When You’re Angry About Your Anger
I am angry.
I’ve been angry for quite awhile now.
Maybe you have, too?
Come over to my house and I’ll serve you some coffee. We can chat like old friends because that’s my favorite way to communicate other than writing. Over the course of hours (and a refill or two) we can discover what it is that makes us angry and why. We can talk about how to focus our anger so that the heat of our emotions will be used to bring greater justice into the world...instead of more anger.
Because that’s really why we’re angry, isn’t it? Every day, we witness injustice and hate and, most of all, a staunch refusal to be empathetic even when someone’s pain is put directly in front of another person. And the anger just keeps on growing.
We watch as men and women defend the very things they seemed to hate when a black man was in office and turn a blind eye to the poor and marginalized simply because THEY CAN. Because they don’t see it or don’t want to see it. Because they’ve never had to and they don’t have to now.
I have been that woman for most of my life. Like every human being in this world, I have been dealt my fair share of pain and suffering. I have lived through divorce and family betrayal. I have been misunderstood, lied to, cast out. I have suffered from mental illness. I have been touched by strangers who viewed my dress and my gender as an opportunity for them to experience power or pleasure. I have endured seasons of emotional brutality that felt like the vice grip of satan himself. But there are things I can never fully comprehend. I am not a person of color. I am not transgender. I am not an immigrant. I am not queer. I am a white, middle-class, cisgender, (mostly) straight Christian. And there are times when, honestly, I get tired of being confronted with suffering I cannot understand because it can often feel like a competition between who hurts the worst and why.
But I have learned this: The very fact that I can choose to look away is a privilege denied to many.
We love to throw the word “privilege” around these days. It’s a buzzword, and we use it to attack others when what we really want to do is show people what they haven’t been able—or willing—to see. I try to use this word carefully because privilege, as merely a reflection of someone’s lived experience, is not a bad thing. But what about how that privilege came to be a reality? What about how it’s used? Those are questions we must consider. Those are questions I must consider.
I’m angry about how people I love deeply—people who taught me good and wonderful things about being a human—continue to look injustice and hypocrisy in the face and still not see it. I’m angry about the way we seek out only that information which confirms what we already believe. I’m angry about the abuse of little children and other vulnerable communities and the helplessness with which they suffer. I’m angry about the evangelical community’s support of a man who acts more like Caesar than he does like Christ. I’m angry about greed, and pride, and revenge.
And I’m angry about my anger. I often don’t know what to do with it. I still believe, like my beloved Anne Frank, that people are truly good at heart. I still believe the world is more beautiful than ugly, more light than dark. I still believe that God is good, even though we are not. And because of these beliefs, I want to see my anger as a tool.
I want to use it that way, too.
Anger can be a hammer we wield to pound out the worst in ourselves, in others, but that only creates more bruises and brokenness. It might reveal truth, sure, but it won’t create change.
Anger can be a chisel we use to chip away at stone, but that’s an incomplete process. With only a chisel, the truth underneath will always remain distorted, all hard angles and lines.
But together? Together, the hammer and the chisel create masterpieces.
In spite of what I see happening around me, I don’t think it’s impossible for us to work together. We often make the mistake of thinking that differing views are equal to hate when what they really indicate (in most cases, anyway) are differing perspectives. You are only you, and I am only me. I can see what you show me, certainly, but I cannot live it. The only thing I can do is look at my confirmation bias and tell it to shut the hell up for a minute because I’ve got some important listening to do. That’s a choice, and it’s not always an easy one. Still, it’s a choice we have to make if we truly want to make lasting progress in our pursuit of equality, justice, and truth.
There will be others who use their anger in a different way. They’ll let it lead them rather than inform them, and it will hurt. Don’t be discouraged. You were there once, too. (Maybe you’re there now.) We cannot make the whole world pay attention, but we can definitely keep working. Keep listening. Keep asking hard questions even though everything in us says to give up. To let it go. To binge-watch Netflix instead.
The beauty of our anger is that if we keep to our lanes—if we continue the race set before us and do the hard work of confronting ourselves—we don’t have to confront others as much. The uncovering of our own fears and uncertainties frees us to stop fearing each other. It frees us to love instead. It frees us to reach out and say, “Want to do this together now?”
After all, hammers and chisels go hand-in-hand.
Let’s get to work.
NOTE: This article was originally published on the blog HUFFPOST, May 18th, 2017