Thursday, November 29, 2007

angry faces

angry faces

The Monk told us a story of a man in prison for a murder he did not commit. At one point, after a few years maybe, he was allowed to watch the telly but with no sound. He had gotten into meditation by this stage and what he said he saw when he looked at all the faces on the tv – from politicians, through folk protesting against the war, through bankers, store-owners, religious leaders, environmental activists, feminists, people marching for the right to be gay or have an abortion - was: ‘They are all the same angry faces’.

An acquaintance of mine does a lot of work for peace. I mean a lot. He is a very angry man, He is full of hatred for the oppressor, contempt for the politician who started the war, bile towards the man who owns the gun, anger towards the manager who doesn’t listen, the colleague who lied… This I can understand. His anger, he says, is his motivator. This I can also understand. However, what I never really understood is why his private life is full of aggressive gun-touting people who, rather than listening to him, steal from him, provoke him, shout at him and abandon him.

Now I see that he is just one of the angry faces.

I recently went back to my old orchestra to visit. It was wonderful, particularly because I got a huge ego massage. Everyone said how much they missed me and how the section hadn’t been the same since I’d been gone etc. On the contrary, it seemed to me the orchestra sounded more magnificent than ever and I felt extremely proud to have been part of it for twelve years. (Blah Blah.) Apparently, however, having been resident for twenty years, there are rumours that the band may be in danger of being replaced by a younger fitter version. Just like that. It is believed that the reason may be connected to the fact that five years ago, at long last, we built a committee. Each year, we were told, at the end of the tour, there would a ‘committee meeting’. ‘We have a voice!’ everyone rejoiced. So each year the individuals who put their hearts and souls in to the workings of their small cog in the music, who drove hours and hours through the night on the motorway before and after shows, who spent months away from their families, who warmed up properly and took Alexander lessons, who played brilliantly and faultlessly even when their baby had been sick all night, had a chance to be heard. What did we have to say? Well, there were the small things - the environmental impact of polystyrene cups, the backstage conditions at a certain venue, etc. Then there were the bigger things: The possibility of childcare, conductors who never breathed and for whom playing three mammoth symphonies five times a week resulted invariably in tendonitis, and why the heck did our beloved second oboe get fired when he played like a God? Etc.

In the committee meeting, sixty serene musicians became sixty angry faces. Nothing changed. I was one of those angry faces and for that I am not proud.



Blogger Guanaco said...

Wonderful post. Sometimes, just for fun, I watch the news with the sound off and try to guess what people are saying by reading their faces and body language.

A lot of anger.

Yet, every once in a while, in one of those crowd scenes (such as an audience at a school board meeting, or even a group of demonstrators in the street) I'll notice someone who is not angry, who seems to have found serenity in all the chaos around them.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Dale said...

Forgive the length of this quotation from Thomas Merton, but it's been a favorite with me for ages:

"We have to learn to commune with ourselves before we can communicate with other men and with God. A man who is not at peace with himself necessarily projects his interior fighting into the society of those he lives with, and spreads a contagion of conflict all around him. Even when he tries to do good to others his efforts are hopeless, since he does not know how to do good to himself. In moments of wildest idealism he may take it into his head to make other people happy: and in doing so he will overwhelm them with his own unhappiness. He seeks to find himself somehow in the work of making others happy. Therefore he throws himself into the work. As a result he gets out of the work all that he put into it: his own confusion, his own disintegration, his own unhappiness."

I believe in the value of being active in the world, as did Merton. But everything I observe tells me he's absolutely right. It takes such a deep groundedness to be able to engage in conflict and not "spread contagion." Not be an angry face.

Beautiful, lovely post. Thank you.

8:51 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

thank you guanaco, and dear dale that quote just about had me blubbering into my porridge. thank you so much.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meetings breed hostility. If people want to find agreement, they're far better off going for a walk.

4:06 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

anonymous, i am beginning to come round to your point of view. i realise that, as a product of the 'therapy generation' i have always presumed that everything is best expressed. I so disagree with that now, aboout which I think, some people close to me may be quite glad! It's a tough habit to shake though!

4:14 PM  
Anonymous mig said...

ruth, i read this post this morning and thought about it all day. had a nice conversation with one woman at a concert (normally i don't talk to people) and another complimented me on how well-behaved my daughter was. it was raining friendly people. thanks.

7:53 PM  

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