We live in political society dominated by tribalism. The two party system in the United States has fed into an already natural human propensity to view life as “us versus them”. Recent years have especially exacerbated this point with politicians locking in on the issues that have the highest likelihoods to be divisive and garner the attention and votes they need so that the party (and the individual politicians) remain in power.
What this has led to, along with increasing attention to inhumane acts against minorities domestically and abroad, is an atmosphere of outrage and anger among the right and the left.
The purpose of this article is to explore the idea that “an angry generation can’t bring peace”.
This idea that anger cannot create peace is not a novel one. I came across this idea in the form of the quote mentioned above while reading Marianne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”. In one passage she refers to a time when she came to a realization that her anger against certain political leaders and ideals was not a reflection of love, something that she had become a sort of preacher for.
I read the below excerpt from her book multiple times as I let it sink in:
I spent years as an angry left-winger before I realized that an angry generation can’t bring peace. Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. As Gandhi said, “We must be the change.” What the ego doesn’t want us to see is that the guns we need to get rid of first are the guns in our own heads.
I found this to be powerful and very much applicable to today with anger and rage so readily available on the media and especially through social media platforms.
What is Peace?
I would like to take a moment and define peace. Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:
A state of tranquility or quiet: such as
– freedom from civil disturbance
– a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom
– harmony in personal relations
My definition of peace is a situation where people can live harmoniously together. Where disagreements and differing viewpoints are tolerated and seen from a place of compassion and understanding. Groups of people do not feel oppressed, but accepted and even loved. Hate might still exist, but it is impossible to spread because there isn’t a fear of “the other”.
This might seem delusional and impossible, but it is how I see a country or people operating under a state of peace.
There are two types of anger, in my point of view. There is the anger born of fear, and the anger created in retaliation to the actions and viewpoints of those acting under the first type.
Anger born of fear is not exclusive to one political side more than the other. However, it is evident that the Republican party has played the fear card heavily and with great success. The fears that are turned to anger are due to lack of economic opportunity, legislative unfairness, and the obliteration of a culture and values because of “the other”. Who is this “other”? In this case, it is the liberal elites, the coastal elites, LGBTQ, minorities, (brown) immigrants and beyond.
The fear-turned-anger comes from a place of lack or the perception of future lack. Less economic opportunity, less values, and less people who look similar.
This is not the same as racism, xenophobia, or homophobia. But the fear opens the doors wide open to accepting these states of mind and more.
Retaliatory anger is in response to the actions committed through fear-based-anger. This manifests in outrage towards hateful speech, racist acts, and oppressive policies.
There is fear involved, of course, especially if you are vulnerable to any possibility of oppression. However the major instigator is the rage of “the other” who is acting themselves out of anger.
African American families who lose a loved one due to police brutality, LGBTQ marches protesting against inequality, women campaigning for equal pay. These, and so many more examples, are born out of retaliatory anger.
Is anger justified? The answer is yes, for better or worse. Anger and outrage are natural and part of the human experience. The tricky part is coming to understand that all anger is justified to an extent.
A mourning family’s anger is justifiable for obvious reasons, as are protestors who are not treated fairly. But what about the perpetrators and “bad actors”? Is there anger justifiable?
I believe the answer is also a “yes”. This will raise eyebrows and hackles, so let me first note that this in no way exonerates people from heinous acts. While being angry, especially at the offset, is a natural reaction, to then act out in a way that harms other people is a conscious choice that should not be ignored. The point being made here is that the origins of the anger is fear. That fear may come from lack of proper education, ignorance, peer pressure, or even personal experience. We cannot discount that fact. The anger comes from somewhere. It could even be due to fear of the self and self-loathing projected onto others. While this isn’t “good”, it is justifiable. The emotions, not the actions undertaken under the influence of those feelings, are justifiable.
Just in case that is not enough clarity, this article in no way condones acts of hatred. This is not excusing acts big or small. Simply stating that the motivating emotions can be linked back to fears that are, in their own context, justifiable.
Acting With Anger
Outrage, anger, and hatred are all powerful motivators. These emotions not only divide, but can also unite. Once united, people then want to act on those emotions in an attempt to remove whatever the perceived cause may be.
Movements can be divided into two groups: those that seek to create change by diminishing others to benefit themselves, and those that seek to create change by raising themselves and others.
