Every day we wake up to another story about a shooting in some part of the country. I fear they are coming so often that we will become immune to the pain these incidents cause. There’s also a lot of debate about gun control. While I do believe that some adjustments need to be made in the type of weapons that are made available to the general public, and probably to the system that checks backgrounds, I’m well aware that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” I also know that tightening up the system is not going to stop all mass shootings.
The purpose of this blog is not to debate gun control. It’s way more complicated than I can allow space or time for here. Many of the perpetrators are seriously mentally ill, and may not have been properly diagnosed, or treated. That is a discussion for another time. But I do want to address just one aspect that could be a factor in some of the shootings – the general energy of unchecked anger that we all see more often these days – at retail stores, athletes at all levels, instances of road rage, etc.
A lot of people today are SO angry that they are blinded to any possibility other than getting revenge. It’s a very typical human impulse when we perceive that someone else has hurt us, to want them to experience at least as much pain as we did. When someone is in that mindset, it’s very difficult to help them understand that their anger really hurts them more than others. Only when someone is open to entertaining the concept that there may be an alternative perspective, can he/she make a change. No one else can make that willingness happen.
Some people seem to enjoy being angry. There are lots of extreme posts on social media, and sometimes comments made by public figures, that fuel the fire for someone who has not developed the emotional maturity to separate themselves from the issue at hand.
I’ve often said that anger can be a smokescreen emotion. When we feel anger, we feel a surge of energy, and it gives us a sense of power – helping us believe we can protect ourselves. It’s as if we’re putting on a bullet proof vest (we often act before we stop to think that there might be arrows shooting back at us in reaction to our aggressive behavior, so until those reach us, we feel powerful).
But it’s a smokescreen because there are almost always other, more vulnerable emotions beneath the anger and aggressive behavior. Feelings like hurt, embarrassment, shame, etc. And most of those have probably been down there for some time, left unattended. We may have been able to contain them for years, but as humans we aren’t built to hold them in forever. They begin to seep out, sometimes a little at a time. And while the stream of steaming anger may be steady, there may also a pit of resentments inside us. That pit becomes harder and harder, like petrified wood.
The way many people try to deal with their anger is to use it against another or an organization with aggressive behavior, abusive language and/or passive aggressive acts. These are destructive, impulsive behaviors. They initially make us feel we can control a person or situation, but in the long run, they render us helpless and we eventually find ourselves at the mercy of these tools. The anger takes control of us, rather than the other way around.
The only way to become invulnerable is to change our view of who or what we deem as our enemies and learn to see every instance of harm as an opportunity — as something we can use to benefit ourselves and others.
Our enemies are our best teachers, because they ignite our anger and hatred. They force us to look at our own shadow sides, which is the first step to moving past impulsive aggressive behavior.
Once we have that wisdom, we can begin to employ more effective weapons — tolerance, compassion and love — and begin to reap real benefits. If negative situations didn’t happen to us or keep us from getting what we want, how would we learn humility, tolerance and forgiveness?
We should be grateful to our enemies, for they teach us patience, courage and determination and help us develop a tranquil mind.
-The Dalai Lama