01 May 2009

anger, pacifism, cowardice

The book I'm reading now is Mama's boy, preacher's son by Kevin Jennings, the founder and first executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. He grew up poor, mostly in the South, moving around a lot and getting called faggot by his classmates. While my status as preacher's son seemed to protect me from the taunts, I certainly grew up thinking I was different. Maybe we all do. One aside of Kevin's particularly resonated with me:

"(This happy ending aside, Mom and Dad's spankings, and my brother's bullying, would leave their scars in the form of a clear lesson: when people get angry, they hit you. I developed a lifelong, nearly paralyzing fear of angry people, so much so that I would do anything to avoid getting others angry -- anything, no matter how damaging it was to me.)" (p. 52-53)

Even though Kevin also learns that sometimes you get results when you fight back, it can be paralyzing for me as it was for Kevin. I know that my fear of anger has played into the development of my pacifism. I hope it's a more mature way of dealing with conflict.

This also reminds me of a wonderful quote from Colm Tóibín's The master, a novel based on the life of Henry James:

"He was not cut out to be a soldier, he thought, but neither were most of the young men of his class and acquaintance who went to fight. It was not wisdom which kept him away, he believed, but something closer to cowardice, and as he walked the cobbled streets of his new town, he almost thanked God for it."

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