This post is my monthly contribution to Bloggers for Peace.
Sometimes you read something and it never goes away. It’s a nagging thought, a bur under the saddle, something that whispers in the background. This is my bur: Thoughts as acts of aggression. When I first read Practicing Peace in a Time of War by Pema Chödrön, I had a knee jerk reaction when she suggested that peace, on a grand scale, starts in our heads. I saw thoughts as generally harmless, internal, a way of coping with stress. I humor my irritations, my opinions, my stubbornness, never realizing that my kind of thinking starts wars.
We live in a time when digging in and shouting and taking retribution reigns over the softer voice, “wait, breathe, think”. I consider myself a reasonable person, until I start to think about parenting choices, conservatism, women’s issues and racism. Then I know, I am an aggressive, angry thinker. I have hard edges resistant to the other side. I am not listening. I am not waiting for reasoned dialogue. I have trained my brain to shut up tight, protecting its opinions to the detriment of my own enlightenment.
Many years ago, when I was in a management position, I said something unflattering about another employee. I was overheard and subsequently called to the mat for it. I was angry at the person, who overheard, for reporting me and angry at my employers. I worked quickly to rationalize my behavior by saying things to myself like “It was true – it wasn’t that awful of a thing to say. Why did she have to be so sensitive? She’s a jerk. I loathe her. I can’t believe that I worked for my employers for so long and they immediately took her side.”
The incident would have passed had it not been for the aggression I felt. That thought cycle churned in me until I felt I had no choice but to resign from my job. It took several months after leaving the job for me to soften. I wasn’t angry at other people. I was disappointed with myself for being so unprofessional and unkind. I was sad that I had upended many years of good service by not maintaining appropriate boundaries. I allowed my shame and embarrassment to become anger and resentment because I did not want to deal with the pain. I would rather quit than feel that pain.
Aggression, whether on the battlefield or in your head, becomes a self-feeding cycle, solidifying more intransigent and bitter thoughts with each shot fired. We teach ourselves to hate so that we can continue the fight. If we stop for a moment, patiently waiting for our true thoughts to emerge, we soften. We feel our own vulnerabilities, our pain. We begin to see that our opponents really want the same things – safe homes for their families, healthy and happy children, the opportunity to work and create and feel needed, education, food, all the basic human needs and wants. The heat of war becomes untenable. They are no longer the enemy.
Most of us don’t deal with life and death issues in our everyday life, but all of us experience thoughts of aggression. There is that cliché Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? When I first heard that, I shrugged it off. It sounded like being conciliatory for the sake of peace, as if one has no principles or opinions. I see it differently now. Being right means being closed. It means hardening yourself to the point that no amount of negotiating or explaining will help you see the other side. It means waging war, instead of listening and having dialogue.
I struggle with thoughts of aggression everyday. When anger arises, I ask myself, What is this about? Even taking that moment softens me, prevents my thoughts from solidifying into armor. Stay open. Wait. Breathe. Think.
More Bloggers for Peace:
The Mirror That is You at KM Huber’s Blog
Road Peace at This is My Corn
A Split Second to Peace at everyday gurus