Thursday, June 17, 2010


When Field Director Allyson observed my class last month, she recommended that I crack down on the discipline a bit, pointing out that I'm nice and patient and all, but that the class as a whole would be better served, and I would have an easier time, if the disruptive kids got a smackdown. I started the next day, and it's been a good change, but there's been an element missing in the conversation, where I haven't been able to clearly communicate how seriously I'm taking the situation. Part of this is my habit of treating people with kindness and patience, but in challenging situations, I'm also really good about communicating clearly, using...words. My normal methods of conflict resolution are a bit too subtle when dealing with young teenagers across language and cultural barriers.

Also, it's not really conflict resolution, because I'm in charge and they're disrupting the class in ways they know cause problems: they're smart kids, and every week I write their names on the board to warn them that they're on their way to getting sent to the Inspectors.

Two weekends ago I was looking ahead at the students I was most likely to kick out of class (having exhausted my considerable patience), and just imagining what that looked like. What's the expression on my face? What do I do with my voice? How do I deliver the message that will cut off the inevitable whining and trying to negotiate?

Well, I could get angry, just for a moment, and let it come through my face and voice and body, and then let it go. Right?

I don't feel like I've made a deep study of anger like my teacher has, because I spent my time on the weak end of the spectrum, with occasional irritation, annoyance, and frustration, so normally I just notice how I feel, look at why I feel that way, let it go, and move. The flashes of powerful emotion most of us associate with anger are rare for me; and to express it with a raised voice rarer still, and physical aggression from me, nearly unknown.

(I came close early this year with an aikido friend who was way out of bounds during training, and then last year at Chillits. I don't want to sound like a saint: though my actions are pretty well-considered, I have of plenty of stuff I deal with internally. But anger isn't usually my big problem.)

Using anger on purpose, to teach or communicate, is like starting your barbecue with a lot of gasoline: yes, it can work, but you need to know exactly what you're doing and why, and even then, your food might taste kinda funny.

You have to pay close attention to what's happening in your audience, which I knew...but you have to pay close attention to what's happening in you, which came as a surprise.

Anger, it turns out, is a little sticky, and leaves a residue, like peeling off duct tape. Our minds, our sense of self, the buffers between ourselves and direct perception of the world, are made up of patterns of thought. Generally we develop those patterns unconsciously, but with practice, we can start...messing with who we are. With awareness and attention, we can change our patterns of thought. I can remind myself that other people have a lot of stuff going on, and I should be gentle and open with them, instead of making up some story about their motivations and reacting to my own story. Every time I make that choice, my habit of being gentle gets a little stronger.

Every time I make a choice to display anger, my habit of feeling angry gets a little stronger. This is especially noticeable, and unpleasant, because I don't have a big habit of feeling angry.


1 comment:

  1. *hug*

    I never could use anger on my kids in Turkey, even though I could see it worked. I wonder, if I was in that situation now, whether I could. As a parent, I see the value of anger/intensity; I reserve mine for dangerous situations like stepping into traffic. But for you, discipline in the class is like shouting across a crevasse--the subtler things just don't get through...