Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
I sometimes forget this. On many occasions, I’ve fallen into the trap of exhibiting anger at the smell of injustice, both real and perceived. I can also safely say that it’s never righted any amount of unfairness. Not once. However, my indulgence in the intoxicating emotion has led me to greater self-awareness: mainly a realization that I can choose, and would like to choose, not to be angry.
One needs only to log onto social media to revel in an ongoing storm of furious, fiery resentment. Are the public outcries justified? Who am I to judge the displeasure of another? Surely, honest critiques are often warranted, and dare I say absolutely necessary! There is something distinctly virtuous in holding humankind accountable for its actions. In other words, complacency and indifference are far from desirable characteristics.
So how can protesters and seekers of a more peaceful world better position themselves to avoid the pitfalls of anger and resentment? Heaven knows of the multitude of things I’d like to change in my own lifetime. The injustices I see on a daily basis could easily drain me of all my energy if I let them. Shouting at the top of my lungs in an already crowded forum does little to stem the tide of apathy. Snide remarks and passive aggressive techniques, although humorous and clever at times, have also alluded me in gathering the momentum required to shift a preoccupied world.
Inevitably, I’ve always come back around to the adage handed to us from Gandhi that begs us to be the change we wish to see in the world. In short, telling other people to modify their behavior to suit my preferences is not even remotely a successful way to bring about real change. It never has been and never will. What does work? Leading by example of course.
But that’s only half the story.
I don’t like rape. So far, I haven’t raped anyone. And I don’t plan on it. In fact, I guarantee that I won’t. Now I can pat myself on the back for not doing the thing of which I want to rid the world. But that doesn’t change the fact that rape is still a serious problem that needs addressing. So what are my options? A quick look on Facebook, and I see that I can loudly decry the lenient sentences handed down by judges to so-called privileged rapists. I can share innumerable blogs about the atrocity of rape and its degradation of a civilized culture. I can ask my friends who are parents to boys to have frequent and open discussions with them about the evils of rape. And I can also take every opportunity I have to beat my drum that rape is EVIL.
Forgive me for taking a critical look at these choices by suggesting that there might in fact be a more effective means to spread my message.
Before we go further, I want to emphasize that the methodology I lay forth is applicable to any societal ill or behavior we’d like to see changed. It is nothing new or revolutionary. It is all based on the universal law of attraction. It may lack the cathartic fire you feel compelled to feed. If it does, rest assured that you’re on the right track. I encourage you to stay the course and at least consider it, before carrying on with your preferred means of public outcry.
Step one: Assume Benevolence
I assume benevolence whenever I feel the sting of injustice. What this means is that I no longer automatically project my own feelings of wrongness onto the person or people who I feel are responsible for the misdeed I just witnessed. More than likely, they aren’t even aware that they’ve done anything wrong. For example, that rude, inconsiderate, idiot of a driver who pulled out in front of me on my way to the grocery store? He probably didn’t see me coming. And if he did, he didn’t do it to purposely piss me off. He’s likely on his way to somewhere important. To where…we will never know. But judging him for it doesn’t do a bit of good. You may think it does, but it doesn’t. I promise. If I were to hold onto my anger at a driver who cut me off, that would say more about my inability to control my own emotions than it would about his ability to drive with courtesy.
How to apply this law to the case of a lenient rape sentence?
Stay calm and collected. There is power in calmness. An angry mob of one million is still not big enough to overturn a judge’s ruling. And it certainly can’t undo the rape itself. What’s done is done. What can change…is the future. And that is exactly to where our focus aims.
Step Two: Welcome Open Dialog
There’s something inherently productive about open dialog. Not the tragic rant that invites further ranting. We know where ranting leads. It brings us to exactly where we’re standing right now. Frustrated and hungry for real solutions. We need a clear picture of not only how our justice system should handle a rape after its committed, but we need a system in place that prevents rape to begin with. These are DIFFICULT questions. And difficult questions cannot be answered effectively when the only discussion revolves around disgust. Not surprisingly, intelligence thrives in the opposite environment, that of calm meditation and respectful discourse. Have you ever been asked to take a math test in the midst of a screaming match? No. That’s utterly preposterous. The same goes for summoning the best answers to life’s greatest debacles.
So how to open up dialog? Easy. It could be as simple as posting a relevant article on social media and asking a follow up question such as, “How might you suggest we stem the tide of rape in America?” That’s one possible question. There are a hundred others. The point is to stay neutral and open-ended. We don’t want to force-feed or pre-program our audience with answers that we want to hear. We want authentic answers to difficult questions. Answers we’ve likely never thought of before. This isn’t about us and how we can sell our way of thinking. It’s about bringing others into the arena to look for solutions instead of merely expressing a need to vomit.
Step Three: Identifying Dead Horses
There is no pride in kicking dead animals. If your horse has been laid to rest, let it be. If your assailant has issued a sincere apology, you may want to consider finding a more current (relevant) story to bring our awareness to. If you are adamant about receiving more than an apology, you better be explicit about your demands. The world is highly forgiving, and when it isn’t, it makes up for it with forgetfulness. We don’t have the attention span or energy for old news. What’s past is past. We’re focused on the here and now, not changing what’s behind us. If our attention belongs anywhere, it’s directly in front of us and on what we can do to improve our shared tomorrow. Your audience literally does not have time to talk about yesterday.
Step Four: Knowing When to Stay Quiet
The weak seek revenge. The strong forgive. The wise ignore.
Asking people to stay quiet is not without controversy. In no way am I suggesting we all turn into pacifists. In the beginning of this post, I stated that holding each other accountable for our transgressions is a virtue. And I mean that. If we see oppression, we should say something. We owe it to those who are oppressed and cannot say anything, or whose voices go unheard. It doesn’t have to be with a grandiose gesture. A simple acknowledgment most often will do. When thousands, and maybe millions of people join in the acknowledgement, that’s when real change can begin to occur.
So when do we stay quiet?
When our own inner peace is at stake, we should pause. When we’re tempted to shape our words not by our intelligence but rather by our anger, we should pause. Rage is a terribly strong perfume. We can see it, smell it, taste it, and feel it. And when we do, we are triggered to do one of two things: either join in it or run for the hills. Notice how I did not say formulate productive solutions of incredibly difficult challenges.
I imagine that even Gandhi had off-days. If he felt particularly perturbed, he retreated from the public eye and rested. Had he revealed a bout of misdirected anger, or the dreaded spasms of uncontrollable rage, he’d likely risk sabotaging everything he’d worked so hard to build.
Not every day is meant to be a day dedicated to changing the world. Some days, most days I would argue, are best used for working internally…on ourselves. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are walking billboards for the state of our own lives. If we exhibit weakness/illness, be it physically, mentally, spiritually, or a combination of the three, we lose clout. On the flip side, if we display prime health in the form of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, we gain influence. Our message to the world becomes that much stronger when we ourselves our examples of exemplary well-being. There is no way around this. As time goes on, the degree to which our all-around health plays a role in our message grows. The world is quickly coming to understand the inherent link between our inner and outer worlds. If our leaders aren’t healthy inside and out, we tend to dismiss them.
I encourage you to continue expressing ways in which we can improve our world. The road is long, and the challenges are immense. Solving them is what we’re here to do. If you feel anger or outrage, instead of broadcasting it, let those feelings move you to a more productive place of seeking solutions. I promise you that the world is not served by your disgust. Rather, the world is improved by your own willingness to improve.
Love, light, and vitality…