February 14, 2013 by lucieromarin
In my last post, I suggested that the choleric temperament and the ‘anxious prelate’ deserved their own post when it comes to bullying. So, here it is!
I’m certain that half the bullying problems in the world (not just in the Catholic loop) could be solved if we understood a) that the choleric temperament exists, b) what on earth it’s doing, and c) how to deal with it.
The choleric person is characterised by swift, deep reactions (as opposed to his natural enemy, the sanguine, who is swift but shallow). You will get an idea of it when I tell you that famous cholerics include Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Chairman Mao, Josef Stalin…and Saint Paul. The choleric judges quickly, brushes aside advice, knows what everybody else should be doing, thinks that correcting people is actually a virtue, and needs you to know that his project is the most important thing in the world, and you should join it. You really should.
A trained choleric turns into a leader. He keeps his energy, inspires other people, and pours his generosity into a great work. The untrained choleric or the frustrated choleric turns into a bully (or a totalitarian dictator.) That co-worker who goes from desk to desk giving unsolicited advice about how you could do your job better is an untrained choleric. That woman who doesn’t listen to other people in meetings, talks too much, and dismisses other speakers with cutting words is an untrained choleric. That man telling you what to wear is an untrained, frustrated choleric. His lack of training is the reason he can’t exercise common courtesy and keep his mouth shut. His frustrated desire for power is the reason he bullies his neighbour.
So the good news is that it’s not actually religion that makes these people so awful. We’re going to be like this, religious or otherwise – that’s why there are non-religious bullies in the world. The bad news is that some subcultures offer a lot for a choleric temperament respond to. You see, apart from his love of projects and his desire for power, your choleric friend has only one thought in his head, and it is this:
I’m not kidding – there’s a kind of permanent, internal readiness to Get Up and Take Action inside us; all we need are the details – you know, of what the thing is that we need to take action about. So when other people hear sermons about “DOOM! DOOOOOM!” they might worry about it or they might shrug it off, but the choleric doesn’t. He mobilises within himself, and he knows one thing for certain: he has to fix something.
The trouble is that, despite being programmed to mobilise, your choleric friend is not necessarily very good at it. Also, I cannot tell you how difficult it is for a choleric to learn that his instinct for telling other people what to do is only a temperamental quirk and not an actual mandate from the universe. We’re born with the words ‘I am right’ stamped into our brains so deeply that we don’t realise that it’s possible to think anything else. Learning to let other people do their own thing is really, really hard. So, when an untrained choleric is fed messages to the effect that he is meant to be in charge, that evil is everywhere and must be stopped, and that telling other people what to do and think constitutes evangelisation…well, that’s how you end up with Catholic men bossing women around about their clothes. It’s how you end up with both men and women bossing people because of their apostolates or choices of parish or education. It’s how you end up with bossing in general.
The author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ describes bullies as ‘anxious prelates.’ They’re people who are aware that power is important and that priests have it, and bullying is the frustrated man’s way of dealing with his frustration – and, in some cases, with a nagging sense of inferiority-to-the-priest that hurts too much to be confronted directly. I pity them, in a way. It must be horrible to think that Catholicism means you have to dominate others in order to be a real Catholic or a real man, and to then be unable to do so.
I have not said anything about how to deal with a choleric. That’s because I have to think about it, even though I am one!