Q: To Whom It May Concern,

Yesterday I was pretty stressed out at a workplace meeting. Voices were raised and it got pretty heated — there was a bit of chesting and I engaged in some pushing and shoving… someone tried to break it up, but it all got pretty ugly. I apologized and they accepted but the tension is still simmering amongst my colleagues — I don’t know how to rebuild these relationships and more than that, I don’t know what the best way is to air the issues that brought us to blows in the first place.

Sincerely,

A.S Barton, Canberra

A: There is such a feeling of loss in your letter, A.S. I get the sense of a past you miss, and of your own sadness and surprise that you and others have sunk to this level. It sounds like you are not only asking how these relationships can be repaired, but also, how did we get here?

Anger has words, but rage does not. When we become violent, we have moved into this wordless territory that so often becomes confused with simple anger. But rage is usually accompanied by inexpressible grief and feelings of abandonment. You just need to look at a toddler having a tantrum, the purest expression of rage, to see this loss and fear of separation, and the wordlessness of this fury. These are unspeakable feelings, feelings that were never allowed a voice, and you are quite aware here that airing them is part of resolving this ongoing tension. You sound concerned that sweeping things under the carpet may only leave them there for someone to trip over in the future.

There appears to be another tension here; between your own responsibility for the violence, and your belief that these unspoken and unresolved issues contributed to the heated explosion between you. You say you apologized and they accepted, but the simmering feelings remain. You cannot control the feelings and beliefs of others, even with violence, but you can control yourself. What steps can you take to prevent further pushing and shoving on your part?

You sound keen to raise the issues, and so you can begin to do so yourself. To lessen your own ‘heatedness’, express your fear. You appear to be afraid that things will never be resolved between you. To diffuse anger, listen. When Nietzsche spoke of the evils of hope, he was referring partly to our desire to close our eyes and refuse to act, out of faith that things will right themselves without courageous action. Repair is never easy, and it requires close inspection of our mistakes before we move forward, otherwise who knows where we may end up?

Peter Fray

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