Gun Crime and Anger

In recent days we have seen two more appalling gun crimes, in Washington D.C. and Austria. They, of course, are shootings that hit the headlines. Many others rate no more than a brief paragraph in the local newspaper (where that still exists) or go unrecorded because they are ‘lost’ in a bigger conflict such as Syria or the Democratic Republic of Congo. We read, register the obligatory shock and horror and then move on, hopefully with prayer for all concerned; but unless we are in some way personally involved, our response tends to be no more than that.  (I know there are people campaigning to change things, from stricter gun control to more generous support for ex-servicemen and women, but I am speaking generally, for a purpose.) What few of us ever seem to address are the roots of violence in ourselves or others.

One of the paradoxes of being passionate for peace, for example, is that we can become just as violent as those who advocate war. Our desire to defend the defenceless can make us aggressors, too. When I raised doubts about President Obama’s initial advocacy of some form of military intervention in Syria, I received a handful of emails accusing me of lacking compassion for the Syrian people. The violence of the language used made me want to retaliate and highlighted how difficult it can be to break the circle. That is one reason why, in the monastic tradition, mastering the passions is so important. Anger is a passion from which we need to be freed, otherwise it can destroy. There is a place — a much smaller place than many will admit — for righteous anger, but I think myself that only the truly pure in heart are capable of such. Most of us just get angry, and our anger is anything but pure-hearted. Again, most of us would probably (not certainly) never use a gun, but we use words, looks and gestures to wound others. Even our silences can be hurtful. The anger inside has a way of showing itself outside, no matter how much gloss we try to put on it.

Perhaps one response to the killings in America and Austria would be to look into our hearts and acknowledge the violence that lurks there. Then ask the Lord for mercy, for he alone can purify the intentions of our hearts.

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4 thoughts on “Gun Crime and Anger”

  1. I realised the root of my (generally politely controlled) violence was anger. I have to dig deeper now: what is the root of my anger? Something like wounded pride, it seems. Oh, Who can rescue me from this body of death?

  2. Comments sections of websites very often display how widespread is the violence of thought (and word). I wonder just how far is violence of thought (and word) removed from physical violence?

  3. Thank you Dame Catherine for a reflective and thoughtful post.

    It seems to me that we are actually defensive of our own anger, justifying it to ourselves as righteous, when in fact it’s a reaction to something within ourselves that has taken offence in some way. Evidenced by your remarks on the violence of the reactions to your earlier blog post on the validity of international action being taken against the Syria regime.

    We all have the capacity for violent reactions at worst or just oral reactions, which can be as violent and hurtful as physical violence to people. It’s often forgotten the power of words to harm others and I’m concerned that this forgetfulness is now much in evidence through blogs and other social media.

    Why is it that someone who’d not use violent words orally, feels free to use them via the internet?

    Controlling our passions is something which doesn’t seem to be a discipline much taught these days. There is much mockery of the ‘stiff upper lip or stoicism’ as if they were out of date qualities and reflect time gone past.

    It does still exist in many of the older generation, some of those who I have contact with in care homes that I visit display that to a great extent. Accepting their situation, making the best of it and often making light and humour over the things that are no longer in working order, which caused them to be where they are now.

    I’m not sure that we’ll ever return to a time when complaining wasn’t done, and perhaps rightly so. But it would be helpful to have a good measure of self restraint and good manners in public, whether physically or via social media. Life would be much more pleasant for it.

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