Last week, an incident involving Rush Limbaugh, Robert Egger, a YouTube video and a small hew and cry led to my blog question asking, “Where, if at all, is the place for anger in social change?”
The responses were so rich – I encourage you to read them in their entirety here.
Several things became clear in that discussion:
- The belief that anger comes from fear, from pain, from both. The experience that “suppressing anger can be debilitating,” as Martin indicated in his comment.
- The belief that we have the capacity to move beyond that fear and pain, acting in ways that do not give in to the anger.
- The desire for a different / more effective way of being with each other. Jeff Mowatt talked about it as a “mandate for acting with compassion.” Kesha talked about “a shifting concern for one’s community over one’s self.” Marcia White talked about our ability to make “choices that create growth and happiness.” Others responded similarly – the wish and the determination that a different way of being become the norm.
Individuals Go Where Systems Lead Them
As I discuss in the opening chapters of The Pollyanna Principles, our assumptions and expectations of “reality” are rooted in thousands of years of culture that tell us that “living joyfully together” is impossible. (You can read those chapters for free online here.)
Our history tells us that we will likely find reasons to do battle – by words or by swords – and that true “peace” (i.e. not just the absence of war) is a pipe dream. Across generations, we then hand down those assumptions about how people can be counted on to act.
- Assumptions about what we admire and celebrate – the warrior, the savior, the hero, the individual beating the odds
- Assumptions about winners and losers, about weakness and strength
- Assumptions about scarcity vs. abundance, about possibility vs. inevitability
All those assumptions, and the expectations that arise from those assumptions – including and especially those related to anger, frustration, fear, pain – are rooted in stories we have told for millennia.
From those assumptions and expectations, we also hand down ways for dealing with the inevitable conflict we assume will come our way. While we are encouraged to hope for the best (all the dreams you noted in #3 above), our conflict-driven culture gives us systems and tools and approaches for responding when (not if) the worst happens.
As a result, our everyday responses – as individuals, as communities, as nations – are rooted in those thousand-year-old assumptions. How we respond when an Al Qaida attacks. How we respond when a BP floods the gulf with oil.
And yes, how we respond when a blowhard-for-hire calls us lazy idiots.
I confess that my own questions about the place for anger in social change are rooted in all those cultural assumptions as well. And yet I also know that deep in my questions was my own mind trying to wrap itself around the why’s and how’s.
I know in my bones that every action we take is creating the future. I know in my bones that we can aim our work at proactively creating the world we want vs. living and working in response to what we don’t like about the world.
And yet my experience of the world, as seen through the lens of my culture, simultaneously tells me that social change and anger go hand in hand.
And that’s when it hit me. Re-reading the discussion and then re-reading my own question, I realized that social change is indeed about anger, because social change is about reacting to what we don’t like about the world. Just look at the words themselves:
Changing the World.
What is change if not reaction – change FROM something? The words to which we aspire and bring our best work – changing the world – they are a statement of reaction to what we can no longer tolerate. Social change is a reaction to pain and frustration, to inequity, injustice. No wonder we see anger as a force for such change!
Talk about an “aha!”
So where does that leave us? It leaves us with infinite choices and infinite possibilities to create the future we want. Our work doesn’t have to be solely about reacting to circumstances – poverty, war, social ills. We can aim at the world we want, the culture we want. We can work to create a world that is humane and joyful and healthy and vibrant.
It is possible, simply because it is not impossible.
As you watch the video below, consider that maybe that’s the answer (I am thinking as I’m typing – always dangerous, the keyboard equivalent of thinking aloud…). Maybe social change IS about anger, frustration, rebellion against the status quo.
And maybe the thing that is more powerful is the thing that moves beyond that anger – work and words that are not about what we are changing FROM but – as the video notes – what we are moving TOWARDS.
And wow does that ever raise more questions to explore!
If you are viewing this in your email or a reader that doesn’t show video, this link will take you to the website where you can watch the video. Link to site here.