PUGNACIOUS (adjective) combative . aggressive . belligerent . antagonistic . defiant . threatening . quarrelsome
“I think I have a pugnacious style.
My style is not pretty.
I don’t use words like “amber” and “opaque.”
In just a few words, writer Ishmael Reed has captured the spirit of pugnaciousness that is true of both his poetry and his prose. Reed’s brief assessment of his style can be applied broadly to the word in general. Pugnacious is not pretty. It has an arsenal of unpleasantness that can be unleashed on the world to send people scrambling for shelter from its harshness. I recently came across an article in which the writer observed that we are in “a politically pugnacious environment.” It’s easy to agree with him from a national perspective. And just a cursory observation of the world scene will prompt us to admit that in international affairs, “the nations are angry.” Pugnaciousness has gone universal.
As you looked at the synonyms listed above, you may have smiled while you matched a face of someone you know with one or more of the words. But when I first chose the word for this week, I was thinking about dogs, not people. Reflecting on my experience walking in the quiet early-morning air in my neighborhood, I wondered whether there was any creature more pugnacious than dogs. Perhaps my wonderment was exacerbated by the fact that I’m afraid of dogs—small ones, medium-size ones, large ones–all dogs. Thankfully, the ones I encounter are small– cute little fur balls just a couple inches off the ground. Two of them in particular can sense me from a distance and rush to their screen door before I come into view; they jump up and down and scratch at the glass, yelping for all they’re worth. I stride by, the screen door giving me boldness to look them in the eye, but from the hullabaloo, I get a drift of how I’d fare if they were able to get out and confront me.
I think some of these noisy little creatures are just like humans. For instance, one morning as I walked, one sassy little lightweight came out onto his lawn and watched me go by. He’s cute, I thought. He trotted out into the middle of the street, still watching me until I was some distance up the street from him. That was when he set off a racket, barking with all his might. Pugnaciousness has its limit, I guess. Much as it does with some humans who can be bellicose and make a statement with their combativeness–but only when the coast is clear.
Randal Maurice Jelks has written a well-researched book titled African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids. I was struck by the author’s dedication of his book: “In memory of my grandmother Priscilla Edith Carter, a woman of unbending pride, pugnacious temperament, and a prayerful heart.” Search your memory, and you will agree that pugnaciousness is one of the defining qualities of many grandmothers. This certainly can be said of the grandmother whose disappearance initiates the action in my upcoming book. According to Jelks, the pugnacious Priscilla Etta Carter had “a prayerful heart.” The same cannot be said of Belle Rainey, the grandmother in my book, but she does have her good side, and you’ll get to know her in my soon-to-be-released Dark Days on the Fairest Isle.
Defiant, aggressive, combative, belligerent are all negative emotions not worth cultivating, especially in a time as socially polarized as ours. We who have been touched by a gentler Spirit cannot allow ourselves to be dominated by these traits. Instead, we must choose to let love, the fruit of the Spirit, subdue the harsh emotions so that we can infuse our environment with peace.
“To injure an opponent is to injure yourself.
To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.”