July 10, 2007

Leave Rage Alone

A friend of mine recently got into a battle of words that has led to no small amount of intemperate language in the blogosphere. Some hornets’ nests require very little stirring up, and there are many who are waiting for any sign of weakness, any act at which they can take offense. I can’t help but observe from my occasional visits to certain blogs that the primary authors of the content and the commentary actually appear to relish the opportunity to be offended. In all honesty I note that this is not confined entirely to blogs from the right of the ecclesio-political spectrum. There is something deeper here, some character flaw that afflicts us all, and of which we had all best be aware. All of us need a good long look in the mirror now and again, and I include myself in this.

Anger, offense, luxuriating in one’s own victimization, in being insulted and injured, can be powerful sources of emotional energy. They are stimulant drugs, the energy drinks of the soul; and though they“give you wings” I fear they are the kind with scales instead of feathers. They may help you build up a head of steam, but their addictive quality will lead you to seek for more and more offense, rather than seeking peace, understanding and reconciliation. Revenge, whether served hot or cold, may be tasty but it is not nutritious. The junk food of the soul will leave you empty and exhausted.

Still, when offense is given can offense be taken? I suggest it is the manner of response that is at issue. Righteous indignation may be righteous, but it is undignified by definition. So I call upon us all — and I preach to myself in this as well — to aim for righteous dignation instead. Disagree, as it appears we must disagree, but hold back from empty attacks and dismissals that assault the person rather than the premise. Make your case as calmly and clearly as you can, in a spirit of humility as far as in you lies. Speak the truth in love, with as much emphasis on the love as on the truth. As the psalm says, “Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.”

It is, after all, so easy to be witty and clever when saying something nasty. We all enjoy a good “snap” line from time to time, though no one enjoys being on the receiving end of one. That alone should tell us something. And how much more difficult it is to be witty and clever when saying something nice! It is, after all, so easy to tear down — it takes no more talent than a bulldozer; and a house of cards can be dismantled with a breath — but it is far harder to build up; that takes real skill, real talent. Yet isn’t that what God has called us to do, equipped us to do, expects us to do?

Peace be with us all.

Tobias Haller BSG


23 comments:

R said...

Amen.

thomas bushnell, bsg said...

it feels so downright delicious to be wounded sometimes. it gives us a power, an authority, and its seduction is as addictive as you say.

maybe Nietzsche had something right in his indictment of an ethic which proclaims the superiority of the martyred victim. (something wrong too, i insist, but also something right.)

Phil said...

Rev. Haller,

Your comments here leave little with which to disagree – not that this is the point in any case – but might leave an impression of studied dispassion that is unwarranted, given your supportive post at your friend’s blog. There, you seem to place the blame on Stand Firm for unjustly amplifying the private, innocent thoughts of your friend. The mistake, if there was one, was failing to exercise “prudence,” lest the “roaring lions” create a problem out of whole cloth.

In fact, your friend did not “g[e]t into a battle of words.” Unprovoked – and unnecessarily for her essay – she engaged in a lurid fantasy about how a fellow priest might murder said priest’s children, something with which even some of her partisans were uncomfortable. Refusing to apologize, she instead, as a follow-up, proceeded to as much as threaten to bring down the wrath of the child protection authorities upon the poor couple. If you’re familiar with the real world to any extent, then you know such a suggestion is malicious and dangerous.

As the mother in question is the wife of one of the bloggers at Stand Firm, and a friend to many there, it is neither “looking for anything they can find to embarrass” nor “deriv[ing] a considerable amount of energy from anger” to express outrage at your friend’s unhinged language.

One of the uncomfortable things we sometimes have to do is criticize our friends when they do something that is indefensible. I’m sorry that you, as one of the most thoughtful progressive bloggers, chose to close ranks and, worse, place the blame on the victim rather than do so.

Fr Chris said...

I'm as liberal as they come and not very disposed to the victim-priest's politics or theology, but I agree 100% with Phil. Your friend's post was absolutely beyond the pale and shocking coming from a priest of Jesus Christ. It has done some serious damage to the image and credibility of progressives.

Certainly StandFirm and related sites have their agenda, but your approach here and at your friend's blog of blaming them for "wanting to be offended" leaves a bad taste in my mouth. How often are we progressives brushed of on exactly this same basis when some evil thing has been said or done? Our fight against abusive behavior and language is often dismissed as "PC nonsense" and we're accused of looking for a fight.

Whatever unkind things might have been said over at StandFirm about your friend, what she did was unconscionable and should be repented. It was "conduct unbecoming" and was not a mere "excuse" for a "battle of words".

Tobias said...

Phil,

Dispassionate is what I am trying to be, as the passions are things that we are victims of.

