I was at a meeting once, and the facilitator was gathering shared values to act as guidelines for an upcoming project. Someone tossed up a value that, “We work from a place of love.” Or something nice like that. I was down with the concept. Then someone else piped up and said, “Umm, no, I need my hate. You can’t make me love these companies that are destroying our water. I hate them. I refuse this love language.”
Working on justice issues is difficult and there is, hooo buddy, a lot to make you angry. So while sewing and listening to this On Being conversation between Krista Tippet and Sylvia Boorstein I was intrigued by the following conversation. I’m going to paraphrase some of the conversation that I want to remember next time anger becomes a participant in the meeting.
Tippet: “Sister Helen Prejean, an opponent of the death penalty, said, “Anger is a moral response, it’s what do you do with that anger.” That, “It’s not fair” is a fundament of morality and of activism. So how do we walk the line between demonstrating that and also helping ourselves and our children live wisely with those feelings and those observations of life’s unfairness.”
Boorstein: “I think a lot about that. My father, whose long gone, heard me teach about transforming anger into work in the world and doing something. And he’d say, “I need my anger, Sylvia, it motivates me to do all the activism that I do. And I said, “You need it just to alert you to what needs attention, but you don’t need to carry it along with you to keep refueling. If you keep nurturing the flame of anger it confuses the mind and maybe we don’t respond as wisely as we ought to. I need the anger in the same way that if I had a 104 degree fever, that is a sign that I need to do something about it.
“But then I hope that what I do, is I recognize the anger as a response to fear, to that things are not right, but the response to that fear, is a basic human response to lash out, when something frightens us.
“You see sometimes a child rushes out into traffic, and the parent runs out, and grabs it, and then hits it. What they’ve done is gotten frightened, and then angry.
“I am frightened because in the world, these unjust things are happening. What can I do? How can I have a mind that is energized to do something about it? Not reacting in anger, but responding in firm kindness that things need to be different.”
I recommend the rest of the podcast for lots of interesting thoughts.
It is not my place to tell someone what to feel or what should motivate them. But I was particularly struck by that notion that continuous anger confuses the mind. I know that when I am calm, I am more strategic and effective. I have seen smart people whom I admire expend all kinds of energy on things that don’t feel strategic or useful to me, because, it seems from my place, they are so full of rage and anxiety they begin to suffer from a lack of focus. I have also seen people channel rage into a laser clear focus.
I don’t know the right way to do activism, but I think for me a big part of it is firm kindness. But I think the bigger takeaway as a facilitator is that check-in on whether the anger, or sadness, or other emotions, are preventing us from doing effective, clear-headed work that we need to do if we are going to overthrow all the injustices that are making us angry all the time.