Paul Prather

Paul Prather: Those on both sides of Rowan County clerk issue should rein in their egos

Jeffrey Shook preached to the crowd outside the U.S. Courthouse as the hearing for Kim Davis took place inside. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Jeffrey Shook preached to the crowd outside the U.S. Courthouse as the hearing for Kim Davis took place inside. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Several people have asked when I'm finally going to weigh in on the controversy regarding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis.

I haven't commented on that for a simple reason: I have nothing to say that hasn't already been said by others. I try not to write about an issue unless I hope to add something to the conversation.

What did occur to me in that dust-up, though, as in any number of other situations, is the fathomless bile spewed by many people today.

Mainly, Davis, her assistants and those directly across from her at the clerk's counter — the couples seeking marriage licenses — all conducted themselves with admirable civility and good manners.

But outside her office, on courthouse lawns and in online comments, her supporters and detractors alike seemed to have overdosed on the ugly pill.

Lordy mercy.

So many people are so angry about so many things.

This anger knows no political or social boundaries. It's just a free-floating, vein-engorging, eye-popping fury. I see it on Facebook. I see it in the online comments about news stories. I hear it on TV "news" shows.

People are mad because you don't believe in God. They're mad because you do. They're mad because you're a Republican. They're mad because you're a Democrat. They're mad because you own guns. They're mad because you don't. They're mad because you have a good job. They're mad because you're on welfare.

They glory in their outrage.

The other day I went to the grocery, and I drove my new car.

My previous vehicle was an old, domestic lemon. Its heater was broken, its air conditioner was broken, its radio was broken — basically, nothing worked but the transmission and the tires. You could drive the thing, that's about all.

I roasted in the summer and froze in the winter. I traveled like that for years.

Finally, I thought: by George, if I have to hock my paycheck to the devil, I'm going to get a decent ride. So I did, and I'm paying on that hock.

Anyway, I was finished shopping, out in the grocery's parking lot, my car in a perfectly legal parking space. I was unloading my sacks from the cart, minding my own business, when I heard a woman haranguing someone.

I turned to see what the commotion was, and this lady and what appeared to be her teenage daughter were stalking toward me.

The kid was glowering. The mother was screaming — at me: "Oh yeah! These rich people in their big fine cars! They think nobody's like them! They can ..."

It went downhill from there. I never saw this person before in my life.

Finally the lady and her daughter stomped on into the store to do their shopping.

What's the source of such vituperation?

Obviously, many factors can contribute: genetics, addiction, abuse, poverty, grief, mental illness, broken relationships, poor coping skills, job fears, perceived slights.

Indeed, almost everybody's got a few real reasons to be angry. All of us do get angry. It's part of the human condition.

Our goal ought to be — it seems to me — that we not stay there. It's not a healthy place, for us as individuals or for those whom we love or for society.

In my own life, I've slowly realized that when I'm overcome with anger, it usually has to do with my own petty-yet-outsized ego. I speak only for myself. Your reasons for being hopping mad might differ greatly.

But here's my ongoing, imperfect solution. Take it if it helps.

Let's consider that woman who harangued me in the parking lot.

I assume my new car set her off. Maybe it pricked her insecurities. Maybe it implied some type of (false) class superiority or entitlement on my part.

What if I'd gone right back at her? "Who in the blue blazes do you think you're talking to, lady? What's your major malfunction?"

She would have gotten madder. We would have yelled more. I would have gone away fuming. I'd have lain awake all night fuming. Then I'd have been grouchy and miserable the next day from lack of sleep.

Why?

Largely because of my own assumption — that I ought not be confronted. My sense of an injustice suffered. My zeal to defend myself.

That's why I keep trying, with mixed success, to rein in my ego.

That seems to be the aim of a lot of Christianity's teachings. It's also a tenet of Buddhism, to the extent I've read and attempted to understand it.

Christianity recognizes anger as an emotion that's occasionally legitimate, but one we must always handle carefully if we're to stay spiritually healthy.

It reminds us that none of us is above being insulted, that even Jesus bore patiently the epithets and accusations of others. It says we should imitate him.

It instructs us that, instead of repaying evil with evil, we should return blessings to those who curse us and pray that good things will happen to them.

That's hard. I won't pretend I'm able to do such wonderful things consistently.

But when I am able to keep silent, smile graciously and even turn the other cheek, I find that I experience the most profound liberation.

It's as if a weight has been lifted from me. My soul lightens.

There are few burdens heavier than the weight of an ego.

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