Note that my comment to which you refer, at my friends blog, was in response to her post that included a well-deserved apology to the injured party. I in no way suggested that what she did was right or prudent, but I did note that even though she had apologized the fires were still being stoked.

My friend says she did not intend her statements as malicious, but as an expression of real concern. I suggested they would better have been made in private, rather than publicly. This was an error on her part, on which she was amply called, and for which she has apologized. Frankly, I am not familiar with the details which led her to raise concerns about the psychological well-being of the person of whom she wrote. But clearly the way she handled her concern was inappropriate, as she now admits herself. My comments came in response to that admission. As she is a friend, I see no need to continue wagging a finger.

Moreover, I am by no means "blaming the victim" -- from what I saw of her comment at SFiF, she has remained far more dispassionate and charitable than many of her colleagues. It is they who are, to my mind, continuing to derive "justifiable indignation" from all of this, and I do not think that is morally appropriate in light of the apology having been made. I consider that to be a thoughtful assessment of the situation, which is, believe me, not a happy one for anyone.

Many people enjoy being unkind. It is a sad fact, and I wish it were not so. Let us do what we can to heal rather than to rub salt in the wounds. Peace and blessings to you.

Tobias said...

Chris, our notes crossed in the aether. As I note, my friend has already repented of her actions. My post here is written in response to and in reflection of that fact. She knows what she did was wrong. She has apologized.

I will stand by my perception that many folks out there -- on both sides of the aisle -- continue to seek out things to be offended at, and engaging in the contemproary equivalent of muckraking. That's not to say muck doesn't exist -- but there are appropriate ways to deal with it. If you are unaware of this phenomenon, perhaps you are viewing a different blogosphere than I am.

Again, please note I am trying to be more reflective on the wider syndrome than the details of this particular instance -- even though this was the occasion for my reflection. The fact that people still can't seem to put it down is to me another indication of the addictive quality such discussions have.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Good words for us all, Tobias.

It is, after all, so easy to be witty and clever when saying something nasty....And how much more difficult it is to be witty and clever when saying something nice!

So very true.

Fr Chris said...

You know your friend better than most of us who are commenting do, but to be brutally honest, her apology sounded extremely insincere, and was couched in language that made it sound quite forced.

I think a lot of the Sturm und Drang that's still going on is also a result of what the comments say about your friend's character and fitness (at the present moment) for public ministry. A prayerful, thoughtful priest simply does not speculate publicly about a fellow priest murdering her children and does not insinuate that said priest, whom she does not know, is not a capable parent. It's not because of a desire to engage in muckraking that I (and I suspect others) are talking about this -- it's because I'm bewildered that a priest of Jesus Christ would ever do something so awful to a colleague. To be frank, were I an Episcopal priest in your friend's diocese, I would be recommending anger management classes and sensitivity training to her and following up with the bishop if she didn't seem receptive. She has given scandal by her actions and should be doing far more than just writing a blog apology.

Tobias said...

Chris,
I imagine that Elizabeth, like many folks, finds it hard to apologize. It is not an easy thing to do, especially in a case like this where it is so clearly a matter of going off-base. But I honor her struggle with this, even more perhaps, than I would a glib "I did a terrible thing and I'm sorry" such as you see from folks like Senator Vitter. The fact that Elizabeth is twisting and wrestling is a testimony to just how guilty she really feels. And yes, she will need help getting through this, and coming to terms with the damage she did.

All of which is to say, that wasn't the theme of this posting, but its occasion. The theme is, Leave Rage Alone. Forgiveness, even of imperfect repentance, is the morally superior course.

Phil said...

Rev. Haller, I agree with fr chris that the apology seems insincere. On the other hand, I know there's little love lost between the two sides, and I recognize how difficult an apology must be. As I said on SF, we should pray for her, just as I hope she would pray for me, as I am a sinful man.

Again, though, your original post here is something to which we all ought to be able to subscribe. I've made those mistakes myself and need reminders such as yours, so thank you.

Off-topic, I can't leave the Vitter comment stand: what I heard is that the story is the result of something done a few years ago, which was dealt with at the time between himself, his family and his priest, so I don't think anything said now should be taken as "glib." To him, it's old news for which he's repented (he says).

Fr Chris said...

You're right -- it's difficult to work through these situations with integrity, especially when one has a weakness brought very publicly to light (and, you're right, in many of the comments not very kindly or in a Christian way). I will keep all involved parties, but her especially, in my prayers.

Tobias said...

Thank you, Phil. My original post was, after all, what I was about!

