Anger Coach reflects on Movie Gran Torino

I recently enjoyed the movie Gran Torino. In it, Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a retired Polish American automobile assembly line worker and a Korean War veteran, lives in a changing Highland Park, Michigan neighborhood which is dominated by immigrants. Early in the movie, he befriends a young Hmong teenage neighbor who is harassed by a local a hispanic gang. Seeking revenge, he confronts one of the gang members with a gun and threatens to kill him and the others if they bother his Hmong neighbor or his family again. Unfortunately, the gang retaliates by raping his neighbor’s sister which leads to further consequences and actions by Clint Eastwood. I won’t tell the rest, so as not to spoil it for those who may not have seen it yet.
What I want to share, however, is that when I was watching the movie, I have to admit that I was cheering for Clint Eastwood’s character. I wanted him to get violent revenge. It somehow felt good to see justice done in the old fashion way.  Then, when my emotions calmed down, the anger coach part of me kicked in and I remembered that I teach my anger students that “forgiveness” is a good thing and an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” retibution philosophy applied to the world would result in a world in which everybody is blind and toothless.

Did Clint Eastwood’s character do the right thing? Is violent revenge(or otehr kidns of revenge)  justified in some situations? What else could he have done? It occurred to me that his first attempt at revenge resulted in the rape of the girl as an act of revenge by the gang. Maybe that would have happened anyway, but it raises an important question of exactly how should we deal with injustice or bad acts against us or someone we care about.

In these situations, our feelings tell us one thing while our mind tells us something else. We probably are biologically “wired” to want to get revenge as a survival mechansim. But, as human beings, our behavior should be driven by a combination of emotions and reason, not just emotions. Hostility normally begets more hostility in situations such as faced by Walt Kowalski. Neither side sees themselves as in the wrong and sees their behavior as justified because of the actions of the other.

We will continue to discuss these issues in our anger classes as we all struggle with these difficult and perplexing questions. Fortunately, most people that struggle with anger do not have to face situations nearly as violent or dark as that depicted in the movie. Most of our students want revenge, for example, on those that cheated on them, won’ t them them have full custody of the kids, or said something against them at the last family birthday party. Obviously these acts do not justify violence of any kind, but some of our students still feel they should “get even” in some way or fashion. They hold a grudge and simmer. They plot revenge. And they keep themselves upset and angry. Is it worth it? It’s up to you to decide!

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