I’ve sat down every day for the last two weeks to write a post, and gave up after a few minutes. I have plenty to say, but I’m stuck. Everything I start to say turns into an angry rant. It’s not an easy time right now. It’s disheartening and frustrating. I’m angry about the criminal justice system, furious at the non-indictments of white officers killing unarmed black men. I’m despairing over the fact that the United States is the largest penal colony in the world, and incredibly discouraged at the statistics that point to a vast gap in perception between blacks and whites over the issues of race and our criminal justice system. I’m upset at the trolls, haters and mobbing behavior on the internet, discouraged by the recent diversity statistics coming out of Silicon Valley, and sickened by the non-stop stories of horrific violence being played out around the world.
It’s been a bleak year for human rights and for human decency.
So, why not be angry?
Well, I’d rather feel that I’m doing something constructive.
And I’d also rather not indulge my frustration on this platform when other people have greater reason to be angry, those who are at greater risk, and bear the brunt of the world’s disparities much more than I do.
And honestly, I’d also rather have something insightful to say.
But sometimes, I don’t have insight. I just have feelings. And perhaps anger is easier than helplessness. How do we cope with situations outside of our control? With contexts that oppress us, that constrain our potential, with bosses, teachers or police officers who are unjust? Not to mention the big issues and –isms that affect us disproportionately – racism, sexism, poverty?
The truth is, I think living one’s anger constructively is an art form. And I don’t think I’ve mastered it yet. When I give voice to my anger, I cringe at the tone of righteousness in there. I don’t like living in a world of stark bad guys and good guys, a world that I tumble into when my anger rises.
Some of my favorite teachers model great compassion and wisdom, even as they express anger. My Dad, who passed away a year ago next week, amazed me with his capacity to channel his anger into action, thoughtful, deliberate, and practical action.
So this is what I’m going to work on in this coming year, being angry, being angry with purpose, compassion and grace. It’ll probably take more than a year.
Writing this, I’m reminded of this incredible lesson on anger by Maya Angelou in a conversation with Dave Chapelle. Chappelle, many years junior to Maya, asks her how she managed not to get angry living through the civil rights movement, through the many assassinations of our heroes.
If you’re not angry, she says, you’re either a stone, or you’re too sick to be angry. You should be angry. Mind you, there’s a difference. You must not be bitter. Let me show you why. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger, yes. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.