During my fascinating career as a journalist for the Black press, now spanning more than two decades with hopefully, by God’s grace, many years still to come, I have had several opportunities to sit at the feet of one of the most profound brothers I’ve ever known: Dick Gregory.
Brother Dick, a man who rarely minced his words, had a way of surprising his listeners with stories intended to help them improve the quality of their lives, thereby also extending their years of life. One lesson that has remained etched in my mind — in fact, one that I’ve often shared with my friends and family, focused on the detrimental impact of holding onto disappointment and anger — emotions that carry toxins which are extremely harmful to the body.
In short, when asked about the key to his longevity and good health which stretched well into the winter of his life, he replied that he never allows disappointment, whether as it relates to his own shortcomings or the actions of others, or anger, to consume him — to take residence in his mind and color his daily thoughts. His rationale was that anger, as well as other related feelings, dump toxins into the body that compromise our health and therefore shorten our lives. One way I’ve tried to make it easier to understand is by using one of my favorite childhood computer games, Pac Man — you know, the little fellow who moves about devouring everything in its path. That’s the power that unbridled anger has on our minds, bodies and souls.
Brother Dick insisted that we take the high road, focusing on those people, places and things that make us smile, bringing joy, peace and tranquility to our spirits. I’m sure we all know people who seem more comfortable with holding onto anger, no matter how big or small the reason, instead of forgiving themselves or others, and letting it go. Ironically, at least from what I’ve experienced, most folks realize that they ought to cast anger to the winds but find they just can’t or don’t want to.
It’s tantamount to the tale about the dog who sat on his master’s porch, seemingly unable to move to another spot, instead hellbent on remaining in pain, steadfast, while a single nail protruding above the wood continues to inflict pain on the dog’s tender behind. Some of us mirror the actions of that dog, reliving old experiences that caused us pain, anger or disappointment, day after day, week after week, year after year — more content to stay within the throes of more familiar injurious things, unwilling or unable to take a leap into the unknown where a more positive future often exists — ours for the taking and embracing.
So, when others chose to celebrate their anger by shouting, cursing, throwing items — even presuming to invade my personal space — I have no alternative but to remove myself, or them, from the heated environs of conflict. Because as Brother Dick concluded, the anger of others, as its intensity increases and when aimed in our direction, negatively impacts our health as well. We begin to “see red,” our blood pressure rises, we begin to think and act irrationally and we destroy the mantra of peace that previously surrounded us.
Some of you may recall that episode from one of my favorite TV shows that aired during the ’80s, “A Different World,” in which Debbie Allen portrayed a psychologist and advised Whitley Gilbert to “relax, relate, release.”
It may not be as easy to do as one would like, but if you value life and good health, you’d be wise to follow the advice of Brother Dick Gregory and stop allowing the world, your community, your friends, even your own family, to push and pull at you in ways that provoke you to anger. You see, in the end, they will probably move on without batting an eye, quickly and conveniently forgetting all that was said and done. Meanwhile, you’ll remain stuck in a maelstrom where the debilitating effects of anger and disappointment swirl around you like a hurricane that keeps you from ever finding solid ground.
Live long, live healthier, live with a purpose and a brighter future. Live without anger. Live!