How to use your angry feelings to spark real knowing within yourself and your community
On the street where I live
Last week there was a small demonstration on a street corner near where I am currently living. It seems that there had been an incident at this convenience store. The protesting group was demonstrating for Black Lives Matter because days earlier, four men in a large black truck flying a Trump flag and speeding, chased down a Black teenager, cursing, and calling “racial slurs.”
This, is anyway, the scenario we were told. We were out to say bullying and brutality are non-acceptable ways to approach children or teens.
I joined the demonstration. But, unlike the huge swell of people in Portland, Oregon lately, this was just a very small clump of anti-racists on a busy street corner. Most people honked, waved, and gestured to us with “thumbs up,” or offered fist in the air solidarity gestures. But a few scowled angrily, shouted “ALL lives matter,” and/or they asserted that they were better patriots, “MAGA”, or “Trump will win.”
Expressions of how the angriest people felt were very evident on both sides. Swear words and name calling erupted with every dissenting car. This deeply saddened me.
Seeing an older woman call a younger woman an “F word, B word,” unsettled me. Seeing a young man call one of the older people there an “F word Moron,” (or any of the many variations) was upsetting.
Again, I want to emphasize that most people were either supportive or neutral. Only a spiteful minority objected to the peaceful protest. And only one or two of people demonstrating “on our side” felt it comfortable to curse, at, or insult, those also hurling venom from passing cars.
I felt offended that on both sides, people were tossing curse words, casual insults, and dirty looks. This part of it seemed very counterproductive to me.
I tried to put myself in the minds of people behind the glares, scowls and seething feelings.
This is deeply red, rural country roads only out here. I know that there are deeply divided political viewpoints, but I also know that these same people will be shopping side by side, working side by side, and maybe even attending church side by side, once a new normal emerges.
Right now, in the USA, there is strident and even enraged division. A most recent example still on-going is the struggle for Black Lives Matter to bring attention to needed reforms in policing of our communities. Naturally, the news will follow every dramatic twist and turn that sparks interest. Because we are all too human, we cherry pick any reference to violence, looting, arson, and chaos. Then we decry these seemingly senseless acts.
We frame negative acts as being done by “They.” You might hear “They have no respect for the business owners whose glass they shattered. They destroyed that statue. They tore down that flag.”
The very first helpful hint to feel included is to think about “They.” Just imagine how the world would look if every peaceful demonstrator just began to destroy everything in sight. This, common sense tells you, is not what actually happens with thousands of people available to commit robbery and vandalism.
The truth is most of “them” are not vandals at all.
And upon the “other side.” They too, want a better world, although approaches may vary.
They are we. Seeing others as individuals who make up a collective “We,” is a first step toward reclaiming your belonging. The anti-racists are we. The people who may object to our approach are we. The many people (no matter your “side”) who think they are being marginalized, hated, canceled, or reproached, are ALL of us: WE.
As human beings, we are naturally attracted to being part on an in-group or an out-group. The problem with this is that each of us drift in and out of any given group several times a day. Knowing and accepting this fact will help you to realize a fuller, and larger belonging.
Find yourself saying, when you see other shoppers, or joggers, or shop people, “she is a [shopper, or jogger, or working person], “like me”, or, “he is like me.”
When I think about how people of widely divergent viewpoints behave in a partly anonymous space, I realize that they are not being their authentic selves. They are emboldened to be able to use a platform to air their views, but all too often, those views are not heard at all, when people on both sides are not in a position to really hear one another all views are lost. That is tragic, because we all have so much to learn from one another.
First of all, then, see yourself as one of We.
Anger can make it worse, or make you powerful
What I learned from going to this demonstration was that Martin Luther King, and more recently John Lewis are right. We need to raise our voices, but in non-violence, and non-abusive civil disobedience.
No one is going to hear if both sides are shouting.
“I believe in non-violence as a way of life, as a way of living.” John Lewis said. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “You must not allow yourself to become bitter.”
Taking into account that we are all human, these guidelines must be viewed as aspirational. Of course, if you are personally attacked and insulted you will feel bitterness. Of course, if you adapt non-violence as a way of life, you will still experience seething emotions from time to time. But, if you adapt the knowledge, also, that you are aware of such feelings and emotions, you can channel them into power.
Channeling righteous anger into power takes serious discipline.
Those throughout history who have discovered such power, know that is not something you switch on or off, but a long, committed determination that must arise in every encounter with our strongest human emotions.
Awareness, and your own mindfulness, as to why you suddenly want to call someone a “stupid B — — .” Or, why, when someone cuts you off in traffic you don’t manage to stifle an angry impulse to react defensively.
“To thine own self be true”, is how Shakespeare said it. “Know thyself,” is how others have advised. It’s still true, every single day in our lives, such knowledge of yourself, is powerful.
Your true colors and your true calling
We set ourselves up in tribes, but ultimately, humanity is just one tribe among many others. We need the holistic approach to belonging. This is both because it is an actual fact that you are connected to all living beings and systems, but also it is a better way to know and feel others are genuine kith and kin.
Do you swear at people or use the F word, B word, or other negative words, very casually? If so, you might begin to address to yourself, how and why this is comfortable to you. There is definitely a generational component to how much “cussing” we are taught is socially acceptable. And people have strong feelings about your human right to express yourself. Nor, will you have to change your habits if you find there is no ill will behind it, or if you can use it to begin to talk openly.
Just know, though, that if you use the words in ways you feel are inoffensive, it doesn’t mean that others are going to read you that way. Use them to open up dialogue then, and use your frustration, annoyance, or irritation with others to examine your feelings again and again.
Strong words are best used to express how you feel, but when they abusively grate upon others, the same words are no longer strong, but destructive.
Stand on common ground
People right now are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, to many other people they strongly disagree with. I have found that what really sets people at odds, though, is that they mistakenly believe that others are “not like me.”
Common ground demands common sense. Can liberals and conservatives share common ground? We already do.
Realize then, that if you are part of Earth, you belong. You stand on common ground. It is common ground that we share that feeds us, clothes us, shelters us, and provides us with air and water. Look at the many physical ways in which you are oh so very human, as is the person next to you.
You may never agree on politics, religion, or gender, or environment. You may never agree upon how to best create and manage governing, but you already agree that you want to preserve the best possible world for all people.
In this sense, people who breathe are already environmentalists, even if we may disagree on how best to preserve our common home.
If we are to rescue the world from strife and plunder, we need to recognize one another. In truth, we can all be different, and still collaborate together on the same team. Find ways to lay down foundation on the very real common ground you share.
You love your spouse. You love your family. Your kids. Your pets. You love your neighborhood. You love the woods, or shores, or fields from which all shared bounty flows.
To love thy neighbor, for example is never bad advice. It will open you up to be more of the belonging YOU, that you are really meant to be.