To wrong, the virtuous response is anger. Yesterday, repeating this truth in my blog reaped much praise. But also much misunderstanding. So let me try to explain.
The rape of a child is a wrong. If a child is raped and one’s response is a shrug of a shoulder, that response is not appropriate. Stealing the life savings of an old lady is wrong. If a defenseless woman is robbed and one’s response is a smile, that response is not apt. If twenty-nine persons are killed in a bus accident because its driver was drunk and had fallen asleep, the appropriate response is not a yawn. There are some people who are angry at everything and everyone all the time; they are irascible; irascibility is not a virtue. But there are other people who, no matter the wrong, never get angry; quietude is not a virtue, it is a vice. To wrong, the proper response is anger. As a response to wrong, anger is not a vice. It is a virtue.
To those who draw their moral guidance from the life and example of Jesus, as some have pointed out, the story of his cleansing of the temple is a case in point (Jn 2:13-17). Jesus was passionate about his mission in life; he was passionate about the proclamation of the Kingdom of his Father. When he saw that his Father’s house, the Temple, had been desecrated and reduced to a marketplace, he did not smile humbly. He responded in anger. He overturned the tables of the money changers, and used a whip to drive them from the temple. “Take these things away from here,” he shouted, “and do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!’ (Jn 2:16).
In our society, there are many wrongs. The news yesterday spoke of a father who had raped his own daughter. We saw pictures of quarrying in the Matina Pangi area that caused the heavy river siltation that in turn contributed to the recent killer flash floods in Davao. We have images in our minds of people who are next to naked on the streets, while we recall others who have no more place in their overstuffed closets for their tailored suits, designers gowns, and winter overcoats. We have also images in our minds of plush subdivisions housing the rich and the powerful, even as we have images of shanty villages housing the poor and the unwashed. We have memories of the over satiated as well as of the emaciated. To wrongs in our society, man made, often we no longer feel anger. We have quieted the anger which discomforts us. We have numbed ourselves to wrong. We see so much of it, we no longer see it. That is something we should reflect on.
Recall the humorous image of the three monkeys. One has its hands over its eyes, the second its hands over its ears, the third its hands over its mouth. These see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. These monkeys are never angry. But, never angry, they are not the biblical ideal of virtue. In a human world filled with faults and foibles, we strain day by day to build a better world, using our intelligence and love to overcome animal instincts, patience to transcend discouragement, and anger to confront and overcome wrong.
My comments on the Sheriff and Inday Sarah are in this context. The Sheriff had to carry out a court-ordered demolition. But he was not a robot. He was asked by the Mayor to stay the demolition for two hours. Only two hours! He was not being asked to cancel the demolition. He refused the Mayor. In my view, he was wrong here. He was wrong not to have coordinated with local government as RA 7279, Sec. 28 mandates.
In my view, to this wrong, anger was an appropriate response, even as there is a difference between anger and the manner in which anger is expressed. It is unfortunate that this anger found expression in punches. As I have quipped in some of my Tweets, it would have been far better if the lady had expressed her anger in four pinches, rather than four punches. It would have been even better if she had expressed her anger in cracking whips on overturned tables, rather than bringing violence on another human being. In the context of the flashfloods in the Mayor’s mind, the 32 dead, the 20 missing, the hundreds of people whose lives had been ruined by days of freak flooding, the people in that hour still urgently needing relief, the Sheriff’s refusal to stay the court-ordered demolition of 200 houses of the poor for just two hours was wrong. To this wrong, she responded in anger. The anger was righteous. The punches regrettable.
The virtuous response to wrong is anger. Beyond the Sheriff and the Mayor, beyond the unfortunate particulars of this confrontation between the representative of the Courts and the representative of Local Government, there are still the lingering images of squatter squalor, environmentally-destructive quarrying, illegal mining, corruption in government and in the Church, sexually abusive priests, philandering husbands, trafficked children, and the like. To these, the appropriate response must be different from that of the monkeys.
They are never angry.