Re: Expressions of Anger
From: Cheryl Charis-Graves (
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 1999 06:56:30 -0600 (MDT)
I've been following this thread with great interest. I live in cohousing, have
done so for the past 3 years. I am also a school psychologist, for the past 24
years. And I was a "front line responder" in the Columbine High School
shootings, meaning I was there, in the parking lot, receiving children as they
were rescued from the building, some after hours of being in hiding, some who
sat with their dying teacher, some who ran past dead bodies of their friends
on their way to safety. And I come from a family where no one ever talked
about anything except the weather, the food on the table, and what the
neighbors were up to. Yelling was reserved for disrespectful teenagers and
people with no self-control.

I, on the other hand, was a passionate child with a lot to say and a penchant
for telling the truth (at least as I saw it). This was not appreciated, not by
my family nor my teachers. I have grown up to be a passionate woman with a lot
to say and a penchant for trying to discern the truth, at least as I see it.

One of my passions is trying to help families of young children learn how to
communicate openly and honestly and with respect for one another. At school,
we teach 2, 3 and four year olds the Safety Rule: we keep ourselves safe, we
keep each other safe (including feelings), and we keep our things safe. The
safety rule covers everything. We learn to use our words, we take turns, we
ask first, and we clean up our space when we're done using it. We're not
allowed to make guns with our hands or our toys, and the dinosaurs and puppets
are not allowed to play fight. Which is not about the gun control debate or
the healthy release of anger. It's about patterns of behavior for getting
along in the world. Guns are serious business, not toys, not playthings. And
when we're angry, we have several options -- take some time in the "calming
center," get help from an adult, and eventually, talk to the person with whom
we are angry (when that's a person in the room). Sometimes we just have to
make a book that tells the story of how we feel, when we can't really talk to
that person.

In this school district, in Columbine High School, great effort is made toward
things looking good, at least on the outside. That's how it is in many
families. We don't address the substantive truth of who we are and how we are
together. And so, beneath the surface, things roil around and fester up and
eventually, it all explodes. Or it just plain dies from rot. Think about your
significant relationships. Think about your community.

Anger is about things "not being right." Maybe real, maybe perceived. Maybe
what's not right is that your last partner abandoned you. Maybe what's not
right is that you hate your job. Maybe what's not right is that you can't have
children. Maybe what's not right has something to do with community and maybe
it doesn't. Often anger is about fear and sadness. It's a complicated emotion.

So it requires care. In a community, it is not a simple thing to say, do this
or don't do this around expressions of anger. We want to justify our own
behavior. Bottom line, however, is we go back to the question, "what is best
for the group as a whole?" Covering up, pretending, yelling, swearing -- all
these behaviors can be addressed within the context of "what is in the best
interest of the community as a whole?" What is it that our community --
family, neighborhood, school, etc. -- needs?

Interestingly enough, in my community we tried to address this with 10 "rules
for communication" but could never come to consensus on the wording. Some
members wanted it to cover every possibility they could think of (perhaps out
of fear?) and some wanted it to be very basic and easy to remember. Resolving
the gap never came to the fore as being high enough priority for us to address
as a group, and so the list sits in someone's notebook.

cheryl charis-graves
harmony village in golden, colorado (where we are finally working on getting
that hot tub installed on the common house roof deck)

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