This blog was written prior to the incident taking place in Charlottesville or Barcelona. While those are examples of the violence I am referring to in the first couple of paragraphs, finding a way through to the hatred ignited within those individuals is a whole different thing than what this blog is about. I send love and healing energy to all who are directly effected by these situations, and hope there will soon be an end to such extreme violence and intolerance.
Every day we wake up to stories about some violence being perpetrated against Americans or citizens around the world. There’s also a lot of anger-filled debate about gun control/terrorism/immigration/police brutality, etc. Instances of physical, emotional and verbal violence are happening so often that we are becoming immune to the pain they cause. These are all very complex issues, and won’t be resolved quickly. As individuals, the power we have to effect change should not be underestimated, if we unite with activist groups and manage to put people in the positions that can make a difference (as witnessed by the marches and protests/phone calls to representatives around healthcare and other issues have proven). But it will still be a long, incremental process of shifting universal paradigms to change the violent nature of much of our society.
Even though many of these incidents are not necessarily in our back yard, they all affect each of our lives energetically. While many of the situations mentioned above are caused, or at least fueled by things like institutional or individual discrimination/lack of available mental health services/governmental policies . . . any number of factors that we should all be conscious of and learn how to manage within our own minds and actions; the aspect I want to address here is the general energy of unchecked anger that we all see more often these days – in social settings, athletic events, instances of road rage, political rallies, and on social media.
A lot of people today are SO angry that they are blinded to any possibility other than getting revenge. It’s a 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 difficult for them to 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 develop the skills to manage and relieve themselves of the energy without taking it out on someone else. You see, it’s not the anger that is the problem. It’s the aggressive behavior that stems from the anger.
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 to 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. Since we tend to equate vulnerability with weakness, when we begin to notice these feelings, our “go-to” is usually to slip into anger. And while the stream of steaming anger may be steady, there may also be a pit of resentments inside us. As long as it’s kept hidden, that pit becomes harder and harder, like petrified wood.
So 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 weapons. What we typically get in return is resentment from others, often just perpetuating the cycle of anger. 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 tools — 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