Sunday’s Wisdom #339: The Cost of Wrath

“Grand ideas of peace evaporate very quickly in the face of a chance to make your enemy pay.”
– Killien, Pursuit of Shadows
The Keeper Chronicles
, by JA Andrews

This is one of those quotes which is given extra weight by the context surrounding it, but is also so simple and potent that is has power on its own, even without any context at all.

Killien is a man whose people are deeply flawed: extremely violent and aggressive, prideful and self-superior, engaging in the slavery of other peoples, including the theft of children from their homes and families, with a nonchalant assurance that there is nothing at all wrong with it. But for all the brutality, Killien’s father carried a hope for peace, for the uniting of all their splintered clans into one, and perhaps even an equal coexistence with their neighbors, in due time. But the man was betrayed and murdered, leaving his son to inherit his hopes and dreams, which have been repeatedly burnt to ash. Killien has always sought for peace and unity, but he learned that power is needed in order to resist their oppressors and deal with traitors, and he has always been angry at how his father was betrayed, and at what has been done to his own clan. So, when he, too, is betrayed, and his newborn son threatened, it unleashes his fury, to the result of much destruction.

In fairness to Killien, he was also being influenced by an outside force, another traitor who thought to take him entirely away from the path of peace onto one where they simply rain death on everyone around them. When he’s freed of that, and his mind is cleared, he is horrified, and he does not balk at the task of righting what he has done wrong, to try and salvage a chance for peace out of everything. However, that is simply a poetic way of looking at what our anger does to us.

Bit by bit, it festers and boils and grows until, one day, it finally has the chance the erupt. It burns our souls in fury, freezes what’s left in hatred, and drowns it in darkness and pain and blood and sorrow. That is the work of wrath whenever we let it have free rein over us.

Now, an argument can be made that some of what Killien does is perfectly justified. And one can always make an argument that since power is needed in order to bring the mighty to heel, then pursuing that power may seem to be worth any price. Peace can only be won through war, after all. Not to mention the further argument, that ever so human phrase that comes up every single time: “They deserve it.”

Perhaps.

Perhaps everyone we hate really does deserve everything we can possibly do to them and more. Perhaps our anger is always fully justified and perfect in its aim and never does any harm to any innocent. Perhaps the fury born of sorrow is always right, and our moral outrage is never, ever mistaken.

Or perhaps not.

Perhaps it’s not actually about what “they” apparently “deserve.” Perhaps it isn’t, and can’t be, and must never be, about what “they deserve.”

Mobs have destroyed cities out of anger, out of a mad desire to make someone pay for all the injustices of the world. Those cities were filled with innocent people, people for whom the mob is the injustice. Clearly, simply lashing out does nothing but shed more blood, and all because of the fear and anger which come from wanting something good but ultimately being helpless.

Everyone goes through life feeling helpless in some way. Even people who think they rule the world, and who we also think rule the world, cannot entirely escape being powerless. For some, it drives them to seek power, more and more of it, as a method of survival. For others, they have no idea how to go about that, and so they endure, day after day after day, feeling helpless to do anything as their world burns around them again and again and again… until one day, maybe, they finally get a chance, just one chance… to strike back. And from there, it becomes so easy to fall so quickly, to forget entirely that all we really wanted, in the beginning, was to live in peace.

There are times I scream at myself for being so helpless, for not knowing anything about how to go about becoming powerful enough to help my people and my country. And there are other times, quite often, where I am thankful that I have so little power, because with so much anger in my heart… I sometimes fear what I would do, and who I would hurt, if I simply had the chance.

Some people are slaves to their lusts, or gripped with envy, or victims to their own pride, but I fear my greatest sin, the one most difficult for me to let go of, would be wrath. And not much has actually happened to me, as of yet. I fear what I may become if ever my anger is truly unleashed, if I have the opportunity to make my “enemies,” such as they are, pay. How much blood would stain my soul? How much would my soul be twisted as I delighted in their pain and misery? Who would I become?

That’s why this quote speaks especially to me, because it speaks to something I have not yet faced, and yet in everything similar to facing it, I have not done so well.

As much as I long for peace, I hate my helplessness, and as much as I hate my helplessness, I fear to find out what I would do if I had power and chance to use it. Would I hold to my ideals, or sink into my hate?

I don’t know.

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