The Seven Deadly Sins #6 Wrath

I woke angry today. I had to go to London which meant a commuter train. It had rained and the roof on my old SLK had leaked and the car seat was wet. I didn’t have a tissue or towel, so I got a wet bum. Then there was the family sitting in my normal seat with small kids jumping up and down, with loads of luggage. My God, was I angry and for the whole day and I took it all out on my colleagues. Maybe I was too harsh in that staff review.

It was going to be a romantic night. You dressed to the nines and we decided to take a taxi, so we could have a glass of wine. For the last month we have been looking forward to going to this restaurant. It was going to be a special date night but over there, at a table in the corner, a couple are arguing, shouting, and annoying us. They have been building up to it and are now in full flow. The night is ruined, and we ended up shouting at each other. Who do you blame and who is going to bear the brunt of your anger? More than likely the person you were being with romantic with.

Anger in a relationship may lead to domestic abuse. You don’t have to hit someone or throw pots and pans. There are other ways to be angry. A fake smile at their pathetic jokes, don’t talk, cold shoulder, manipulation, evade and be evasive are normal passive anger strategies.

Wrath, anger, call it what you will, we are all prone to it. We have been slighted and hurt and we need to show our emotion.

If we had to make a penance for all the deadly sins, anger or wrath is the one that would have us genuflecting the most. It is the sin that we commit most often despite always being warned of its failings.

This piece could go one of any number of ways now.

I could talk about how I mange my anger by channelling it into vengeance adopting the much-quoted adage that I shouldn’t ‘get mad but instead get even’. There is nothing as satisfying as revenge, ‘served cold’. I can’t help it.

I could try and give a short moral lecture on the failings of anger and how a deep breath is always better. We talk a lot about containing anger and as a society we don’t like it and always encourage conciliation above litigation, or as Winston Churchill said in 1954 it’s ‘better to jaw-jaw than to war-war’.

Alternatively, I could drift into philosophy and dig out a load of quotes such as Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and inspiration behind Taoism who said that the best fighter is never angry.  And Sun Tzu, he of the Art of War, said that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. While that other great philosopher, my Mum, always said count slowly to ten.

Personal anger against those passengers on the train or the shouters in the restaurant should be contained and thumping them or someone else who comes into my path while the ire is high, however satisfying, is not a great strategy.

But I am not an apologist for anger. This is not going to be a piece about self-restraint because however embarrassing, upsetting for others, I think we should all get angry. I think we should all be angry, all the time.

I remember reading that Malcolm X said: usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.

There is a great deal in our society and world that we need to change and those are the things that should make us angry. We must direct our anger towards problems and not people. We should focus our energy on answers and not excuses.

Do you remember where you were on 13th July 1985? Well unless you were one of 72,000 at Wembley Stadium or a 100,000 John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, the chances are you were one of 1.9 billion watching the Live Aid concert on television.

Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organised Live Aid to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. They got angry at the images of starving and malnutrition of children all over Africa and they did something about it.

In this hashtag world there is no excuse not to be angry. Nothing is being hidden. Black Lives Matter, the number of children orphaned in the war in the east of Ukraine, the civilians being killed in the Syrian war and the continuing starvation in Africa. There are thousands of reasons to be angry. There are millions of children still dying unnecessarily who are the reason you should be angry.

Compassion is not enough. There are times when we need to angry and do something.

Anger is neither good nor bad. As American author Jim Butcher said: ‘What you do with anger is what matters. It’s like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice.

Earlier I quoted Winston Churchill from 1954 encouraging us all to jaw-jaw rather than war-war. Thankfully, in 1939 he ignored his own advice. He made a stand and stood for change. He got angry, very angry.

The Seven Deadly Sins: #3 Lust

When I look at the reading statistics for these small pieces it is interesting that the first two in the series of the Seven Deadly Sins, are at the top and now that we are in the murky waters of sex and lust I know I have a chart winner. The pressure is on!!

It is also going to be the most difficult of the seven to write. Nothing raises the hackles of the moral battalions more than sex. Nothing sells as well as sex. Whatever our starting position sex and lust have a compelling fascination. The most natural act has become the focus of continuing discussion and debate. Whatever I write, someone will disagree.

Lust is the need to fulfil all unspiritual desires and not just sexual urges although this is the usual association. For example, we often say we lust after money, but I am not going to disappoint, and I will stay firmly with all things carnal.

I should set out my stall early. I come from the libertarian wing of society and I am not easily offended. I set out my opinions in the book Blah Blah:

‘In a really free society we all have the right to live our lives by whatever code we want. If I want to smoke grass and not cigarettes, that’s my choice. If I want to pay for sex with someone who wants to sell it – my choice. I think there are only a few basic rules of a functioning society. I think there are only two, as I see it. Never do anything that harms another person or that undermines the integrity of the State. Within that, you should be able to do whatever you like but harm is the key word.’

