Has anyone ever had any success in handling a situation by shouting, “Everybody just calm down!” Didn’t think so.
Depending on the audience (one can get away with it with younger children sometimes) there will likely be immediate silence followed by outrage. If ever there were a phrase that both denied others’ emotions while exposing one’s own anxiety, this is it.
And yet, this is what we are hearing from many in positions of positional authority. Not those exact words, of course, but the sentiment is there nonetheless. I have also heard that we most definitely do not need to calm down. There is too much at stake. What, exactly is as stake, depends upon which tribe one is currently adhering. I have also been hearing a lot about “coming together.”
All of this is important, but what I hear is — “You need to calm down, and if you don’t, I won’t. And we need to unify by you coming over to my side.” Again, these sentiments are couched in sometimes beautiful and sometimes rousing rhetoric.
I agree. There is a need for calm — personal calm. The words mean nothing if they do not match the affect. It is not for me, or anyone else, to tell another person to calm down — no matter how well those words are couched. I still say that more of us need it in our lives. Meaningful and courageous action comes from those who are calm and self-controlled.
I have for the past few months felt the need to calm myself before writing anything. Not to shy away from what needs to be done or said, but rather to be able to say it at all and believe I can be understood. We have all witnessed for the past eighteen months what angry, accusing words can do when all we can do is shout at each other. I have been thankful for those voices of calm that have been heard during this time.
While I am not always successful, I believe it is important to stay engaged and stay calm. I also know many who do not agree with me — I hear from them every day. So here are my tools for calm followed by an excerpt from a hymn and a German mystic from the thirteenth century.
Breathe. Taking five deep breaths a few times a day can slow our reactivity. Keep in mind that there is a person at the other end of whatever you are writing or saying. As much as it may seem like it, they are not the problem and attacking them will solve nothing and probably make things worse.
There are also spiritual disciplines that can build calmness into our lives. Prayer. Meditation. Reading spiritual material.
Do something for other people. Send a card. Make a phone call. Be quick to pass on compliments and encouragement. It can also help to do the obvious by limiting one’s exposure to the news cycle or social media. Seek news from boring sources that do not use so many editorial adjectives.
Here is the hymn “Peace” by C.M. Gaskell
How long, O Lord, his brother’s blood
Shall man in battle spill?
How long that mandate be withstood
from page A2
Which cries, “Thou shalt not kill?”
How long shall glory still be found
In scenes of cruel strife,
Where misery walks, a giant crowned,
Crushing the flowers of life?
O, hush, great God! the sounds of war,
And make Thy children feel
That he, with Thee, is noblest far,
Who toils for human weal;—
And though forgotten, he alone
Can be a Christian true
Who would his foes as brethren own,
And still their good pursue.
St. Albert the Great (c. 1193 — 1280) was a German Dominican Friar. In his work “On Cleaving to God”, he wrote this in chapter 5. As with many who wrote in the past, it sounds contemporary.
“If your desire and aim is to reach the destination of the path and home of true happiness, of grace and glory, by a straight and safe way then earnestly apply your mind to seek constant purity of heart, clarity of mind and calm of the senses. Gather up your heart’s desire and fix it continually on the Lord God above. To do so you must withdraw yourself so far as you can from friends and from everyone else, and from the activities that hinder you from such a purpose. Grasp every opportunity when you can find the place, time and means to devote yourself to silence and contemplation, and gathering the secret fruits of silence, so that you can escape the shipwreck of this present age and avoid the restless agitation of the noisy world.”
Completely withdrawing is not healthy for us (as the last year has demonstrated) but doing so intentionally for even a few minutes daily can keep me calm. We need calm in our inner lives for we are not likely to find it elsewhere. The only calm we can maintain is our own and I believe in doing so we can act boldly for the good of this world.