I’m Done Listening to the Concerns of the Angry Ones

Where is all the anger coming from? When did the public dialogue turn into who is the most angry? Is everything at super high decibels? Is the anger drowning out the more measured and rational voices? Is showing love and compassion really the antidote for such rage? If I don’t fully comprehend why less educated white men have become so angry, does that make me insensitive? If I can’t relate to people who voted for the Crazy Man, does that make me part of the problem?

Like so many, I struggle each day to protect myself from the raging all around. Some days I join in the ranting and other days I don’t turn on the news. I’m informed enough to know the answers to much of what I have just posed but I’m not satisfied with just understanding it all. I want to think of solutions to bring the temperature down. In general, I believe the best recommendations involve dialogue and moving outside our bubbles. But I remain very skeptical of this approach. And it finally dawned on me why.

I grew up with a rage-aholic. If she was still alive, my mother could take down any of today’s ranters. Rush? Coulter? Trump? Spencer? Milo? Bannon? They wouldn’t stand a chance. She could rip them to shreds. My motto about my mother was: She’s not happy until you’re not happy. She also had a strong belief that the world (and our family) would be a better place and run smoothly if only everyone did what she said. She was a woman of unwavering conviction.

I came to understand what made my mother tick; why she was so constantly angry. It took years and growing into adulthood and lots of therapy. Setting aside the accelerant of alcohol, my mother had a narrative about her life story that she believed with all her being. It went something like this: “My mother never loved me, my father favored my sister who is the pretty one, one son lives on the other side of the world, the other one is disabled, my daughter is a shit and my husband died too young, I worry about money and my life is so much more awful than anyone else.” And because she believed she got dealt an unfair hand, she was entitled to be bitter and angry. She justified her hostile behavior with others as “speaking her mind and making clear where she stood.” If she could blame someone for her misfortunes, all the better. She was not responsible for her unhappiness or the consequences of any of her actions. Apologies or changing opinions never happened. “I played by the rules my whole life but I never got the rewards I was supposed to.” She felt cheated. It was incomprehensible to my mother that she was the greatest source of her misery.

(By all measures, my mother’s life was no better or worse than anyone else.)

As I read the Hillbilly Elegy or listen sympathetically to people who feel harmed by globalization and shifting demographics, I hear my mother’s voice. “I did what I was supposed to but then the world changed and unexpected illnesses or events altered the course of my life. And now I’m mad as hell.” In countless conversations with my mother, I kept asking how she could hold on so tightly to a set of beliefs that didn’t account for shit happening. To me, she was a grown woman stuck in a teenager’s happily ever after fantasy. She refused to reconcile her fantasy with reality. Life is NOT fair sometimes. Shit DOES happen. Losses ARE real. The world DOES change. And we humans need to adapt.

I don’t need to be in dialogue with an angry person so I can understand their experience. I spent too much of my life seeing the world through that twisted lens. For those of you who haven’t been around it, go right ahead. I’m done being the one to extend my compassion and energy. We all have pain and struggles. No one is immune. My job is to take care of my own shit so you don’t have to. So I have some advice for the individuals that make up the angry mob.

  1. Get help facing reality. The world has changed and things feel scary. This is upsetting and can make us feel nostalgic for some time in the past that felt better. But the past is never coming back (in spite of what our government is trying to do). Time does not stand still or move in reverse. It only moves forward. Whatever you thought life was going to be may not be what your reality is. Learn healthier ways to deal with your actual reality.
  2. There is no bogeyman. There are very legitimate reasons to be unhappy with your lot in life. Financial insecurity, family or health issues, job insecurity. Some of these things are out of your control and that can feel awful. But there is no group of people out there that is to blame for your job loss or ill health. No immigrants or women or black people took your job. There is no conspiracy plot to make aspects of your life more difficult. Our world is complicated. Pouring your rage into some group of people as the reason for your misfortune is misguided. Not to mention, it is stoked by very rich and comfortable people who are invested in you raging at some bogeyman.
  3. Stop taking your anger out on innocent people. When you scream and yell, you are harming the people around you. Your family and co-workers and friends can only stand so much. They will avoid you and withhold their love and affection. Your anger cuts you off from the good stuff you could be getting because your explosiveness makes it unsafe to be around you. You would be doing yourself and others a favor if you got things under control.
  4. Develop some greater insight about the source of your rage. Have you always been this angry? When we grow into adulthood and feel slighted or less than, there is usually a long ago wound where the scab got picked off. You may be yelling about how the country is going to pieces because we are letting Muslims in even though your community doesn’t have a mosque. So why would you feel so deeply about something that isn’t directly effecting your life? Could it be that Muslims are an outlet for the anger you feel about something else? Get help understanding why being angry at Whatever feels cathartic for you. Does it make you feel more powerful than you actually are in your daily life?
  5. Read, learn more. This notion that reading and learning are elitist activities is unbelievably wrong headed. New information is actually a powerful way to challenge our thinking and modify our positions. Don’t read partisan websites or books that affirm your point of view. Read history books written by historians (not talk show hosts). Read self help books that address emotions that you struggle with. Read about other countries, especially European ones to understand more about how the US came into being. Turn off the TV and radio shows that are invested in fueling your anger. Mostly importantly, read the factual accounts of how and why this country was founded. Learn more about what the founders actually believed, how slavery and racism are woven into the fabric of our institutions and how women and black people were legal property owned by white men and land owners. If you are an angry white man who feels that your standing and entitlement are in jeopardy, read about the severe harm done to Native Americans, blacks and women. Then ask yourself, who has a right to be angry?

I get it. Boy, do I get it. Anger is fuel. It generates energy, amps up those endorphins, makes us feel in control. We love how it intimidates others around us and makes them cower or shut down. But constant anger is unhealthy on every level; physically, psychologically and emotionally. It is a release that feels great in the moment but when the storm passes we often feel worse. Observing my mother’s anger made me feel sad for her. She had all the resources to have a much happier existence but she couldn’t get off her “woe is me” narrative that kept the rage coursing through her veins. She died as she had lived; still angry at her best friend, angry at her husband for dying too soon, angry that life had not turned out the way she wanted it to. Is that how you want to end up? You do have the choice, you know.

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