It is true that parents have an influence on their children; we cannot know how much. It is also true that children are “born that way.” Among the sane, nature & nurture are both acknowledged, each constantly working on the other, & grace upon both. The list of “rules” to be followed in raising a child is short & vague. This is because each child is a person not a machine, & even the amount of attention he needs varies with each case. Love being the great teacher, what is taught intimately, through love, has some chance of good effect. Example being far more effective than prescription, the love must not be hollow.
But look at these creatures. Humans are much different from cats (& other animals such as hamsters & painted turtles), & yet I found, from my own childhood forward, that cats could exhibit the nature of nature. I so-to-say “owned” more than one from a kitten, & noticed that each came endowed with a personality, an intelligence level, a unique constellation of feline dispositions. And while a cat cannot be a dog, nor a tomcat become a mother, any cat will display Nature is her subtlety. She never repeats herself precisely, is addicted to paradox, & will not allow herself to become bored.
Now, I regret to say such was my fate that I was provided with only a couple of children to experiment upon; both boys. (My original plan was to have enough boys to make a cricket team, & as many girls as came with that.) But even in this limited field I immediately noticed the kitten phenomenon. The same with other people’s children, known since very young: “They come that way,” & unless one is tutoring not lecturing one will miss their finer points.
An example would be my elder boy. His leadership qualities were in evidence in the delivery room; from the start he seemed to be taking charge of the situation. While I tried to teach him drollness, I found the disposition innate: but to understatement rather than to my own gift for exaggeration. He was beating me at chess from a very early age. More galling, from age seven at the latest he had surpassed me in basic maturity. His disrelish of mushrooms, & shellfish — scandalous to me — could never be altered. And so on. Some of the worst parents have raised the best kids, & vice versa. It is something one must try to bear in mind.
Unfortunately, our modern idea of education is all lecturing. We put them in a class; one size fits all. As anyone can see from the products of this system, they do not learn much from it. In particular, the notion that education is centred on the development of character has been lost on our pedagogic authorities, & from what I can see around the Greater Parkdale Area, on parents as well. For given what human beings are, there are moral implications in every form of learning, & this does not cease when morality is systematically replaced with “how to.”
Wrath is my subject of the moment. It is always topical, though in the moment more topical to me than in most. To call it a Deadly Sin is a beginning, but it helps to understand of what the sin might consist. It cannot be a judgement on “mere” temperament, or cats could be sinners.
My father & I were born with unholy tempers, my elder son & my paternal grandfather apparently without. It is a sin to which some seem untempted, as gluttony fails to entice the anorexic. They can be vexed; perhaps anyone can be vexed. But by nature & nurture both, people respond to vexation differently. I knew a man of nearly saintly disposition, who responded to the most outrageous goads by turning in on himself & becoming reflective; who endured a woman for many years whom most of his fellow men considered unendurable; who did not flinch at acute physical pain, but reacted philosophically. We were all surprised the day he killed himself.
The animals I have known (apart from the humans) have more or less of temper; they express it quite spontaneously. With humans one hardly can be sure what one is dealing with. In many Asian cultures, anger is suppressed, & responded to with smiles & then giggling that Western visitors find hard to understand. When in the role of boss, or customer, we think that they are not taking us seriously, & become angrier as a result. My advice would be, “Don’t push your luck.” The giggling is an expression of nervous anxiety; the preceding smiles were intended to assuage. But the capacity for anger is most certainly there, & when it is finally unleashed, you are a dead man.
William Blake wrote, “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” Granted, he presented this as a Proverb of Hell, but with arcane Swedenborgian approval. The man of power I most fear is the one who seems entirely in possession of his temper, because he is a monster of self-will. The anger will never be expressed in shouted words, yet may sometimes be detected in a gesture. It will be sublimated, & applied in far worse ways, & in the moment he “gets even” you will know that he was ruled by his anger all along, under the direction of a brooding malice. Yet there is still some spontaneity in him. Having finally struck, he will hate his victim all the more, because now his victim knows him. Never work for psychos, & stop electing them to high office.
My father, to the contrary, could explode like a volcano; but had forgiven & truly forgotten a few minutes later. Unfortunately this is a tactical error, & the subject of the explosion seldom quickly forgets. It is hard to be wise with anger.
It makes you blind, hence the expression, “blind anger.” My schooling in this was from people actually blind, long a topic of fascination: for when a person already blind becomes angry, he loses the capacity to feel his way through his environment, & starts colliding with things he could easily have sensed in emotional equilibrium. I recommend the autobiography of the French Resistance hero, Jacques Lusseyran (1924–71), blinded from a childhood accident: And Then There Was Light (the translation last re-issued in 1998). It gives a superb account alike of the physical & spiritual universe of blindness; to which add his collection of essays, Against the Pollution of the I.
Among the physically sighted, as I have found to my cost, anger similarly blinds one to fact. The enemy is demonized, & his virtues are disregarded. Reckless assertions will be made, about his acts & his motives. To bear false witness is among the most grievous of crimes, & in the state of wrath, one bears false witness lightly. But even when the assertions are true, they will be unbalanced. Great generals in the field have known since the time of Sun Tzu, or before, that they may make their opponents blunder, from rage. And clever politicians have mastered the art of infuriating their rivals, into tactical mistakes. Anger makes us do the enemy’s bidding; hence the bottomless wisdom in Christ’s “Resist ye not evil.” Run clear of it, by foot or in mind.
The Catholics have a saying which at first seems Pollyanna: “Offer it up.” There is actually profound sense in this: to offer the laundry up, as opposed to taking it in. A wise priest of my acquaintance recommends carrying the handwritten text of some appropriate prayer, to repeat in emergencies. You may need this script; anger will make it hard to remember the words. And the quicker you turn to it, the easier for you it will be.
In Proverbs (the proper Old Testament version) we read: “A soft word turneth away anger.” It is remarkable how many impending explosions may be obviated by this simple device, available free in any quantity from our Maker. (It is what the Asiatic intended by his smile.) An apology could serve this purpose well — unless, of course, it is barbed by anger.
Yet if there were no anger there would be no justice, so anger must have a place. The desire for vengeance must be proportioned to the deed; but the withholding of punishment may actually be a sin against charity. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” was a prescription for mildness & proportion, lost on us today. Our cult of cowardly “niceness” has largely supplanted and undermined the older societal view of crime & blackguardly behaviour. It is like pacifism: one half of a moral instruction, & that the feebler. For equilibrium requires a weighing of things, & thus the chaste moral clarity to hang in the balance, away from the bodily passions. The question must be asked, “To what degree is my anger justified? How, for the best, can what it has taught me now be applied?”
Blake again: “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” I once inscribed this into the ceiling beam of an English cottage I was inhabiting — neatly, with serifs, after pencilling it out for word & letter-spacing. For it seems to me there is wisdom in the storm, if the yachtsman will set his sails for its genius. And as yachtsmen will know, this may require reefing, or in the extreme, bare poles. But were there no wind, we wouldn’t get anywhere.