have road rage at the driver in front or behind us.  We yell at our children or nieces or nephews or students when they have pushed all of our buttons and annoyed us.  We become verbally combative with the sales agent and we hang the phone up on her in the heat of our outrage.  Then, we recall our angry moments to our friends, family, colleagues and give them the blow-by-blow of our day’s injustice.  Or, we upset our customers or employees and take out our frustrations out on them as they stand in line to pay, talk to us on the phone to settle an account, stand by while we bag their groceries or sit patiently as we give them a manicure or a pedicure.

Why can’t we stop for one brief moment and shake loose our skins and jump into someone else’s flow of thoughts?  The young woman who scratched my foot?  I obviously hit a trigger when I mentioned holiday plans.  I was simply trying to drum up a little chit-chat so I wouldn’t be seen as a rude customer.  No, she shouldn’t have taken her frustrations out on me, but why did she?  What trauma did she possibly suffer in the past that keeps her holding on to some obvious anger?  And the manicurist?  Why does she hate marriage so much when she’s involved in what seems like a great relationship?  Why does she hate women and call them bitches to her customers?  If I listened instead of become uncomfortable, maybe I could have stopped violent images of wanting to kick them in the face and listened more and offered a few kind words or gestures that guided them gently back to the present moment of sitting in front of another human being instead of spinning out of control in their minds.

I’m learning that we are unaware of how much life traumatizes us.  It’s only when we wake up to our signs of pain that we are pushed into a different direction and we become self-aware and therefore more aware of others.  I’m not trying to pass judgment.  I’m making an observation.

Here I am.  I'm ready.  I'm awake now.
Here I am. I’m ready. I’m awake now.

Taking Action. . .

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi

We’ve all experienced terrible realities in our lives.  Some more than others.  I think about what has recently happened in our nation:  the shootings at the movie theater, mall, and the elementary school.  These violent events are so traumatic to us on so many levels:  nationally, culturally, individually.  We’re quick to react and vent our frustrations and worries.  We’re quick to spout off the solutions and our grievances with people who don’t see things as we do.  We’re quick to compartmentalize and detach from someone else’s pain.  We’re easily entertained and distracted by violence in our commercials, movies, video games, television shows, music and videos.  And, we’re willing to tune in to the media sensationalism and watch people’s dramas unfold and funeral services and vigils be held, yet we are scared to wake up and look at ourselves in a different way.  To look at others in a different way.  To look at what our actions and words do to other people. These violent thoughts, actions, feelings, images we share collectively are our wake up call.  We need to quit hitting the snooze button.

We should be really angry at what has recently happened to little school children and innocent victims in a shopping mall or at a movie theater.  Anger isn’t a terrible thing.  It can be very powerful.  Don’t you think Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  were not angry and incensed at the injustices in their times?  But these men, and other nameless men and women, showed us that anger without empathy gets us nowhere.

What do the parents and friends and family members of these innocent shoppers, movie goers, young children and beloved teachers want us to do for them?  What can we possibly say, do or feel for them to make our world a better place so no one has to suffer senselessly?  I think the answer starts with waking up to our own hurt and pain and learning from it.  Taking it in and examining it, learning from it and then recognizing the pain in others.  I’m sure those who stood guard unarmed at elementary schools this past week woke up and did just that.  I’m sure that owners of sporting good stores who suspended the sales of assault weapons paused and reevaluated their motives.  I’m sure those who linked arms and barricaded the hateful protestors of these young children’s funerals woke up so as to provide a moment of peace for the families.  And though we can’t change these mass murders or our gun laws or our evaluations and treatment of mental health over night, we can start by waking up and really seeing the people in front of us and treating them differently.  If we don’t, we are failing to see that our collective pain will not subside nor will our collective anger.

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The Sunday Dreads

The Sunday Dreads.  I can’t shake them.  I’ve been suffering from them probably since I was in the 2nd grade and realized that school was there to stay.  I would have succumb to the teacher’s and my parents’s will and do classwork and homework.  I would have to overcome my shyness and learn to get along with kids on the playground.  I would have to pay attention to the teacher as she or he asked me to recite my alphabet or write down my spelling words or carry the 1 in arithmetic.  Little did I know I would make school my career nor that I would be battling this chronic malady well into my mid-30s.

