Recently I talked with a friend who said that in contrast to my own tendency to tears when overwhelmed, she becomes angry when things become very difficult, or when dealing with difficult people. I told her that I thought maybe anger was a more helpful response than my tears. To be honest, I’ve often had angry people around me who have frequently told me that my tears mean weakness and I’ve harbored this thought that angry people might be stronger than I am. With roots of this kind of thinking in my childhood, it’s no wonder I do think this sometimes.
In addition, we all know that anger can generate energy. I remember some of the anger that helped me get through a marital abandonment, a divorce, a dissertation, and a chronic illness over the last three years. There was sorrow, fear, and anger. There was also compassion, generosity, and much unexpected loving-kindness. What a brew.
As I talked with my friend about this she told me, “No, really, your tendency to cry is better. Tears are better. Tears are cleansing. Look at you now, your heart is clean, your head is clear and you are laughing.” Truth is, she made me laugh. She did it; she was my life-raft at that moment. But, yes, the laughter was there and it was real. My friend said that sometimes her anger accelerated situations and set her back. I surely appreciated her support and I appreciated her choice to honor my emotions. For someone like me, who has spent a lifetime having her varied emotions dishonored, a friend who will respect them is precious.
Here’s one thing I took away from that conversation. Both of us are functioning as competently as we can. Absolutely she’s right that tears cleanse. And I’ve recognized the value in her anger as a positive energizer at times. I’ve seen her anger develop her as a person in positive ways when she begins to settle it and put it to work.
I think the problem is getting stuck with either. The tenderness and tears or the anger and passion. My weathervane is humor. If I’m feeling too tender, too lost, too teary and a loved one says something funny about my situation, am I able to laugh? Humor or lightness is a watermark for me. It shows me I’m still willing to be in the moment. I am still in the moment. I know from experience that this is true of anger as well. The ability to laugh is an indicator that we are feeling just what we are feeling in the moment. We are not stuck. Humor is a gift. I am not talking about mean humor, so-called humor that seeks to tear down or hurt another person. That, in fact, is not humor. That is bitterness or hatred or meanness. That kind of behavior might hurt, irritate, or even enrage us. At the very least, it will not be helpful. I am talking about humor that springs from deep wells of compassion. Humor that helps us understand whether we are indulging in rumination and self-pity or we are having a moment of truthful reflection. This is humor that lifts us and helps us to lighten up and keep moving.