In Buddhism anger is held to be one of the three roots of evil. Dr. Suzuki felt that anger was unnecessary and for a long time practiced not being angry. Our own family is a little shy on anger. The kids express hurt, but rarely anger. When they do, it’s an anomaly and usually leads to a serious discussion about how things escalated that far. For a long time I thought that my inability to feel and express anger was a personal deficiency, that it meant I was a repressed person who couldn’t deal with her own feelings. I’m not so sure now. Not all of my coping mechanisms are healthy, but I’m not sure anger is any healthier. What is clear, though, is that my kids are growing up in an environment where expressions of anger are very unusual.
Today Fiona and I went to Nelson to attend a Passport Clinic. One of the trickle-down repercussions of 9/11. Because the U.S. wants to be seen to be tightening border security, Canadians will soon need passports to cross the border in their cars, something half a million people do every day. And so there’s been an incredible bottleneck in the passport application process. Waits of over 4 months were occurring with predictions of worse to come, though recent efforts like travelling Passport Clinics have cut the backlog.
But with Erin travelling at the end of December, we decided to use the Passport Clinic to be on the safe side and expedite the process as best we could. Fiona and I drove down to Nelson prepared to wait a few hours in line. As it turned out our arrival was well-timed and we had only an hour to wait on the street, and another 45 minutes inside.
It all went well. Except there was a man at the desk next to the one where we were being served who had waited the same 90 minutes as us. He was applying for a passport for his son, and not only was his signed Guarantor ineligible to be so according to the [new] clearly-stated rules, but his son had been the subject of an oft-revised custody agreement. The application clearly said that if this was the case the applicant was to bring “all documents” pertaining to the custody situation. He had brought nothing. And so he was angry. And while he did not explode with vicious language and vitriol, his anger was palpable. He raised his voice, he expressed loud incredulity, repeatedly proclaiming the procedure a “joke” and asking the clerk what the heck he was supposed to do now after spending almost two hours in a queue for nothing?
Fiona was not happy about overhearing this, about being within earshot of his anger. It probably didn’t help that the man in question was an imposing physical presence as well. It was probably the most traumatic thing she’s experienced in recent memory. And really, it was fairly benign in the grand scheme of things. If she hadn’t been there I would have felt some sympathy for the clerk and then forgotten about the incident within the hour.
We talked a bit about how sometimes people feel things differently that we’re used to, and sometimes they express their feelings in ways that sort of forget about other people’s feelings. And I explained that I thought the clerk responded exactly the right way … she was polite and firm and didn’t get her back up and just reassured the man about what his options were.
So I think Fiona recovered. But is this a good thing, to raise children so far outside the realm of anger that they are traumatized by an irate man in a passport queue?