Monday, June 25, 2012

Knapsack 6-28

Notes From My Knapsack 6-28-12

Jeff Gill


Not just a matter of opinion



Have you ever been yelled at?


Probably so; most people would say so. Less well known is that most of us, who think we've been yelled at, would find upon asking the yeller that they don't think they were yelling at the yellee.


Yelling is a matter of opinion, in most cases. There's no federal standard for decibels in committing the act of "yelling," nor is the tone or word choice well established.


In fact, for most of us, "getting yelled at" is a phrase we use for people we know, about when they amp up their usual volume and inflection to make a point.


And yelling is what we call it when someone's telling us something we don't want to hear.


I'm not saying there's no such thing as yelling as an objective reality: Mom on the back porch yells my name out across the neighborhood, a Scout troop on a hike overlooking a valley yells into it to hear an echo, and so on.


But the whole "so-and-so yelled at me" is a tricky concept. Truly, I've found that most people accused of yelling at someone else sincerely don't believe they raised their voice (much) or took on a tone (maybe a little). They know things got heated, but they'd probably pass a polygraph if the question was "did you yell at so-and-so?"


I've got a phrase I created more to remind myself than anything: Anger is fear in a poorly fitting costume. In my weekday work I talk to lots of angry people. They're angry because they're afraid they're going to be out money, or are going to lose financial security; they're angry because of a past they can't change and a future that they fear will be more of the same; they're angry because they fear no one cares about them, and deep down they fear that no one should, either.


For most angry people, if you can find out what they fear, and address it (not even necessarily solve it), then often the angry overtones will disappear as fast as a passing cloud. You'll see faces relax if not lighten up, and the slant of shoulders and volume control of the voice will all shift into a more placid register.


The dilemma is usually that folks who are stuck in anger have spackled a large pile of fury over the top of their fears, and even they don't always know, let alone are ready to talk about, what it is they fear. It's not so much about childhood trauma as it is the built-up certainty that their fears are unanswerable, unresolvable, and so must be covered with all the angry insulation you can pile up in a hurry.


Anger is fear in an ill-fitting costume. I'll stand by this phrase, knowing there must be exceptions out there, but I haven't run into them yet. Relieve the fear, and the anger melts away.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him your adventure in anger at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.


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