Examples of movements that seek to diminish others include those conducted by white supremacists, pro-lifers, anti-immigration, and white lives matter.
In these cases, the purpose is to gain personal benefit through suppression or oppression of others. White supremacists don’t want minorities to gain more power. Pro-lifers don’t want women to have power over their pregnancy. Anti-immigration activists want to limit the number of foreigners entering their country. The White Lives Matter movement seeks to take the power away from the Black Lives Matter movement.
In all of the above examples, you gain through someone else losing.
Examples of movements that seek to raise people include pro-immigration, women’s marches, pro-choice, and Black Lives Matter to name a few.
In these scenarios, the goal is to increase awareness and equality for a particular group without infringing on the equality of others. Pro-immigration advocates want more humane and open approaches to handling immigration, particularly illegal immigration. Women’s marches seek to raise the standard of women’s health issues and equal pay. Pro-choicers want women to be able to have control over their bodies and pregnancies. The Black Lives Matter movement is to raise awareness to the plight of current African Americans which has been caused by generations of systemic racism, oppression, and intolerance.
In all these cases, it is about gaining for yourself without taking away from anyone else.
There is also a much darker side when people act with anger. This comes in the form of serious oppression, acts of violence, war, and even genocide. None of this is to be tolerated. In some cases, violence must unfortunately be met with violence when lives are in direct danger.
Change Through Anger
As previously stated, anger is a powerful motivator. So powerful, in fact, that real change can be brought about by people acting with anger. Sometimes this change is progressive and “good”, whereas other times it is regressive and “bad”.
I classify “good” as the elevating of groups who needed it, without sacrificing the freedoms of others.
So many “good” movements have been born out of outrage and anger. A few were listed above and discussed in the previous section. Others include Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage.
Unfortunately, angry energy can also be used to create change that is destructive. The most obvious example that comes to mind was the formation of Nazi Germany which led to the obliteration of millions of lives through genocide and war.
This is not meant to equate the Nazis with Civil Rights by any means. It is to show that angry energy can be used to build but also destroy.
Helpful and progressive change is possible through anger. Laws can change. Even our culture can change. But where is the peace?
No Peace Through Anger
All the progressive change in the world will not create peace if it is done through anger. We can get close to achieving peace, but it will elude us until we let go of the anger.
I have illustrated that angry energy can lead to both constructive and destructive outcomes. If that energy can destroy, how can it create peace which is the absence of destruction?
Even amongst people with the same ideologies, anger is destructive. A clear example of this can be seen when liberals cannibalize themselves on social media in an effort to display moral superiority. How can you expect lasting change when you attack people who can be your allies because they express a slightly differing opinion on a particular topic? How can you expect cohesion if you don’t allow room for forgiveness and growth?
Many of the “good” movements I brought up as examples above had another aspect beyond anger that I have not yet mentioned. That characteristic is compassion, or even love. To want the betterment of the lives of your children, friends, even strangers is an act of compassion. It is to desire equality for all, not one group more than the other.
So while anger can carry us far, for better or worse, it will not take us all the way.
For real peace to be brought about, we all need to begin to exhibit understanding and compassion for those around us. Even those who disagree and are thinking out of fear.
We must look for ways to eradicate that fear in order to rid ourselves of hate. You cannot understand another person’s fear, and then help expel it, without a high degree of compassion. There is no room for anger.
What does this look like?
It is a long and arduous road that requires more progressive change, hopefully with more energy placed on the positive outcome than at the anger at the other. Being angry at someone else is energy that could be put towards the end goal.
That change includes electing officials who represent our human values, not the party values. This can then begin to change the politics of politics. Legislative change is needed to ensure that equality is truly for all and that those who infringe upon the equality and lives of others are dealt with justly.
In tandem with the above, focus needs to be placed on areas that seem especially conducive to fear and hate. These locations tend to be areas with a lack of proper education and economic opportunity. Because of this, compassionate education and investment is an absolute must. By reducing the lack, we take away reasons to fear and so take away reasons to hate.
There is no quick fix. Financial stability, understanding, education, and the ability to be compassionate need to be fostered and cultivated like we would a garden. Only by being loving and dedicated caretakers will we be able to reap the rewards in the form of peace.