A Nation Addicted to Anger
Years ago in studying the teachings of Buddhism, I was struck by the fact that many Buddhists consider anger an 'unhealthy' emotion best transformed into compassion. If you feel anger, these Buddhists seemed to say, you should let it pass as soon as you could, without clinging to it. You should avoid repression or ventilation, choosing a third option: mindfulness.
I had liberal friends who were appalled by the idea that anger is an unhealthy emotion and who spoke of "righteous indignation' as a very positive emotion, necessary for the achievement of 'social justice. If you aren't angry, they said, you're not paying attention. Worse than that, you are failing to empathize with the victims of injustice. You have to be angry -- morally outraged -- for justice to have a chance. You should feel guilty if you're not angry.
As I offer this page for reflection, I cannot make up my mind on the matter. I do believe that times of outrage can be productive, but I also sense that, tucked within the outrage, there is a desire to harm, to destroy, the offender. And I worry about this. I remember how my own teacher, a young carpenter from Nazareth, said that we should love our enemies. I can't reconcile wanting to harm with loving them.
What I do know, however, is that my own country has become a nation addicted to anger. I know that we have a president who cannot control his own anger and encourages anger among his loyal followers. And I know that people who opposed him have grown addicted to anger in reverse. They hate him and have grown to love hating him. I also know we have devices and various forms of social media that can feed our anger at the flick of a finger. And I have friends who, while perhaps not personally addicted to anger, are nevertheless wounded psychologically by its pervasive presence.
We are told that a first step in overcoming an addiction to is to acknowledge it. I think it's time. The next step is to acknowledge that there may well be a healing power at work in the world, however understood, that can turn anger into compassion and bring about a more creative response. I know this second step is controversial to my secular friends who don't believe in God at all, in any form, and also to those who believe in God but understand God as a wrathful tyrant himself.
Still, it seems to me it might be important, collectively, to know that there is something at work in the universe on the side of love not fury. The Buddhists might speak of it as a cosmic bodhisatta spirit; others as a love energy or a more personal but deeply compassiate God. It doesn't matter What matters is that we allow its energies to become part of our lives, moving past our addictions to fury. What is important is the creative transformation of addictive fury into something even more creative: loving your enemy.
- Jay McDaniel
A president possessed by anger
Is anyone more possessed by this obliterating anger than Donald Trump? Our nation is currently led by a petty, vindictive, histrionic man whose exceptional privilege has robbed him of even the most rudimentary training in dealing with setbacks and slights. He was elected by people who were drawn to him because he homed in on their anger, made them even angrier, and promised vengeance on the usual targets, domestic and foreign, successfully clouding their judgment as to what electing him would mean for their health care, safety, environment, education, economy.
anger at the flick of a finger
In part because hate is so often excused or explained by love in these conflicts, it’s dangerous to grant anger a special authenticity. Throughout last year, the ire of conservative voters was regarded as a deep augury of real concerns, real convictions, even as the ease with which crowds can be incited — and the weak factual basis for many of their concerns — was demonstrated again and again. People on both ends of the political spectrum were often furious about things they had not paid much attention to and didn’t know much about. Anger is frequently mistaken for a dowsing rod indicating something deep, when it is better understood as a dial that can be spun with a flick of the finger.
left and right smitten by anger
Many of the more prominent media outlets trafficking in outrage — making ad hominem attacks, dividing the political world into heroes and villains, giving us this day our daily rage — are aimed at conservatives: Fox News, say, or the talk radio networks. But many on the left are equally smitten with anger. I grew up in the shadow of the slogan “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention,” which equates the feeling with engagement, with principles; it suggests that you cannot have the latter without the former. Righteous rage is often seen as a virtue.
social media and daily rage
On social media, audiences give perfunctory attention to facts so that they can move on to the pleasure of righteous wrath about the latest person who has said or done something wrong. Anger is the stock-in-trade of many politicians and pundits and of the tabloids and websites that give them voice; it is the go-to emotion, perhaps because it is inherently reactive, volatile — easy to provoke, easy to direct. Indeed, as Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj argued last year on Vox, it has become a kind of commodity, a product marketed to select customers. Anger-provoking content is more likely to succeed, more likely to “stick,” not least because, you have to imagine, anger itself is a way the mind gets stuck.