Last summer, Washington Post political columnist Dana Milbank spoke to a Georgetown University class I teach, the "Reported Opinion Piece," and gave our next generation of writers a pearl of wisdom about how he writes his biting columns with edge but not bitterness: "We've all heard about how you're not supposed to drive while angry. You also shouldn't write while angry."
It's a lesson Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert would have benefited from hearing before he penned his online screed to basketball star LeBron James, charging him with a "shameful display of selfishness and betrayal" for his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavalier to play with the Miami Heat.
In a letter to fans, posted on the Cavaliers' website, the Cleveland owner declared James would carry a "so-called 'curse'" to Miami, writing: "The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does 'right' by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma."
Ominously, he writes: "Just watch."
I haven't followed the NBA. I don't know LeBron James career. But, as a writer challenging interpretations of Islam that punish, kill, assault and discriminate in the name of religion, I do know a little something about meditating through anger when writing. Even if we don't write for public consumption, most of us have been tempted to write emails in anger at 2 a.m. There are at least three emails in my life that I can distinctly remember writing when angry, and I know I regret everyone of them.
It's easy to instantaneously express anger in electronic rants in this age of "digital maximalism," as former Washington Post reporter William Powers calls our day of information overload in his excellent new book, Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.
But, if we -- like Gilbert -- really care about philosophies such as "karma," we'd be better served to do something wiser: sleep on it, meditate on it and express ourselves from a place of intellect and heart. In India, the country of my birth, karma is a word in Sanskrit that speaks to "samsara," or the concept of how our lives are a cycle of cause and effect. We don't serve ourselves or others well when we dole out bitterness and anger. It just feeds into a cycle of wrath. We are better served as a civilized society if we live with some pause. And I think even basketball coaches can aspire to that kind of reflection.
Some years ago, when the men at my mosque in Morgantown, W.V., banished the other women and me to an isolated balcony, I stepped out of the balcony, into the parking lot, seething. There, I called Alan Godlas, a professor of Islam and religion at University of Georgia in Athens, and he gave me words of wisdom, telling me, "Your anger reveals a deeper pain." Indeed, it did: years of anger at feeling marginalized in my traditional Muslim community. Over the next weeks -- and really all the years since -- I used my process of reporting to take a step back and engage in something called "Vipassana" meditation, a Buddhist philosophy known as "insight meditation" in the West, where we simply observe our state of being, instead of clinging to it, and try to get some insight into our rage.
It's a struggle, I know. But, as we dare to bring deep philosophical ideas such as karma into the conversation, it is best for us to reflect on our own legacy--not assign curses to others. Children should not follow the example of Dan Gilbert. As for all of us, his anger reveals a deeper pain, and -- not to be too touchy feely -- but I hope he finds some healing from his pain, rather than staying in a place of rage.
NBA Commissioner David Sterns seems to agree, fining Gilbert $100,000 for his remarks, acknowledging that, while "catalyzed as they may have been by a hurt," they were "ill-advised and imprudent."
We've all felt that sense of betrayal that Gilbert wrote about, telling fans, that LeBron had engaged in a "cowardly betrayal." Years ago, during one painful relationship break up, I sat at a table at the Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich Shop on Sullivan Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, and told my boyfriend, "I curse you." Years later, he asked me if I'd lift the curse. I had -- indeed, the moment I expressed it. But they were words that would have been better left unexpressed.
Our lesson for children, I think should be: If someone angers us, we don't need to curse them. It's not appropriate on the playground. It's not appropriate in the game of life that is "samsara."
On the outburst of human emotion, India's Nobel Prize winning poet Rabrindanath Tagore wrote that nirvana "is not the blowing out of the candle. It is the extinguishing of the flame because day is come." In his letter to fans, Gilbert signed off, writing, "Sleep well, Cleveland."
For Cleveland, the next day has come. More days will come. Let LeBron James move into the next phase of his life in peace with a simple greeting that my seven-year-old son, Shibli, learned in pre-school: "We wish you well." That release from anger is the best karmic gift we can actually give ourselves. And if that means an NBA championship for Cleveland down the road, hurrah. If not, at least, it does mean, indeed, that we "sleep well."
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