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Aug 25
Dharma Teachings
Fear, Anger, and Dignity

Reflections on the quality of dignity, especially in times of speed and aggression

by Susan Firer

I don’t think it would be a shock to anyone reading this, even anyone not reading this for that matter, that we are in a time of great fear and aggression. This has been going on for decades of course, but in the last decade the speed of it all has hastened, at least in my opinion.

Consumed by Anger and Fear the Warrior loses his Dignity.

When these words popped into my head about 5 or 6 months ago, I wrote them down. They float around in my consciousness from time to time, and I sometimes use them to find my way, like the navigators of old who were said to have been guided by the North Star.

I have curbed and narrowed my intake of commentary on local, national, and world events. I now check about three sources somewhat regularly, and they lead me to links for other sources, in case I want to follow them. I am still willing and interested in face-to-face conversations with people, but at times need to ask that we stop a discussion when I feel full! The calories that tend to over-fill me are irritation, boredom, frustration, aggression, and apathy. This is all on me, and I am not blaming anyone else for how I react. I understand that I have control over my own diet.

The mainstream media (I hesitated to use these words term because they have become yet another seed of conflict in our society) by and large give us all a steady diet of extremes: if you are not this then you are that; if you voted for A then you are this, that ,and the other; if you voted for B then you must be x, y, and z; if you don’t believe in this, then you are ignorant and stupid; if you believe in this then you are intelligent and wise! You can use your own experiences to relate to these scenarios in your own life. I purposely did not write what I keep hearing on the news, the radio, or at times with one-on-one conversations, specifically because I don’t want to be a part of it. Extremes and putting people in boxes are very rarely, if ever, the path to understanding and peace.

Extreme views polarize people and feed aggression and fear. This has been my observation and experience over the years. It feels so good to be RIGHT and so good to KNOW that you are RIGHT!!! Can you feel the energy in that sentence? Read it again with emphasis on the caps. It is probably different for each of us. But I’ll tell you what my intention was while writing this – I was channeling aggression. I wrote it from the perspective of any one of us who has taken a stand to proclaim or defend a belief and has done it with anger rather than equanimity, in order to let someone know YOU are WRONG and I am RIGHT. You are immoral and I am moral. You are ignorant and I am wise. If you think you’ve stopped doing this, maybe take another look.

Dignity is a quality that I have had conversations about with some friends and family members over the years. We talk about how it seems to be becoming passé, less and less fashionable, from when we were growing up. An indication for me was when I started seeing newscasters wearing less professional clothing, and they started speaking in slang rather than more formal language. Why am I bringing this up, you might ask? I just asked myself the same thing. I think I just strayed off topic a little bit and went into stream of consciousness. I was musing about the word dignity, and that’s where it took me! I’m not saying that a person can’t have dignity while wearing jeans or using informal language. Dignity comes from within, of course, but it also has an external quality that can be helpful and useful to ourselves and others.

When I allow myself to be consumed with anger I do and say things that I normally wouldn’t subject others to, or myself. I do it because I have lost control of my own mind. It’s interesting to watch as anger turns into aggression – I can feel it happening in my body. A perceived or real injustice or disagreement arises and it triggers something in me (it could very well be wisdom…or not), and then I react. If I am fully aware of what’s going on in me, I can choose my physical or verbal reaction, but if I become consumed with the energy then the whole situation is on fire. I don’t know about you, but when I become overly protective or overly sensitized to something to the point where there is no longer any space left for anything else, I don’t feel very stable or dignified. I vomit out a lot of words with speed and high volume. Afterwards, I feel like a baby who can’t speak yet, screaming and crying to get her needs met!


This blog is getting a little long and I haven’t talked much about being consumed by fear yet. I certainly go there as well, but not as often as I used to, and not as often as aggression tests me. Fear tends to make me freeze and not want to engage, and I guess fear has many other ways it shows up. I remember when I taught third graders, their fear often showed up as aggression or sadness. I suppose I do this too when I am afraid. The outward manifestation of fear is a lot more subtle, in my experience.

One of the definitions of consume is “completely destroy.” How many times have you had to rebuild a relationship after your words or actions caused harm? Because you were consumed with something, whether it was a view you were holding onto, or a boundary you thought no one should cross? Or, because you felt insulted or attacked by the actions of someone else? How many times have you actually had to rebuild a relationship with yourself for that matter, after lashing out at someone you love and then feeling remorse for doing it but being too afraid to apologize?

My aspiration for humanity is that we can all continue to be self-reflective, allowing ourselves and others to make mistakes, have our own opinions, do things differently, agree to disagree, be awkward, be brilliant, and above all be human. I think I’m going to spend some time reflecting on what I think it is to be human. Humans do amazing, magnanimous things as well as amazingly horrific things to one another. I wonder what society might look like if we could be as forgiving and accepting of actions that come from people we feel are like us, as we are with people who we label as not like us?

Consumed by anger and fear the warrior loses her dignity. Saturated with equanimity the warrior is all victorious.

Susan Firer is a co-founder of Windhorse Retreat Center. This piece originally appeared on the Center’s blog page, at https://windhorse.shambhala.org/blog .

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5 responses to “ Fear, Anger, and Dignity ”
  1. Thank you everyone for your comments and insights.

  2. Today I’m reflecting on the fact that silence is a statement and doing nothing is a form of action.
    What we choose to leave to others, even when we know they are untrustworthy to wield their power,
    What we choose not to talk about or learn about or pay attention to,
    The sufferings or the victimization of others which we decide not to make a fuss about or disturb our own “dignity” for.
    Again and again, we choose to ignore injustice when it’s other people and not ourselves who are being harmed. Reflecting on this my heart is breaking today. And as uncomfortable as that is I hope it continues to push me not to stand aside but to engage in whatever ways I can. Dignity requires courage. Denial and inaction are undignified. May I choose the way of bravery and dignity, even if it makes me (and/or the people around me) uncomfortable.

  3. Susan Marie
    Aug 29, 2018

    Thanks for this. I wish there were a medicinal formula containing this understanding…an easy pill to share…or a cure to put in the water (!), and I guess instead we must keep on being kind and dignified ourselves as we live our way through the chaos.

  4. Thanks, Suzy. You bring up such rich and valuable and timely ideas.
    May we all recognize our inherent dignity and let it manifest!

  5. Thank you for the reminder regarding dignity, Susan!

    “Love means to look at yourself, the way one looks at distant things.” wrote Czesław Miłosz once.. With perspective..

    May we all engage each other with a measure of grace in these difficult times..

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