Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Courage to be happy

If you hold your anger, it will kill all your happiness. (Gullah)

Dear Zayda,

I hope you will learn that it’s all right to be angry and show it. When I was growing up, lots of us got punished for showing that we were angry, so we decided to make ourselves feel safe by holding the anger. Adults praised us for being quiet and well-behaved. When we got older, we were praised for getting along well with others because we always tried to agree even if we didn’t feel like it. And then we wondered why we didn’t feel happy.

The anger goes someplace if we don’t express it, and sometimes it takes hold of our hearts. Our feelings go into a deep freeze, and that means good feelings as well as the feelings others tell us are not good.

Holding our anger can mean we store it up and take it out on ourselves or on others. When people go to war against themselves, they are almost bound to get sick. Sometimes, to make themselves feel better, they try to make others feel bad about themselves. In Jamaica, some of the anger shows as violence. People harm each other for reasons that don’t seem to make sense. For example, people in Jamaica can get badly hurt or worse because they disagree with someone over how to vote or even how to cook a meal.

When you express your anger, my grandniece, realize this is your feeling. No one else is responsible for your feeling, even though we are all tempted to blame others. If you take responsibility, then you have a chance of healing your anger. Often there is some past hurt that jumps out when you hear certain words, or when someone acts in a certain way. The more you hold in the anger, is the more the other person’s words or actions can control your feelings about yourself. We get peace when we realize that other person’s words or actions don’t have to affect us. The other persons are probably dealing with their own anger feelings that they are holding.

You may find that boys who get angry, have a fist fight, and then perhaps become friends. They didn’t hold back their anger, and they gave themselves a chance of happiness with a new friend. Mostly, girls are not allowed to fight with their fists, so at times they show anger with their tongues. Men do that as well, when they don’t have the chance to let out their anger directly, or the courage to confront the person who angers them.

We can safely let our anger out by speaking honestly about our feelings, and by listening to others express their feelings. We can respect and accept feelings for where they usually come from – how we are taught to look at our world.

Laughter helps to relieve anger, and Jamaicans are great at finding humor in serious matters. But laughter can also harm us and others.

If ever you are tempted to laugh at someone, Zayda, please think again. Perhaps a child in your class looks different, dresses differently, speaks differently, or acts differently. Others may make jokes at this child’s expense, and the rest of the class may laugh as well. Sometimes we laugh even though we are uncomfortable, because we know one day we can be the butt of the cruel jokes as well. We might not want to stand up for the person because taking a stand for that unpopular child might make us unpopular as well. We might not want to risk seeming different or sensitive to others’ feelings.

But this is what I would like you to remember. People who try to put others down are usually feeling angry at themselves and others. Or they want to look witty and cool, even while they are harming someone. They may not have the nerve to be playground bullies, but they can always use words to pick on others behind their backs.

If you feel uneasy even as you try to laugh, then you need to respect the feeling of unease. If you have been in the habit of expressing your feelings, you can say you feel uneasy without blaming anyone for your own feeling. If you value your own dignity, you need to stand up for the dignity of others. At the very least, you can move away from those who are putting down another person. You don’t have to be their friends unless you like what they do. You definitely don’t have to laugh at jokes that cause you any discomfort.

We need to be happy first with ourselves, and then we can be happy with others. That takes courage, Zayda.


Your shangazi

No comments:


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at