Monday, August 08, 2005

Bugged fly

Saturday night I spent "with the guys," as the saying goes, for an evening of food, poker, and good-natured jesting.

Alas, I was not jestworthy. Big Joe said it best: "What the hell happened? You're like Dark Side Mike." Luckily, such fearsome weapons only reside in games, or this sort of scene would probably go on more often than we like, especially on the highway:

Now, everybody that's left had BETTER start being nicer!
But it did get me thinking. Leave aside the psychotic or the criminal mind, and settle down for a moment with the 'normal' folk - what makes an average fly start to growl? Why, when frustrated, will one reply with unreasonable anger?

After a good long talk with myself I concluded that it wasn't the inconvenience. It wasn't loss of time or even of money. Fear was a strong contender, but I eventually decided that it wasn't a cause itself, but a concurring result of the thing I sought: in other words, the event that scares is the same thing that infuriates. Besides, we've all been in situations where we've gotten very mad and only later, when anger faded, did we find that we were frightened.

Finally I concluded that anger was a byproduct of self-esteem. Not being taken seriously is one of the great causes of anger - the feeling that one doesn't matter. It comes on the road when the thoughtless or careless cut you off; further, when they only notice you so far as to flip you off. It comes when your ideas are dismissed without a fair hearing. It comes with casual unfairness or indifference. But worst of all is the sneaking suspicion that, deep down, those who have wronged you are correct to do it - that you don't merit common courtesy or any note of regard, that at bottom you're only getting what you deserve.

Maybe nobody else knows this feeling. God bless them; one great sign of mental health is the ability to forget such things and laugh. The rest of us? Oh, for five minutes' peace from that nagging voice within that agrees with the world!

Our antidote is not more self-esteem. That just leads to two big problems - first, that one will not bother to actually accomplish anything (because you're fine the way you are), and second, that one will start to deal out the behavior that caused so much trouble coming in (because nobody else has been similarly enlightened). These are obviously false - if you really were fine the way you were, you wouldn't have been so offended in the first place; and if it was wrong to suffer such hurt, why (now that you're a better person) would you be so cruel in exchange?

I'm convinced that self-worth is the real secret, of which esteem is a knockoff, a phantom designed to keep us busy jotting up brownie points and grievances while real work goes undone. Knowing who one really is cures all that. Insults rarely reach the core of that person, because they have the necessary tool, truth, to see through any slight; one is beloved of God, redeemed by Christ, moved by the Spirit, and therefore of eternal worth to the One who judges the soul. Misfortunes aren't taken personally; one is a sinner, needing constant grace and correction, and therefore not meriting any such particular notice from the cosmos. God loves, so we can be confident and happy; God chastises, so we don't grow proud. As little lights in His great light, we can shine without fear of casting shadows on others. Self-esteem hoards to try to cover emptiness, but self-worth gives from fullness, never fearing to run out, because the source of that fullness isn't the person at all, but the Father.

Now - blogging it is easy. Living it takes a whole life. Shall we agree to remind each other who we are from time to time, to make it simpler?


Sluggo said...

Anger is a natural part of the fight-or-flight cocktail. You've got to be angry to do some of the things you've got to do when you have genuine reason to be afraid.

You've put your finger on the main problem with too much emphasis on 'self-esteem' in children. If you judge your worth by how well you think of yourself, anything that threatens that will trigger the fight-or-flight reaction. Dealing with the bumps and bruises of normal life is a part of maturing and an automatic reaction of anger keeps you an adolescent.

Janet said...

Wow. And to think all I get out of poker is frustration and perhaps some monetary loss.