The only way to deal with eliminating The Sunday Dreads is by doing my homework.
The only way to deal with eliminating The Sunday Dreads is by doing my homework.

What are the symptoms of The Sunday Dreads you ask?  I’m sure they vary for everyone depending on what job you do Monday-Friday.  I’m a high school English teacher, and so I suffer from the following symptoms (in no particular order):

  • a constant resentment that you have to go to work on Monday and that your weekend is soon to come to an end.
  • a nervous stomach that gurgles and sputters whenever you think about and begin all the work you have to do to prepare yourself for work on Monday (this pertains a lot to teachers).
  • a tightness in your chest and shallow breathing as the late afternoon and early evening set in.
  • anxiety over the amount of grading you have to do, but really don’t want to (again, this symptom is specific to teachers).
  • cracked lips from biting them or licking them because of your dry mouth (caused by “anxiety” or “nervous stomach” symptom).
  • a slight fear that you have to stand up in front of people and teach them to correct their mistakes or how to become better people (for supervisors, managers, teachers, or self-motivation speakers).
  • a ringing in your ears which is the far off buzz of the hum-drum work schedule you’re soon going to have to follow.
  • a clenched jaw that pops and cracks whenever you open it.
  • insomnia, interrupted sleep, or nightmares due to your over-anticipation of the day that is rushing to your doorstep too quickly.

How to treat The Sunday Dreads?

  • Get up early in the morning, drink a cup of coffee, read a book and watch CBS Sunday morning while sitting in your comfy chair.
  • Take a walk or 2 or 3.
  • Take a nap (if the insomnia, interrupted sleep or nightmares have not begun).
  • Eat.
  • Go shopping.
  • Watch a TV show on your DVR or rent a movie.
  • Pretend that you don’t have to go to work and that you’ve won the Lottery and plan a virtual vacation.
  • Or just do your homework and deal with it.

Obviously I have self-diagnosed and treat my condition as my figurative albatross that I have chosen to live with since I’ve chosen to be an English teacher.  I simply can’t seem to shake my routine that has been in place since I was 8 years old.  The Dreads were never present the rest of the week.  It didn’t matter if my school day  was great and I got an ‘A’ on any given assignment, or if I got beat up by the neighborhood bully and would have to face her every day at the bus stop, I would come home, eat my after-school snack, watch 3-2-1- Contact, Sesame StreetBugs Bunny, The Flintstones and then go outside and play before I had to do whatever little homework I was given for the night.

Things remained somewhat the same in junior high school, but the bullies were now mean girls and puberty was rampant.  My Sunday Dreads occasionally spilled over into Monday, Tuesday, and sometimes Wednesday, but were gone before the weekend came.  Then, when I got my braces off in high school, my concern over my looks and my perpetual gauge on where I ranked on the popularity scale blended into a whole other form of anxiety that looked similar to the Sunday Dreads symptoms.  Still, I knew there was an end in sight because I was accepted into my university of choice and that would take away all of my school anxieties for good because I would be “free” (whatever that meant).

No one told me about the Saturday Drunks I would experience in college that fueled an ever heightened case of the Sunday Dreads, especially when finals were looming.  Then, once I got my teaching job, I thought everything would settle down and I would feel normal and less anxious once I had been teaching for awhile.  Once I was “in the groove” and had all of my classes, lessons, activities, worksheets, PowerPoints in order and all of my #2 pencils sharpened and sitting on my nicely organized desk.  Now, 15 years in “the biz” and I’m still anticipating that ideal which will be my “cure-all” for these Sunday Dreads.

Until then, I guess I have to do my homework and take a few antacids.

Homework is just so boring.
Homework is just so boring.
Stick a fork in me.  I'm done.  I've succumbed to the Sunday Dreads.
Stick a fork in me. I’m done. I’ve succumbed to the Sunday Dreads.