As to Vitter, I'm less troubled by his adultery and resort to prostitutes (porneia for real!) and his current glibness -- which is no concern of mine since I am not the injured party -- than I am by his hypocrisy -- his support of the "Defense of Marriage" act, for example, delivered with glib smugness and his swipe at gays -- which does concern me. It seems to me that OLJ was much harder on hypocrisy than adultery -- and I've seen no apology for Vitter's hypocrisy yet. Not that I can't forgive him without one, and do. But I hope you see my point is about really grappling with the extent to which one has done harm. It isn't easy, as what we all do touches so many lives.

Karen said...

Tobias, thank you for the exhortation about how we talk about and to one another in the blogosphere.

It was a helpful post which allows us to examine the issues in a bit cooler fashion. There are some good comments on this thread. Thank you for listening, and for recognizing the real concerns over what has happened.

KJ said...

Well said, Tobias. Our current situation is not unlike a southwestern forest in summer. Probably best to to go without the campfire.

JCF said...

she engaged in a lurid fantasy...

Good googly-moogly, if we were ALL held accountable for our "lurid fantasies" who among us could stand?

I, myself, have a bunch of 'em everyday. 99% of the time (I hope!) I self-censor, but again, who among us HASN'T hit the "Publish" button and then (especially remembering Google and web-archives!) :::cringed:::?

shocking coming from a priest of Jesus Christ

:::layperson snorts---since when do we expect any more from the dog-collar'd?:::

I've avoided this whole Sordid Business as much as I can (don't go to StandFirm for blood-pressure reasons, and haven't visited the blogger in question in an age), but I think---on general principle---more people need to lighten up, and/or look into a mirror saying "There but for the grace of God blog I!"

Mrs. Falstaff said...

For pete's sake. If the Rev. had just said "I'm sorry, it was wrong of me to post that, I'll try not to repeat my error", that would have been the end of it.

David said...

Fr. Chris, Phil,

I'm afraid that the ability to look into mens' and womens' souls and judge the sincerity of their apologies is held by only one Being - and, forgive my bluntness, it ain't you.

Oh, and Mrs. Falstaff ? The Rev. Kaeton did just that.

::shares a snort & a laugh with JCF on the thought of the ordained being morally more upright than the rest of us poor, pew-sittin' slobs::

Ann Marie said...

Part of it is that this really is no one's business except for the two bloggers concerned. There are not many that deny a mistake was made. There are many who refuse to acknowledge the apology because to do so would put an end to the so delicious feeling of being morally right (at least in some minds). More than enough has been said by many who should not even be involved.

A mistake was made and apologized for. The only person who needs to speak to this is the person who was written about. It is her choice as to whether or not to accept the apology. The rest of us need to just let things ago. (And I am aware that in commenting I am not practicing what I preach.)

Anonymous said...

Tobias,

If Elizabeth Kaeton did contact +Skip Adams and the authorities in the state of New York about the Kennedys, don't you think she needs to do more than apologize and take concrete steps to undo whatever damage she has already done to their reputation? Such as writing letters retracting everything and requesting that whatever correspondance took place be destroyed? Given what she wrote in the first version of her apology, which many read as a threat against their family (and it appeared that way to me as well), there is more here than just a couple of cached blog pages on a few conservative blogs.

Jean

C.B. said...

Tobias - you say "The fact that people still can't seem to put it down is to me another indication of the addictive quality such discussions have."

There is now yet another post up on this matter at SF today. This matter has had three posts and racked up a total over over 500 comments over there. Elizabeth edited her blog BEFORE the fist post was ever made. She has apologized. She has been out of the country on a planned trip for days. And still it goes on. It has nothing to do with what she said, or can say. It smacks of distorted retribution. And it's very scarey.

Mark said...

I've noticed it doesn't seem to be shocking in conservative "priests of Jesus Christ to engage in all manner of lurid fantasy about what constitutes homosexual activity and relationships.

Kay said...

All of which is to say, that wasn't the theme of this posting, but its occasion. The theme is, Leave Rage Alone.

Not being privy to the situation that caused this post to be written, I interpreted the post in a very different way than those who are (privy).

I actually found much to take to heart, as a theological "liberal," in my dealings with those more conservative/legalistic than I.

I'm actually thinking of the recent developments with the Pope. I've had a desire to lash out at him, and this post has reminded me that I can confront (even attack) the ideas he holds without attacking the person.

taomikael said...

While Rev. Kaeton's comments were ill-advised, what is far more disturbing is the instant seizure and use of them by a dedicated propagandist -- and the total willingness shown by his audience to dance to his tune.

A close look at the sequence of posts at SFiF and at the language used in them quickly reveals that Griffith had no regard for the wife of an associate or for any relationship he might have had with them. What mattered was the Opportunity, and he lost no time in taking the fullest advantage of it.

Manipulative tactics know no owners, they are readily available weapons that will fit any hand or cause. But their use says something important about the user that would be foolish to ignore.