“It is not that I am incapable of anger, for instance; but I succeed almost on all occasions to keep my feelings under control.”
–Gandhi (Young India, October 1, 1931)
Hold on. Don’t get excited. When Gandhi said that he succeeds in keeping his feelings “under control” he is not making the case for the suppression or repression of our emotions the way men, for example, are largely taught not to show their emotions — the whole “boys don’t cry” thing. That’s not what Gandhi is talking about here. What he is saying is that he is in control of his emotions, they are not in control of him. There is, in the language of the mind, a space between his emotion arising and its expression. In that space, he can choose how to express the energy behind the emotion. This is a very important capacity in nonviolence. If we can’t harness our strongest drives, like fear and anger, we lose a valuable source of power. And they can be used against us; for if we do not have the ability to choose where and when to express them they can be destructive. For example, when an adult becomes angry at the child, she might do or say something in that fit of anger that harms that child.
When people think of the “angriest person of the 20th century” they usually don’t think of Mahatma Gandhi, but if they understood the immense power that comes from the channeling of anger, then maybe they would. Gandhi did get angry, and he directed his anger in such a way that kept it from hurting others, using it instead as a positive force for social upliftment. We have this capacity, too. We can use our anger without letting it use us, the way fire can either burn you or light a lamp. We can let it light not only our own lamp but that of others who come along the same path.
Experiment in Nonviolence:
The next time you feel anger, pat yourself on the back and know that it is a huge source of energy. Now, try to decide what you want to do with that anger.