Choosing love over anger

Published 10:04 pm Friday, February 11, 2022

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When I was being bullied as a child, my mother gave me two really good pieces of advice. Firstly, she told me to surprise them with a compliment. Nothing specific, but something that would disrupt the bullying in the moment. Secondly, if you get into a fight, make sure you don’t start it.  You can end it, though!

My mom gave pretty great advice.  She still does, actually.  Regarding her second piece of advice, I can honestly say I never started a fight. I did finish several, however.  But it’s that first piece I want to focus on. I can’t forget how I felt when she advised me to compliment the one bullying me.  I was angry.  “Why should I do anything nice for the people who were hurting me?”

That’s when my mother hit me with some of the wisdom that comes only from a life that has survived significant trauma and tragedy, as has my mother. She told me that repaying evil with good wasn’t really about doing something nice for the bully after all.  It was about doing something nice for myself.  She told me that holding onto anger would only make me angrier, and matching their cruelty with my own would not actually make me feel better and it wouldn’t help the situation in the long run.  By choosing kindness, by choosing to love, I wasn’t primarily loving the bully.  I was first and foremost loving myself.

That has stuck with me into adulthood as I still grapple with what it means to love those who have hurt me.  But my mother was right all along.  When I have given into anger, when I have lashed out at those who have first hurt me, it feels good in the moment.  Oh yes, there’s the momentary rush of endorphins as we take our oppressor down a peg or two.  Perhaps in our anger we even resort to the very same words, phrases, and actions that first hurt us.  Unfortunately, those endorphins don’t last forever, and we come crashing down with the recognition that by lashing out, by reacting in anger, we are simply perpetuating the very same cycle of pain that hurt us in the first place, thereby re-injuring ourselves even as we are trying to injure another.

To choose love, however difficult that may be, is to break open the typical patterns of behavior that we have been accustomed to.  We believe it is our right to hurt those who first hurt us.  Yet, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. To act with love towards those who harm us should not be equated with pretending their wrongdoing didn’t happen.  It doesn’t mean tolerating the violence done towards us.  It simply means choosing not to respond with a similar kind of pain, anger, or hurt.

Valentine’s Day is just a few days away.  Love is in the air. Could there be any better day to commit, right now, to breaking the cycle of retributive violence and harm? Could there be any better time than now to decide to put more love into the world than anger?

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.