April 27, 2017

Why Anger won’t Solve our Problems.


I have not been a member of a political party for most of the last 20 years, or more.

In today’s parlance, one would likely call me a progressive. (I’ve been called worse.) Over the years I’ve enthusiastically supported George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton (in his first campaign anyway), Barack Obama, and the policies of Bernie Sanders. All of which is to say, if you’re angry about our politics today, and are involved in any way with resisting, fighting, and protesting the policies and actions of our new president and his administration, I’m quite sure we want the same things, such as functional government and a world that works for everyone. Yes? If so, I invite you to consider making smarter, more productive, more conscious use of your anger in service of accomplishing our shared goals.

Here are some examples:

Anger as an opportunity to practice presence.

To be sure, many of us have been taught to channel our political anger — I do not accept this; I do not want this; I do not like this; He is not my president — into protesting and fighting and resisting. On its face, based on everything we’ve been taught and have experienced, this is not a terrible thing to do. Ultimately, however, it’s an approach that flies in the face of a foundation of conscious living: to be present. At its core, anger is really nothing more than complete and utter non-acceptance of what is.

Volumes have been written for millennia about why and how to be present. “Mindfulness” — in the workplace and beyond — is all the rage today so its value as a value has been well-established. We’re not bad people for thinking “non-accepting” thoughts and feeling the anger, rage, frustration, and fear that accompany them. Let’s just call them the old consciousness, the way we did things before we knew differently. Because now we know that resistance to what is, is futile.

We also often have thoughts like: This is really bad; This is so wrong; This is unfair; His supporters are idiots. For the record, “bad,” “wrong,” “unfair,” and “idiots” are judgments. Being present means accepting everything as it is, and it also means doing so without judgment. The trap of judgment is that without even realizing it, we get all caught up in “bad” and “wrong” and “unfair” and “idiots” by thinking about all the bad and wrong and unfair and idiotic things that exist and by talking again and again with our friends and fellow activists about “bad” and “wrong” and “unfair” and “idiots,” ad nauseam.

If you’re new to this, accepting everything as it is without judgment can be a tall order but it gets easier, I promise. You can practice right now: He’s president. It is what it is. We are where we are. These are statements of acceptance, non-resistance, and non-judgment. They neither condemn nor condone. They are neutral, and I invite you to take note of how they feel.

Anger as a springboard.

Neutral is a far better place from which to act than is anger. The trap most of us fall into  is that we think anger is the end of the line. We want to justify it, which requires staying focused on the very thing(s) we don’t like or want. We stay angry lest anyone think we are okay with what we’re not okay with. There can be a very satisfying aspect to anger on a feeling level, particularly if prior to the anger we have felt sad or lonely or depressed or guilty or hopeless or any number of emotions that feel even worse than anger. Not to mention that if our friends, fellow activists, and co-workers are angry, too, there’s a boatload of camaraderie and connection that also feels pretty damn good.

But the very best thing about anger is also the thing that goes completely unnoticed when we are not going about it consciously. That is, how it puts us in touch with exactly what we’d prefer to experience. When we are angry, really angry, we essentially draw a line about what is and what isn’t acceptable to us. Excellent! But then, because we’re not so well-trained, we focus all of our attention on what isn’t acceptable to us, which makes no sense because of a little bugger called the law of attraction, and how it’s always on. It’s about knowing that what we focus on grows.

Even though the law of attraction as a concept has been maligned and ridiculed and often quite misunderstood, it doesn’t make it any less of a reality. Bottom-line, like attracts like. Birds of a feather flock together. The rich get richer; the poor get poorer. What we focus on grows. It’s all about vibration. Anger vibrates down here; love vibrates up here. So if we stay angry, we develop more anger, and everything that is in the neighborhood of anger. If we resist, we get what vibrates in the neighborhood of resistance. When we are caught up in anger and resistance and protest and fight, we are completely unavailable for the very solutions that we desire, because those solutions are hanging out in a completely different neighborhood.

The unnoticed opportunity, then, right under our noses, rendered by this abundant clarity about what we don’t like or want — is to mine the juicy center of all that for the nugget of what it is we do like, what we’d prefer to experience. We ask, simply, what do we want? We hate that our president is incompetent, so we know that we want one who is competent. We hate that our politicians don’t represent us, so we know that we desire truly representative government. As creators of conscious politics, we would then expand upon these ideas by crafting them into shiny, clear intentions. Then, we would choose to focus our time and energy on those things.

As Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when created them.” If the problem is a “Muslim ban,” which feels antithetical to who and what America is and stands for, then it’s incumbent upon us to define what America is and stands for as far as we’re concerned. If the problem is what we view as a dearth of compassion in government, then it is incumbent upon us to define and describe what an abundance of compassion in government might look like. This is, certainly, a more productive, smarter use of time and energy — our most valuable resources.

Anger as a reminder to take responsibility.

