“Do You fume in anger?” (74:1)
Rabbi and family therapist Edwin Friedman wrote, in the context of synagogue/church systems, of the importance of the rabbi/pastor/minister’s ability to maintain a “non-anxious presence” in the face of conflict. If you are in the midst of a challenging situation in which tempers are flaring, he counsels practicing the ability to be aware of your reactions to the emotions flying by without getting caught up in them while being fully present and attentive to all parties involved. Practicing and modeling calm behavior will have a positive effect on the system.
“Scatter the peoples who delight in wars!” (68:31)
I understand the need for military action or war and I might even cheer when a really bad guy is taken down. But war inevitably leads to the death of innocent people. Soldiers sent to do a job suffer death and injury. Civilian casualties are virtually certain, no matter how carefully the rules of war try to minimize them. The destruction of the infrastructure, such as rail lines, roads, water treatment facilities, and businesses, destroys the economy and takes years, even decades, to rebuild. In the meantime, people suffer and die, not because they are supporters of the evil regime but because they happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I want my elected representatives to abhor war.
“They come back each evening howling like dogs.” (59:7)
A dog barks when it feels threatened or it is protecting its pack. Small dogs bark more than large dogs, who need only growl to be taken seriously. Small dogs will bite more often precisely because their bark is not taken seriously enough. We can draw two lessons from this: First, when someone makes threats, take them seriously, no matter how much you believe that the individual is not serious. Second, just as under the right circumstances it is possible to make friends with most barking dogs, never forget that under the right conditions, almost every enemy can become a friend.
“Nations rage, kingdoms topple.” (46:7)
Anger is not a good emotion for a leader. Anger clouds the mind and perverts judgement. Angry people make poor decisions, leading to poor outcomes. Anger is a volcano – showy, frightening, and generally destructive. Good may come from volcanic anger, but only after a long cooling off period. Hawaii of course was built by a volcano, but the beautiful fertile volcanic soil took eons to form. Volcanic anger can lead to Pompeii, Minoa, and Montserrat, which never recovered, and to Mount St. Helens, which exacted a toll of over $1 billion in damage to industry, massive environmental damage, and 57 human lives. A good leader knows how to calm rage before it reaches destructive proportions.
“Happy is one whose transgression is forgiven.” (32:1)
It is a great feeling to hear the words “I forgive you” spoken with sincere conviction. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we respond by denying that we did anything wrong and making excuses, instead of putting on our big boy and big girl pants and accepting the consequences of our behavior. It takes a strong and mature person to take responsibility for mistakes by admitting what we did, apologizing to those we’ve hurt, and making restitution, if possible. We do so knowing that forgiveness is not automatic, that sometimes the injured party will take longer to heal than it took for us to realize the mistake.