Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Discretion

This post has been edited by request.

Pat McDonald--"Enjoy The Silence (Depeche Mode cover)" (mp3)
Elvis Costello--"I'm Not Angry" (mp3)

I was pushing the lawnmower up the driveway yesterday when I noticed my neighbor working in the plant bed that runs between our properties. I waved at her.

"You know, you have a flat tire," she said.

And, yes, I did know, because it was not only flat, anyone could see that it had come halfway off the rim when my wife backed the car down the driveway to get it out of the road. It was a disaster of a tire, one that had had a slow leak for months and had, more than once, sent us on a search throughout the house to scrape up the three quarters necessary to fill it back up for a week or so. So, yeah, I was well-acquainted with the fact that it was flat.

"Yeah," I said. "I'm gonna have to change the tire. It's finally worn out."

"Well," she said. "Maybe if you leave it there, it will fix itself."

I shrugged and bent over to start the lawnmower, but at least 4 tiers of a response came to mind immediately:

a. "No wonder your ____________________________________________ as long as he can."
b. "Aren't you _________________________________________________________________________ then _______________________________ he charged you for it?"
c. "Oh, yeah, _________________________________ hearsay, accused ____________________ unbelievably offensive ____________________________, something I didn't say, _____________________________________________ jumping to that conclusion ____ troubling ____________________________________________________ trying to sleep _____________ track me down at ____________________________________________________ bar ______________upset and hysterical ______________________________________you found out ________________________ never ________________________me."
d. "__________________________!"

But, of course, I said none of those things. If you've ever been in my office at school, you may or may not have noticed that the very first wall hanging you encounter as you walk inside is a framed needlepoint that my wife made for me many, many years ago. Here's how it reads:


"The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression. "--Proverbs 19:11



I read that needlepointed statement often. And it is, I would argue, one of the most important passages in the Bible, the Old Testament precursor to Jesus' instruction to "turn the other cheek."

Now, I'm not going to claim that because I kept my mouth shut during minor encounter with said neighbor I am pure of spirit, but I might try to assert that I am purer of spirit than I was. When I can harness my anger, I think it tends to dissipate, and I can take comfort instead in the knowledge that I could have made a chance exchange with a belittling neighbor a whole lot worse and I didn't. Perhaps I'm wrong, and like the invisible cloud of unfiltered emissions I inhale as I walk around my yard behind a lawnmower, unvented anger spreads its toxins inside me, doing physical and spiritual harm.

But I don't think so. Discretion is strength; the verse from Proverbs says that it is "glory." "Deferreth" is an interesting word in that context, because when we think of "defer," we think in terms of some payment that will, ultimately, be made later. But "defer" can also mean to "suspend" or to "stay," so that our discretion allows us to put off the anger until such time as there is no longer any need for it, hopefully sooner rather than later.

The thing is, in our narcissistic society, discretion is rarely seen. Such a focus on the self demands that self to assume some form of preeminence in the most public of settings. We're caught up in (and I'm caught up in) tit-for-tat, payback, skewering one-liners, etc. so that it doesn't really even matter if our response has anything at all to do with the attack on us (see my unuttered responses to my neighbor above).

I was on Rush Limbaugh's website the other day (as I often am, to see what salvos will be coming my way via my father) and there was a link to a story where Rush declared that he was not going to turn the other cheek to some attacker, real or perceived. Not surprisingly, Rush missed the point entirely. You don't decide when you feel like deferring your anger or when you will turn the other cheek; it is something you constantly strive for. A lot of times you won't get there, your mouth will open, and your retort can never be taken back. That is why the statement is on your wall, worthy of a glance each time you enter your office.

Pat McDonald's cover is available at the great cover songs blog, Cover Lay Down. Elvis Costello is available at Itunes.

8 comments:

boyhowdy said...

Thanks for the credit, and the ongoing view of life!

One correction, though: the song is by Pat MacDonald, who was once upon a time the lead singer and driving force behind Timbuk 3. You remember: The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades?

Bob said...

You're right. Sorry. And I've still got some Timbuk 3. Big fan, especially of their second CD.

Richard Cory said...

WTF? Where did the economics post go?

troutking said...

At least one of our faculty members would really have trouble understanding all those blanks you inserted...

Bob said...

Sorry, RC. I just wanted to clean that post up a little. It's back now.

Anonymous said...

This was hilarious (laugh out loud funny) till you started your damn moralizing. As I read it: HA HA HA HA HA..."The discretion of a man..."...blah blah blah deferreth blah blah blah narcissistic society blah blah blah.

Bob said...

But, Anon, I'm passing over your transgression. That's the point!

Anonymous said...

My only transgression is the occasional cigarette, and I guess sending fireworks in the general direction of Steve George's house on New Year's Eve, which were maybe or maybe not intended to actually hit his home.