Much of our anger is misplaced because it is directed at other people. Other people are responsible for our circumstances, our pain, our displeasure. That’s the old consciousness talking, because it defies the idea that when we choose to live consciously, we understand that we are not victims of our circumstances, but instead we are architects of them. Our president is a champion of eschewing responsibility and blaming others. Bad! So if we are blaming the president for our woes, we are already on the wrong track.

Even if we abhor the president and everything he stands for, and even if we didn’t vote for him, it is incumbent upon us to take responsibility, as Americans, first and foremost, for the government we have, which he did not create. If there are things about it we don’t like, are there places where we have contributed to that? For example, do we take responsibility for times when we’ve been apathetic, not involved, not paying attention, not voting? Do we take responsibility for the fact that racism has been baked into our system from day one, and that it has persisted in overt and covert ways ever since? Are we doing anything to perpetuate it ourselves?

Are we sloppy with our own finances while demanding transparent accountability from our government with regard to its finances? Do we demand low prices for clothes, food, electronics, and household goods without taking any responsibility for the sub-standard working conditions of the people who make those things in foreign countries with lax labor laws? Do we take responsibility for creating entire categories of our economy that depend on cheap labor by undocumented immigrant workers, and then scapegoat, harass, and, now, deport those very people as we tear their families apart?

Do we malign massive corporate profits while we beat down the doors of those corporations, and flood them with our “bargain” dollars? These are just a few examples of ways to take responsibility for whatever is in our here-and-now experiences. They are not meant to create guilt or shame because it’s not about that; it’s about responsibility.

This is nobody’s favorite concept. Yet as difficult as it can be to really take responsibility, the reward for doing so is tremendous: authentic, from-the-inside power. That’s fantastic — and exhilarating — on an individual level, to be sure. And for any group seeking political power, taking responsibility for what is versus resisting what is, is the absolute path to authentic political power. And isn’t that what we’re after?

Anger as an opportunity to clean out the closet.

Whenever any of us are in situations that are not to our liking — really not to our liking — we can look to see what belief (or set of beliefs) we have that would create the situation(s) we’re in. When we identify an old belief that’s hiding in the closet, so to speak, one that clearly doesn’t serve us, we have a real opportunity. We not only see how it creates in our reality, we get to decide, consciously, whether or not we want to continue to have it or whether we’d be better served by changing it.

In a recent conversation I was having with a team at Los Angeles City Hall, one young woman was talking about how upset she was by the result of the presidential election last November. She was feeling quite dis-empowered by the very notion that Trump had been elected, and felt sure that she would not be able to fully and freely express herself as a woman in our society. In her estimation, a sexist man who would enable widespread sexism from the bully pulpit would essentially render her, and all women, dis-empowered.

Then, as is always the case in the course of conversation, I heard it: a belief. I asked her, “Do you feel as though you need, or have to ask for, permission in order to feel comfortable expressing yourself?” It resonated with her immediately. “Yes,” she replied, “I do.” Though she hadn’t quite been conscious of it, this belief wasn’t far below the surface either. That’s just the way it works. The opportunity, then, is to find and release any and all old, non-serving beliefs we have that prohibit us from going where we want to go. Indeed, it’s why they show up.

She thought her problem was the president and the sexism she sees in him, and the sexism she expected would only grow, and how disadvantageous that would be for her and all women. I thought her problem was the belief she has that she needs permission before she can be who she is. She thought her work would be about fighting and resisting and protesting sexism. I thought her work would be about changing her belief that she needs permission from anyone at any time for any reason to be who she is. Who knows where the fighting and protesting and resisting might lead?

For sure, changing her belief about permission would make sexism disappear from her personal experience forever. It would render it moot. This speaks to an ongoing dynamic in the realm of conscious politics: toggling between who we are individually and who we are collectively. In this case, it’s how one individual can make political change in her self, an opportunity that’s available to all of us every day. How and what we do collectively is, fundamentally, a different question.

Resist/Protest/Fight Smarter.

To review, there is never anything wrong about feeling anger—or feeling anything at all. Indeed, experiencing a wide range of human emotions is precisely what it is to be human, so keep that going, of course. But because anger is largely resistance to what is, and because it is often rife with judgment, it’s simply smarter to get to acceptance and non-judgment as quickly as possible.

Because we always get more and more of what we think and feel and talk about, it’s smart to think and feel and talk about exactly what we are preferring to experience and, thus, to get crystal clear about that. Because abdicating responsibility is profoundly dis-empowering, it’s smarter to take responsibility, and thus create a direct line to achieving the authentic political power we desire. And because any conversation about politics will virtually always include toggling between who we are individually and who we are collectively, it’s fulfilling to discover for ourselves any and all old, non-serving beliefs that lurk in our personal systems.

If thinking in this way feels new and strange and different, excellent! And if you are even a bit intrigued and, hopefully, maybe a little excited by some of these ideas, then perhaps you are at the precipice of Einstein’s advice: solving problems in the only way they can be solved — with a different consciousness.

Indeed, the world needs you.



Author: Steven Morrison, M.A. 

Image: Anita Hart/Flickr

Editor: Taia Butler

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