Crying babies, anger, and hate

Dear President Trump,

I don’t know how involved you were when your kids were tiny, but I’m guessing you probably don’t know that babies rarely cry for no reason. It’s often not readily apparent what the reasons are but they generally include the following: their diapers are wet or their tummies hurt or they are hungry, bored, or uncomfortable or maybe they are feeling scared or lonely, or just want to be held. There are dozens more drivers of babies’ crying, but surely you get the idea from this list that it takes close attention and lots and lots of care to figure out what’s going on with an individual baby who is crying so as to be able to address what is distressing them. Plus, babies don’t just cry once during their babyhoods; it’s not a “one and done” deal where the caregiver figures out how to sooth that one distress and then they live in quiet bliss forever more. No, if they are healthy, babies cry a thousand times before they are a year old, with some of those crying episodes easily solved and others remaining confounding for hours, only resolving after many, many laps around the dining room table in the middle of the night.

So, it’s no wonder that Tich Naht Hanh observed that anger is like a crying baby and that to deal with anger constructively, we need to treat it like a crying baby we want to help. As with crying babies, the causes of anger are sometimes very obvious and the equivalent of a quick diaper change will take care of it (e.g., saying something like “hey, what you said just now hurt my feelings and I don’t appreciate being talked to like that” and actually receiving an apology right then and there). And likewise, as with crying babies, the causes of anger are sometimes mysterious and opaque and no matter what all we do to quell the anger, it persists; the baby isn’t wet, isn’t hungry, has burped all her burps and yet she just keeps crying. This is one of the tough baby/anger situations, right? It’s tempting to put the baby in her crib and leave her to cry it out alone and it’s tempting to just shelve the anger. And honestly, sometimes both the baby-in-crib and the anger shelving strategies are all one can do in the moment and might be the healthiest options. But the baby is either going to keep crying or will be crying again shortly and the anger is going to keep seething or is going to flare up again. In other words, both babies and anger need close attention and lots and lots of ongoing care to stay safe and healthy.

I introduced TNH’s take on anger and babies yesterday when I told you how much I’m struggling with hating you and your posse, floating the idea that maybe treating hate in a similar fashion to crying babies and anger might be helpful. Having laid the above groundwork, I do think it’s potentially useful to start with the tenet that there are reasons that hate gets going and to interrogate those reasons. For example, sometimes hate gets going because someone wants to get hate going because fanning hate (and anger) serves their agenda. This sort of hate mongering is like poking babies with pins on the sly to make them cry – totally shitty. Sometimes hate is passed down as received wisdom (or really, anti-wisdom) such that hate for certain people, whether the family down the street that your mother took a dislike to years before you were born or entire groups of people, is swallowed and integrated without question. Sometimes hate is in response to hate – basically, if you communicate directly or indirectly that you don’t like me or that you hate me, chances are I’m going to dislike or hate you in return. And sometimes hate gets going after repeated harms are enacted against oneself or those one cares about and the harmer shows no signs of remorse or willingness to change their behavior.

So hmm. I guess if the first order of business with crying babies, anger, and hate is to analyze the situation and see if you can figure out what is the matter, this was a useful exercise – there are certainly more drivers of babies’ tears, anger, and hate than identified above, but I think this is a reasonable overview of most of the primary ones. Then I suppose there’s the issue of whether the likely driver of the angst is something one has any power to change or it isn’t. If it’s something one can change then decisions need to be made about what to do and if it’s something one cannot change then decisions need to be made about what to do with that reality. Typically with babies something useful can be done to alleviate their misery even if it’s just rocking them until they finally go to sleep. Anger and hate though – way harder.

And while I would always want to soothe a crying baby, do I even want to let go my righteous anger or what frankly feels like righteous hate? Honestly, listing out these primary drivers of hate didn’t exactly leave me with more compassion for you and yours. However, I think it did leave me with more compassion for myself, and this is not nothing. It’s a toehold, and I’ll take it.

May we be safe as we wrestle with understanding drivers of hate.
May we be willing to look deeply at what hurts and how we can soothe it.
May we have compassion for ourselves around strong negative feelings.
Even if it’s righteous, may hate not have the final word.

Tracy Simpson

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