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Self-control in the face of injustice

20 April 2021

Self-control in the face of injustice

Taking a breath to gain perspective

Words Bryce Davies

One of my all-time favourite movies is The Shawshank Redemption – the story of Andy Dufrense who is wrongfully sent to prison for the murder of his wife.

He is a calm and measured accountant who embraces the harshness and brutality of prison life with patience and strength of character. Despite horrendous circumstances, he overcomes the brutality of prison life and remains somewhat true to his identity and integrity. He finds a way to gain some healthy community, including a character called Red, played by Morgan Freeman, who becomes his closest friend.

Andy establishes a prison library, helps educate fellow prisoners and even gets the cruel warden to allow him to manage his finances. All the while, Andy quietly and methodically organises his escape and, after almost 20 years of incarceration, finally pulls it off. He even gets some sweet revenge on the warden. It is a great story, and it is impressive to see how much power there is in a controlled response to injustice. Andy suffers immense injustices and cruelty but never gets angry in a way where he loses control. He is disciplined and clever. It’s a fabulous story.

There is always something to be angry about, isn’t there? I was a little bit cranky about an umpiring decision in the 2018 AFL grand final between Collingwood Magpies and West Coast Eagles at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. With just two minutes and 17 seconds remaining in the last quarter, Collingwood, having been in front for the whole game, was just one point ahead. The ball flew into the West Coast forward line where Eagles forward Willie Rioli appeared to block Magpies defender Brayden Maynard off the ball, allowing Dom Sheed to mark just 35 metres out from goal in the forward pocket. Magpie fans believe he got the mark illegally, citing a breach of the rules. It gave Sheed the opportunity to kick the winning goal for the Eagles, thus robbing Collingwood of a ‘mighty’ grand final win.

More than 4000 seething Collingwood fans signed a petition to reverse the result. As you can tell, I’ve moved on from this with grace and poise, but justice was done when ‘we’ beat West Coast in the elimination final last year.

So, let’s move on shall we, and discuss the merits of self-control in the face of injustice and the emotion of anger.

Jesus put it this way: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew chapter 5, verse 5). The meaning here is that those who can be restrained and calm with their anger, inherit the earth. They gain stuff. It’s not saying don’t be angry, but rather, in your anger, don’t sin. The advice is not to make matters even more destructive and damaging than they already are.

If people behave like monsters towards you, and you respond by becoming a bigger, more powerful monster, the world is just full of monsters!

So, what does self-control look like in our everyday living? In marriage and family life, the smallest things can annoy us. In families, where we would expect to find grace and acceptance, often the harshest judgments and most damaging and angry responses are made. In Australia, family and domestic violence is rampant. We have not developed good skills, especially in men, to control our anger and find ways to respond that are safe and life-giving.

When we are faced with something that makes us angry, we have the option to overcome evil with good. To choose outrageous kindness and patience rather than to feel all violated and hard done by. Most of what gets us angry is not ‘a hill to die on’ and we need to just take a breath and get some perspective. Perhaps go for a walk, call a friend and vent in a safe way, or even pause and try to see the funny side of things.

Some of us need to get some help – through courses and counselling – to find a better understanding of our thought processes and beliefs about anger. Maybe it is a learned behaviour that needs to be unlearned.

I will always be angry about the umpires in that 2018 grand final, but I am finding a way to be self-controlled and calm.

I wonder, though, if that petition is still active?

Major Bryce Davies is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Queensland.



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