“Our diversity invites all of us to speak, of which we know (think, belief) to be true in our lives and to learn from others.” from Quaker Faith and Practice 1.01


Thoughts of a friend on the topic of the Annual Meeting

Although not a Quaker, still an inquirer, I am asking, according to the Quaker quote above, to share some of my thoughts, expanding on the topic of non-violent communication, as discussed at the Annual Meeting, for whose contribution I like to express my gratitude to Senovio and Michel.

I think that non-violent communication is an extremely relevant issue, particularly in view of today’s political climate and because one is not per se immune against responding with equal intemperate language when confronted with someone with verbal throw-up.

I have given some thought to possible causes of intemperate use of language; after all, such does not occur without reason. Although we are not always confronted with heated debates in our everyday lives, as it happens to politicians, many of us carry a backpack with injuries from long-past insults and accusations. Responsible for being thoughtlessly irritated and reacting aggressively, in a present situation that resembles an incident of the past, is our unconscious memory. A concrete example: One can still react aggressively to well-meant teachings and corrections today because of humiliating experiences in childhood when having been taught condescendingly by a teacher.

Intemperate language is closely related to conflict, our different perspectives, our beliefs and the resulting decisions. It is often founded in the fear to lose control of one’s lives or have already lost it and thereby having to submit to others. Depending on your individual disposition, anxiety can either lead to aggression or depression and thus to anger against others or oneself.

Anger follows outrage. “Take it easy” is the generally accepted norm in society. This also has something to do with pride and sovereignty; after all, people do not always want to expose themselves as being outraged. In his book, the author Pierre Stutz confesses that he could not always accept a flaring-up of his mostly repressed anger. And yet, he says in his book “Do Not Deny Yourself – The Spiritual Message of Anger”  (“Lass dich nicht im Stich Die spirituelle Botschaft von Ärger, Zorn und Wut “) that the sense of anger is as much as part of being human as any other emotion. After all, in addition to being challenged by people of intemperate language and our sensitive reaction to past injuries, there are still very reasonable causes that deserve our outrage. Pierre Stutz says: “What we need is a constructive approach to our aggression, which begins with developing self-confidence and the courage not to deny oneself, but to resist attacks.

With his plea that feelings of anger, in the form of outrage over injustices, corruption or the infringement of human and animal rights, Pierre Stutz finds himself in good company with the poetic French diplomat Stéphane Hessel. Reaching the age of 93, he still appeals to many people with a little booklet titled “Time for Outrage!” With that, he energetically pleads for peaceful resistance to injustice in our society, against the dictatorship of finance capitalism, against the oppression of minorities and the ecological destruction of our planet. It is all right to be angry and outraged, but we should not remain there; we must use the power of anger constructively. Consequently, Stéphane Hessel wrote another appeal with the title: Time for Outrage: Indignez-vous!”

Of course, this is easier said than done. Respectively, Pierre Stutz was profoundly impressed by the example of Antoine Leiris, after he had lost his wife in Paris’ Bataclan attack. Angry, but also passionately peace-oriented, Leiris said: “You will not get my hatred!” Pierre was impressed, not only because of this statement but also because Leiris later confessed that his idealistic resolution “not to hate the killer” overwhelmed him. Thus his tears did not only remain to be “Tears of Sorrow” but also “Tears of Rage”, to which accompanying thoughts of vengeance he shamingly avowed.

Such tragedy does take time to work-through and demands ideas to find a creative way out of the vicious circle of hate, whenever possible with the goal of forgiveness. Another paradigm of redirecting the destructive force of anger and hate is found in the remarkable insight and following-up of the Jewish concentration camp inmate Etty Hillesum. In 1943 she wrote in her diary: “Today I realise that you, God, can not help us, because we must help you to defend the power of peace in us.” Fortunately, many of us do not have to live through such terrible experiences as Antoine Leiris and Etty Hillesum did.

Pierre writes that living our feelings of anger is also being authentic; we should not suppress our emotions, but acquire a sensitivity of awareness towards them, in order to control them better. Because suppressed aggression leads to depression – “aggression and depression are twins”.

Respectively, I am also thinking of peace-work. Since peace is a Quaker testimony, I conclude that the warning message of vulnerability to aggression or depression would also have to be of prime importance to Quakers. Especially because peace is always an ideal state, which cannot always be achieved, or only partially. The result is disappointment and disappointed idealists are particularly vulnerable to aggression or depression. Based on my experience in church circles, I conclude that religiously motivated people do not easily allow themselves to be aggressive and thus disappointments rather lead to depression. I think we are well advised to learn how to avoid wasting energy contained in anger in this useless way. The way out seems to be through the art of sublimation, seeking the energy contained in anger to let it transform from its destructive force into a constructive way. Last but not least, I also learned – and for that I am very grateful – that Quakers draw strength from silence (Silence is Golden) and from the support community life can offer.

Peter Struba, Lausanne worship group