This Monday, we were discussing Jonah 4. Jonah 4:4 “Do you do well to be angry?” (ESV) stood out to me. It seemed to me that God was, in this ESV translation, phrasing the question from the point of view of Person-Centered Therapy (PCT). God’s approach is a very patient way of dialogue than a critical way of judging. God-like, in this case, the PCT therapist will attempt to try to look at the problem from the point of view of the client and try to ask questions that places the agency on the client.
Angering is a Verb:
Often when I think someone is making me angry, I think that the problem is with the other person. A PCT therapist will tell me that I am not angry at someone bur rather that I am allowing myself to angry or I am angering. The PCT phrasing, of making angering into a verb, puts the agency/responsibility for being angry on me. In many ways, God is doing this with Jonah.
God, in asking Jonah to prophesy destruction of Nineveh and then deciding to have mercy, changed the rules of the game on Jonah. Then, Jonah’s prophetic career was on line. One may be able to empathize with Jonah for being angry at God. But God helps Jonah see that he alone was responsible or how he was feeling and asks Jonah if that is what he really wants.
Anger vs Empathy:
Anger and empathy do not go together. When one is angry one cannot empathize with others. Jonah was angry that his prophetic reputation was at stake because God changed he rules of the game. In that anger he couldn’t empathize with the Ninevites. He couldn’t see that in his reputation being at stake, as in the failure of his prophetic word, meant that a whole city of over a 100 thousand people were being saved. His anger blinded his ability for empathy.
No amount of reasoning about saving people would have moved Jonah as long as he was stuck angry. So God had to first of all ask him to pay attention to his anger and question if his allowing himself to get angry helps at all. The point of God’s question was to get Jonah to be more mindful about his emotions and its broader impact. Only after increased mindfulness does God go on to talk about His heart and mercy for the Ninevites.
This lesson of being mindful of our emotions as a way of raising our ability to listen and be empathic is critical for personal relationships and for communal cohesiveness. Part of the reason why political discourse is so broken in Universities and the society at large is because people think it is ok blame others for the unpleasant emotions that others trigger in them. When our emotions get triggered by something that is happening we have to stop and ask ourselves, “Do I do well to get triggered?”
Someone may ask, isn’t there a rightful place for righteous anger. Yes, there is, but not when the need of the hour is more thoughtfulness, deliberation and listening. If you see someone abusing/hurting a weak person, then that is a place to allow one’s adrenaline and indignation to fuel an act in defense of the weak. Here is where the art of mindful emotions comes. Wisdom is in knowing when to allow one’s emotions rush into action and when to step back to listen. My sense is this – more than ever our society needs God-like thoughtful empathic dialoguers, than Jonah-like quick-triggered volatile reactionaries, both on the alt-Right and the violent-Left!