My husband, a friend and I attended a political rally yesterday. We were stoked and it was a beautiful day, if you had to wait outside in a line. As we enjoyed the warm sunlight bathing us gently, there was a beautiful camaraderie amongst us. We shared a common vision and we talked animatedly. We shared our stories and we met new friends as we waited patiently for our speaker. We did notice however, directly behind, a woman who stood alone, talking to no one, with a steely expression on her face. While the rest of us engaged easily with one another, this woman stood alone, talking to no one, clearly not wanting to mix. Just before we entered the auditorium, a young man arrived wearing a very dapper pin stripped suit with a shining sky blue tie. His arrival caused the sullen young woman to change her expression to relief as she exclaimed, “Oh, I thought you weren’t going to make it!” They remained encapsulate in their own little twosome and I suspected they were lovers, lost in their own little world together. They were definitely noticeable, however, and my friend commented about the man’s suit, which stood out in the crowd of very casually dressed people. She wondered out loud if maybe he was an undertaker to be wearing such a polished suit as that. We mused about it momentarily but returned to our own thoughts about our candidate and when the speaker would arrive.
We were so fortunate to get 3rd row seats and my body shivered with excitement and appreciation when the speaker finally emerged. After about a half hour, the man in the shiny suit suddenly emerged from nowhere, but right up front, and began making angry demands and accusations of the speaker. The intensity of hate that spewed from this man brought tears to my eyes as we all watched in disbelief as his rage only increased. We wondered if he might pull out a gun. The speaker remained polite and kept asking the fellow to sit down and he would respond to his questions, but the satiny fellow just ranted on and on. The emotions in the crowd rose to protect our speaker and everyone began to shout for him to leave, as our rally had become totally disrupted by the threat of violence. Undeterred, he just kept screaming and he was finally removed by the authorities. No sooner had we achieved a brief moment of order when the girl who had accompanied him stood up and took up where he left off. She too, had to be removed. As I sat there in sadness, still reacting emotionally to the intensity of the hate, I mused internally about what causes a person to behave so badly, to make such an ugly spectacle of himself. I was just wondering…………………….
When I talked with a friend about this episode, she offered that she believed we live in a society where everyone wants his own way. There is no more compromise or civility, only an aggressive drive to get what one wants. She noted that previously we had discussions and we used problem solving, but the new desire to please oneself shows up in every aspect of our lives, and especially in politics. I agreed with her to a certain degree.
However, as a psychologist who has written a book about anger, I am convinced that the root of the problem begins with how we deal with anger, which can easily expand to hate. We have become a drug addicted society, addicted with anger. All addicts only think of themselves and all addicts want their own way. When we attempt to solve problems by bullying, by screaming, by threatening, we have lost our problem solving skills and only win our way through threat and intimidation.
But what lies beneath this rage that has taken over our way of operating? As I advocate in my book, ANGER THE TOXIC TEMPTRESS; UNDERSTAND IT TO OVERCOME IT, anger is a handy defense mechanism that keeps us from being in touch with our vulnerable feelings. So what does this mean when we witness all the anger being espoused around us? It means that many people are feeling hurt and vulnerable and that they have lost their ability to deal with their true feelings. By covering painful feelings over with anger, it makes them feel empowered, though only temporarily and at the risk of causing even greater harm. What makes this especially threatening is that as a society we have succumbed to this addiction without knowing that we are anger addicts. So whether it is a heckler at a political rally, your co-worker or boss who is in a bad mood, your spouse who snaps at you angrily for no apparent reason, or the countries who are war torn, filled with anger and hate toward their rivals, it all emerges as a result of our desire to numb ourselves with anger from any feeling of pain. If we actually sat down with one another and shared our vulnerabilities, then perhaps we could begin to learn to compromise again. The great psychologist Carl Rogers said, “What is most personal is most general.” When it comes down to the basics, we all want the same things.
So how do we start to change the dynamics of our addiction? We begin to see the call for love in every individual who is brimming with hate and anger. We understand that they are hurting deeply for them to behave in such a way. And by doing this, we ensure that we will not react in kind by battling with them, by entering the fray, by resenting and hating back.
The next time you experience this type of rage by someone, it is better to respond as I did at the rally, with great sadness, recognizing that that individual is in great pain. It is only then that we can begin a conversation of respect and mutual nurturance. Also, the next time you find yourself becoming angry, can you recognize internally your need for understanding and acceptance? As you practice learning not to react, can you begin to recognize the call for love in both yourself and others? Are you courageous enough to open the underlying wound, and with love and nurturance begin to cleanse the painful feelings that created it? I was just wondering………………………..