March 01, 2006

Anger, Fear, Hatred

Well, I could write about "Season of Darkness, pt. 3," but that story's a bit old, don't you think? Besides, I wasn't unique in losing power on Monday; 100,000 people lost power due to violent weather.... Our local, monthly, all-volunteer newspaper arrived yesterday. Thrown into the mix of articles about the "old days" and pictures of some local kids standing next to a pig carcass at "Swine Day" was the following article by yours truly....

When I was a kid in grade school, the movie Star Wars came out in theaters. The story about Luke Skywalker and his friends (not to mention the groundbreaking special effects) captivated the imagination of millions of people. It was followed three years later by Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

I remember seeing these two movies in the theater. I also remember the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back bed sheets and pillow case I got one year for Christmas. They were awesome. OK, maybe it was a bit odd that, every night, I’d lay my head down upon an image of Darth Vader’s mask. Can you imagine Darth Vader kissing you as you sleep? But still, I liked them.

All the Star Wars movies are now available on DVD. In recent weeks, I’ve been renting them and watching them with my two sons. I’m not sure Tristan, who’s 4, is quite ready for them; mostly he just laughs at C3PO and the ewoks. However, Ethan, who’s 8, has been captivated, just as I was when I was his age.

Life has been challenging for Ethan lately. Of course, the life of every kid is full of challenges and struggle, but Ethan is my son, so you’ll excuse me if I show a little partiality. One day not too long ago, Ethan said that other kids at school were making him angry. He complained that they picked on him.

Upon hearing this, I was convinced that every kid at Ethan’s school was Moe from "Calvin and Hobbes," a giant of a bully with an empty head. After I returned to my senses, though, I realized that I know most of these kids, and even some of their parents. This is south Sutter County, after all, where everyone knows everyone else, right? So I had to admit that none of these kids really looked or even acted like Moe. They all have their moments, I’m sure, but for the most part they’re good kids.

Ethan told me that when the kids at school make him angry, he’s the one who usually gets in trouble. “Why’s that?” I asked him.

“Because they make me so, so angry,” he said. Gradually, I began to understand. Ethan, like a lot of the kids I know, carries his anger around with him. When the anger gets to be too much, or when he’s provoked, the anger explodes.

I told Ethan that when someone gets him angry, he always has a choice: he can choose to respond in a way that will make the situation better, or he can respond in a way that will make the situation worse. I told him that I understood how difficult it is to control one’s anger and to make the right choice. Yet he still has to make that choice.

Not everyone subscribes to this philosophy. I know that some well-meaning parents teach their children, especially their sons, to fight back if someone is making them angry, and to “teach a lesson” to anyone who offends them. I don’t know, maybe that philosophy works for them. Time will tell, I guess. But that’s not what I choose to teach. I try to teach what my faith has taught me, that we should love our enemies, be peacemakers, and turn the other cheek. It’s not a choice for the weak, as some people think; it’s the choice of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi. It’s a choice that requires tremendous self-discipline and courage. And, in my experience, it’s the only choice that really does make the situation better, for everyone involved.

The day after Ethan and I had this conversation, we sat down to watch Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, episode six of the six-episode series. At one point in the movie, Yoda appeared on screen, and offered to Luke this advice: “Careful you must be. Anger, hatred, fear … these lead to the Dark Side of the Force. Do not underestimate the Dark Side.” I looked at Ethan. He was paying close attention.

Later in the movie, we watched Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader battle it out with their light sabers. The anger within Luke was strong, and at times he lashed out wildly and violently; but in the end, he refused to give in to his anger. He tossed his light saber aside, redeemed his father from the Dark Side, and achieved victory.

The day after that, when Ethan came home from school, he said, “I walked away today. Instead of getting angry, I just walked away.”

“Oh?” I said nervously, doubting my own advice. “And how did that work out for you?”

“Good. It worked out good.” Yessss!

Well done, son. Well done. May the Force be with you.


peripateticpolarbear said...

You're such a good dad.
But I do worry about you sleeping snuggled up with Darth Vadar.

Guido said...

Had the same conversation with my son. I told him, "Just walk away." The tough part is when I have to be the example and walk away when things irritate me.

but it is a good moment when they actually do listen to what you say.


Danny said...

Today, I was substitute teaching a different class at my son's school, and at lunch the principal says to me, "We had an incident with Ethan today..." He got angry and jabbed a classmate with his pencil. Obviously, this is an ongoing issue that we (all) must work on every day.