Sunday Morning ~ Avoiding the Pit
Ng’ombe ya ukali imagwa m’mbuna. ~ The angry cow falls into the game pit.
~ Chewa proverb
April 18, 2021
The angry cow, consumed by it’s anger, stomps around, does not see the trap set out in the form of a pit, and stumbles into it. The calm cow sees the pit and walks around it, avoiding an embarrassing and undignified situation. In this proverb I’m assuming the calm cow is also angry but uses anger productively and rationally and avoids traps. That must be so nice. I always wanted to be the calm cow, but I’m really not. I’ve fallen into more than one pit. I watch measured responses, well thought out and even, spoken in calm words, that can be quoted and marveled at, and always wondered how their brain works that they can deliver with such composure. Is it a God given talent or inherent serenity? Or did they grow up in a home where anger was rationally channeled? Not sure, but it never ceases to impress me.
I listened to an interview yesterday with the Reverend William Barber, a man who has every right to be angry. As I listened to him, I thought, he does not fall into the huge American pit. I listened to him lay out the timeline for the journalist in a methodical and calm way. He described how slowly change in a culture like ours unfolds. They were talking about the union vote in Alabama. The flashy news cycle declaring defeat, triggering anger and frustration, to him is irrelevant. What is relevant is progress, not winning or losing. It is progress, he says, that there was a vote. I’m moved by his lesson and I am grateful to him. I’m impatient for all the changes I want to see in my lifetime. He made me think about measuring progress in a new way and how easily we can get discouraged and burn out if we have unrealistic goals. It is the progress, slow and sometimes imperceptible, but always a step forward we need to focus on. I see how, when I am the angry cow, my vision is blurred.
In college I attended an assertiveness training for women. This was an effort to teach us how to speak up for ourselves without being angry. I watched with awe as the instructors modeled assertive behavior with integrity, grace, and ease. To be assertive and not angry is an effective skill and I wish I had mastered it better. It’s a joy to watch. Nancy Pelosi has it down. As I’m teaching this course about the history of women’s health care, it’s bringing me back to the 70s when assertiveness was angry, or labeled as such. Anger welled up as women were being demeaned and finally decided to say something about it. This justified anger resulted in them being mocked, ridiculed, and punished, but it was a first step. I took the new notions home with me, thinking, surely everyone would see the light and get on board, but that’s not how the story went. My father regarded any woman speaking up for herself as a personal affront, as if he’d lose his livelihood. He referred to them as “Libbers” with undisguised contempt. It was a decade full of controversy and struggle, but for me and many young women, it was a step.
It’s so strange to be teaching about an era I lived through as history! I feel like Cleopatra or something. It just doesn’t seem that long ago. These years have all melded together and it’s hard to separate the steps forward from current issues that take us back. But when I break it down, I see the steps more clearly and it’s easier to gauge the progress. When I feel like we are fighting the same battles over and over, I look to differentiate the similarities with the progress, cognizant of the common thread that connects us. I see a dying gasp of patriarchy clinging to desperate artifacts, knowing their line won’t hold. This history, the courageous women who struggled before us with far fewer tools than we have now, teach us to be clear and calm, put one foot forward, and avoid the pit. It seems a solid strategy for longevity.
Love to all,