Anger, Bad – and Good?

The guy behind the repair-shop counter would not accept credit cards even though, a few days before, his boss said they would. I argue, try to get him to understand that his boss said different, “JUST TWO DAYS AGO!” Young and short of cash, a credit card is all I have. Clearly, I am not getting my VCR back any time soon.

So, I get up in the guy’s face and let him have it. He quickly backs down, says he will deliver it within the hour to my apartment around the corner. I go home and wait, and wait some more. After a while I figure the guy isn’t coming so I storm back up Columbus Avenue, slam the door open, and go inside. The guy stands behind the counter with a certain look on his face.

“You scared me before but not any more,” he shouts at the top of his lungs. “You are never getting your VCR back.”

“Oh, yes I am,” and I make a move to the back room. I almost make it but the guy jumps up and blocks my way. We stand there inches from each other, eyeball to popping eyeball until the guy’s friend intervenes. He touches my shoulder and rather gently says, “Let me handle this. Go away and come back in a while.”

Immediately upon leaving the store, I am overcome with remorse. I really lost my temper. I am embarrassed. I walk a few blocks to a liquor store and pick up a bottle of scotch.

A few minutes later I open the door to repair shop and step inside. All eyes turns to me. All conversation stops. I walk up to the guy who is now sitting at a desk. I reach into my bag, pull out the scotch, bang it down on his desk and say, “drink with me.”

Total, almost gasping, silence, and then spontaneous uproarious laughter from everyone in the store, led by the guy himself.

The guy produces glasses and everyone in the store stands around sipping scotch. I notice he is not really drinking just putting the glass to his lips. I figure he’s Muslim. No matter. We shake hands about a million times. We hug each other and pound each other on the back. He gives me my VCR and says to pay him in a few days.

When I was in my twenties, I used to rage at waiters and others but mostly at cabdrivers. Once a cabbie picked me up at LaGuardia. I tell him the way to go. He makes a massively wrong turn and we head into deeper Queens rather than toward sweet Manhattan.

Of course, I yell at the guy. He screams at me. He makes more wrong turns. We fight some more. We drive and drive. Finally, he reaches into a bag on the front seat of his cab, “You want an orange?” I eat it. He offers me a sandwich, which I decline. We laugh and talk. He invites me to his house for dinner with his family.

Note: in neither story is there a groveling apology. There is a gesture – drink with me, have an orange – and all is well. One of the many things women do not understand about men is how quickly we can overcome anger, offer peace offerings, become non-combatants and fast friends, seemingly on the turn of a dime.

Men know this from the playground. What man has not become best friends with a guy he had a dust-up with on the playground way back when, or maybe even in a saloon later on? Women tend to linger on hurts and slights and fights. Men usually forget, and fast.

I cannot defend my actions from twenty-five years ago. Though they had happy and even funny endings, they went way to far. These were not displays of righteous anger. And I am grateful that such anger has left me.

There is little question there seems to be an epidemic of male rage these days. I wonder if it is due in part to our overly feminized age. We live in an age that devalues most manly virtues and any manly flash of temper, however minor, is viewed with horror.

When I started out in the world, getting chewed out by the boss was a rite of passage. Now it’s viewed practically as assault.

They say John McCain – he of the old school – has a temper. He has chewed out more than a few, and three years ago the enemies of his presidential aspirations said he was “mentally unbalanced” because of it.

You get the feeling that our age would be uncomfortable with Jesus telling people that they are “whited sepulchers.” “Whited sepulchers. He said that? That’s so mean.”

Everything these days has to be softly modulated lest anyone’s feelings get hurt, even if disasters loom. I was at a pro-life conference years ago when a speaker, a Messianic Jew, went on a tirade about how the Catholic Church is the devil’s own sun-worshiping heresy. As I rose to give him what-for, the woman I sat with whispered, “Do it with love.” She neutered me – but quick.

It sometimes seems to me that if Jesus Christ Himself came back today and he turned over tables and drove the money-changers from the temple, the tut-tutters and all the lady-writers would say, “Do you really think he is a fit Savior, what with his anger issues and all?”

Ira (wrath) is one of the seven deadly sins and ought to be avoided. But since Our Lord Himself displayed anger at times – call it righteous indignation, if you want – maybe we should worry that our lack of anger is sometimes really a lack of manly courage or commitment.

Not trying to pick a fight with anyone or anything. 

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.

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The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.