‘So,’ I started to frame a reply, ‘what happens if what I do offends you?’

‘Such as? Test the rules.’

‘Okay. I walk naked down the street,’ I said.

‘Offends but does no harm. It’s okay.’

’Rob a bank?’

‘Undermines the integrity of the State and usually harms an individual or two. Wrong.’

‘Don’t pay my taxes?’

‘Undermines the State.’

If I ever went to a confessional, which is very, very unlikely, I cannot imagine saying, ‘Forgive me Father because I have committed the sin of lust.’ Greed, envy, pride, or wrath are all possible but not lust. I see the problems and issues of all the other six sins, but in lust I see significant virtues. I can’t condemn it all.

With that out of the way and my bias clear, we can carry on.

Among the most important artworks at The Uffizi Gallery, Florence is the, Venus of Urbino, by Titian. This what a web site says of the work:

The best and most famous of Titian’s nudes, the Venus of Urbino is a masterwork of the form and one of the most alluring women in the history of art. Its frank and shameless eroticism was shocking for its time…… Many, including the writer Mark Twain, see the painting as an obscenity, a pornographic blot in Titian’s faultless career, whilst many others admire the mastery of flesh Titian achieves.

The nude is at the centre of high art and we admire the beauty of the painting as much as we recognise that our perception of beauty more often than not driven by lustful desires.

In those first few seconds and minutes when I first met Sasha, or for that matter Annie, my initial reactions were not love.

Thirty years ago, when I saw Annie standing at a first-floor window of a house in Lordship Lane I didn’t start dreaming about Christmas with our three children and a grandson.

I met Sasha first in a restaurant in Kiev and while it is romantic to think of love at first sight I didn’t immediately think this was the person I wanted to spend many decades of my life with. Our first conversations were not about building a home, the colour of the bedroom curtains, or blissfully happy days together pushing a trolley around a supermarket deciding what we were going to cook.

No, my first thoughts were simply; she is beautiful, I want to hold her, and I want to make love to her. Maybe I should be even more specific. My first thoughts were simply that I want to have sex with her.

It takes time for lust to add love and the more we knew about each other increasingly romantic thoughts became mixed with the initial lust and a loving relationship developed.

Sasha and I still have lustful thoughts which we share with each other (but not here). We find sharing our lust (as we do writing to each other every day) is important because shared, lustful fantasies are essential to a good and strong relationship. We don’t think of these as guilty pleasures but as an integral part of our multi-faceted love.

Furthermore, our lust is shared and not just mine. Sasha, is every bit into lust as I am. I have recently cooperated with a psychologist in Ukraine who specialises in women’s erotic fantasies. If you want to know more it is there for all to read on her web site and it is apparent that fantasies are not confined to men. Women share lustful, but different, thoughts to men.

Most men and women, have lustful thoughts most of the time. Indeed, the survey on the  web site says that 50% of women have erotic fantasies at least once a day. I have no data about how often men think about sex but the study, The Social Organisation of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, has identified similar statistics with men 54% of men thinking about sex at least once a day, very similar to my much smaller survey of women.

But this is not a carte blanche for everyone to live their lives with unbridled lust. Far from it. The biggest stories of 2017 were about the alleged sexual misconduct of, among many others, President Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey.

What differentiates most of us from those accused with sexual misconduct is that we have restraint. We can separate our behaviour from our lust. Not surprisingly the press has only reported the cases of the celebrities and powerful and not the middle managers or abusive husbands. The common factor in the cases is that the accused have power, of sorts, and need to demonstrate that power by controlling women, sexually.

As we report these terrible cases we should always condemn the abuse of power as much as the genetic frailty and sin of lust.  Lust is not always a sin. We must not confuse lust with misogyny, or abuse of power in the office or home, as the sin.

I have been talking about lust within a relationship. I have been talking about ‘consensual lust’. The real question is this. Are we going to condemn much of the great art because its theme or representation is lustful? Are we going to limit the full range of emotions in a loving relationship because we condemn lust as sin?

We can’t all be sinners and I am all in favour of ‘consensual lust’. I would go as far as saying it is at the centre of healthy, loving relationship.

I, for one, like to look at Titian and other famous nudes in the galleries. I don’t want great works of art condemned for provocative nakedness. A pretty woman will always turn my head. Just the thought of those days when Sasha walks around the house naked because she forgot to get dressed are provocative and stir base and lustful thoughts. I want Sasha to keep dressing to excite me. I love being able to tell her how beautiful she is when we go to dinner and how sexy she looks in a bikini on the beach. I don’t want to curtail my lust.

Lust is part of what has been encoded into my DNA but unlike the Weinsteins and Trumps, and those yet to be found out of sexual misconduct, and like most of the world I have managed my lust.

If we took lust out of our lives it would be a very grey world.

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