On this beautifully crisp weekend morning the fields were full of young people kicking a soccer ball with parents and coaches on the peripheral. The little feet were bursting up and down the grass with seemingly endless energy while the adult reactions were quite mixed.
In the morning there had been vastly divergent scenes as children prepared for their big game. For some adults, a presidential speech followed by an Olympic-level warm-up routine was enough to get lil’ Jodi ready. For some kids, their arrival in the right jersey with both shoes was enough to deserve a post-game ice-cream sundae.
Decades of personal history couldn’t help but come along for the ride. There was a ball game laid in front of us, but how much was that simple fact buried under? On the surface it appeared to be just fun, but underneath there was much more. What pain, longing, memories, and meaning-making are unconsciously projected to that four-foot tall toothy-grin who only wanted to chase and be chased, see and be seen?
WOAH! Now, one particular energy stood out from afar. In my peripheral was a pace of intensity, a voice of struggle, and arms flailing in anger. On a nearby field a coach was yelling at his wide-eyed team of 8 year-olds. Though the onlookers shook their heads at the coach offering their personal disapproval, I imagine they’re frozen and plagued with society’s conditioning that suggests he’s oh-so-bad, and that it is disrespectful or inappropriate to speak up.
Although I feel some of that same conditioning of “politeness” inside of me, nonetheless, I felt called to offer love’s interruption to this stranger, and walk directly toward the outburst.
Though I didn’t know anyone over there, there wasn’t a doubt or a pause in me about what I was there for. The kids were frozen and the coach was struggling. I walked up slowly and stood directly behind the kids sitting on the bench, and as I faced the flustered coach I offered a gentle smile and deep breath. Then, to help me understand why anger seemed to surface in him, and to open my heart to him, I made silent empathetic guesses to what mattered most to him …
does this coach want SO badly to make a positive impact?
is he scared because he doesn’t have as many opportunities to succeed in life as he wants, and this one seems fleeting?
is he longing to be seen and celebrated as someone who cares or is effective and competent?
is he struggling to show the care and love that’s inside him?
By stretching toward compassion, I was free to see the beautiful human standing before me, not a gruff old man.
And then something shifted ...
he paused his thought, changed his language, and slowed his pace. He was slightly softer then and began to phrase questions rather than insults or rhetoric.
The kids ran onto the field to begin the second half of the game. I walked up closely and placed a friendly hand lightly on his shoulder, “It’s tough to be a coach sometimes, huh? I can tell how much you care. I’m also worried that they aren’t responding the way you’d like because they’re afraid of the response they’ll get. My guess is if they don’t feel shameful for making mistakes then they’ll be more responsive to your coaching. And remember, they’re young and learning. Good luck, coach.”
He didn’t say anything aloud to me, and he remained fixed on each child’s move. Though I wasn’t sure how he received what I said, when walking away I felt simple, true, and clear. My honest self expression was all I could give, and now I could be more present to my son’s game.
An hour later in the parking lot he approached me and said, “thanks man, I realize I might not be cut out to be a coach.” Maybe that day was the impetus for him to get future help for his anger.
I learned yet again that when we move toward the enemy with kindness and softness, something shifts. We are likely to find that the underbelly of a dragon is soft. I don’t know what came over me, and I don’t always have that clarity, but when I do it can have big impacts on the world.
What no one tells you about anger is this.
It wants to protect something personally valuable. Anger is an expression that says, "Where are my boundaries, my strength, and my sense of self?!" It's trying its hardest to speak its truth. Anger is trying to take a stance on something important, and while it may have nasty tones, inside it longs for kindness and peace, yet will keep fighting because it thinks it must. Without useful tools it keeps on wrecking things and scaring others, yet it too is just trying its damnedest to meet its needs. Anger, like all feelings, comes forth to point us back home.
As Karla McLaren says in her book The Language of Emotions, "respecting the native intelligence of others and simply using your empathic skills can prevent one from moving all their furniture into other people's emotional lives." I suppose you could say that I was hoping to protect the kid's playroom.
Are you searching for more ways to express anger effectively, or hear others anger with compassion? You too looking for the soft underbelly of your partner's growl? Couples that search for marriage counseling, or all individuals for that matter, are looking to ultimately have more connection, meaning, and fun in their lives. I currently have space in my summer practice to help create more of that!