Angry at society appears to be the primary emotion of our time. As this angry feeling festers, it can lead to feeling hatred. Yes, there is also kindness found in society, and I do know people who are not angry. What can we do with our angry emotions so that we can turn them into a sense of being peaceful, and we don’t end up feeling hatred?
Angry at society? Why is there so much anger? We see it in the streets, in demonstrations, on social media, etc. I have my theories, but the focus of this article is not on the why, or the origin, of the anger. Instead, I write this article on anger from the perspective of mindfulness.
In mindfulness, we are urged to remain in the moment, non judgmentally. Following that suggestion, I don’t necessarily need to understand why someone is angry. Assuming anger is taking a person from their peace, I guide that person to shift their perspective and so take action in the hopes of returning that person to a sense of peace.
As a counselor and practitioner of mindfulness, I don’t perceive anger as either positive or negative. The feeling is the feeling; what I do with the feeling is healthy or unhealthy. So, anger in and of itself is not the issue. My perception and actions based on anger is the issue. Therefore, many people these days who are angry are not what bothers me. What bothers me is what they are doing with their anger.
Anger, as an emotion, has its place. Anger has been used successfully as a means of defense against danger, both physical and emotional. Anger, felt when we perceive a threat, produces in us an increase of the chemical adrenaline. This chemical prepares the body for a physical fight and later coping with the event’s emotions.
In society, whenever we feel that our ideas, beliefs, or opinions are attacked, our basic instinct kicks in, resulting in an angry response. Anger is undoubtedly the most judgmental of our emotions. It’s also the most moralistic, self-righteous, and repudiating. Most of us will defend, sometimes to the death, what we believe.
Attacking a person’s beliefs or opinions is akin to an attack on the person themself. Why? Because we are the thinker of our thoughts! In essence, if you attack my thoughts, you attack what I created, and in so doing, you attack the creator, me.
Anger is probably the only emotion that we consciously cling to. Think about the last time you felt happiest. How long did that feeling, in its intensity, last? And when the feeling drifted away, many of us say, “I wish it lasted longer.” Yet, when it comes to anger, when was the last time that feeling of anger simply drifted away? For many of us, we hold onto it, ruminating over and over the offense, which was done.
Why do we hold on to anger? Let’s examine what the emotion of anger does for us:
- It provides us with a feeling of power.
- It enables us to believe that we are in control of the situation.
- It confirms to us that we are right and correct in our stance.
Examining this list, why wouldn’t I want to hold onto anger? If I give up feeling angry, I may feel less powerful and less in control, and I may discover that I’m not entirely correct in my thoughts or beliefs. Yet, if I am willing to give over my power and control to a reflection of my thoughts, I have now opened myself up to self-examination!
Self-examination, one of the goals of meditation, can also be a means of growth. But self-examination can be scary as we uncover aspects about us that we may not wish to open or issues that even we don’t like. As we hold onto our anger, we don’t allow for this self-examination. In many cases, that which angers us in others is what we are covering up in ourselves!
As I stated earlier, anger isn’t the issue; it’s our reaction to anger, which can be an issue. Therefore I differentiate between what I call a “healthy anger” instead of “unhealthy anger.” For example, you witness an injustice and become angry as your belief system speaks to justice for all. In this example, your motivation for feeling anger is not self-righteous indignation or a sense to overpower someone “because I can.” In this example, your anger will most likely result in action toward resolving the injustice, whereby all parties involved will be granted a sense of peace. As peace overtakes the anger, one is willingly open to self-examination.
The unhealthy anger is that anger, which I hold in a self-righteous manner with no motivation or intention toward a sense of peace or self-examination.
The person who practices mindfulness, meditation, and self-examination recognizes within them a sense of peace. Note that I don’t speak of the “feeling” of peace, rather, the “sense” of peace. Feelings, such as anger and happiness, are fleeting; they come and go. Having a “sense” of peace is not fleeting. A sense of inner peace speaks to an awareness of oneself within your environment. We can feel angry, happy, sad, etc. while at the same time maintaining a sense of peace.
People such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. no doubt felt anger as part of their motivation of why they acted as they did. But a reason their actions were not violent and their rhetoric was of love is that they had a sense of inner peace. This sense of inner peace allowed them to feel the anger, yet not allowing them to betray their values.
When we feel emotions and act in unison with our core beliefs, not violating our true selves, we are at peace. We may feel anger at situations or even toward specific people. Still, in maintaining a union between those feelings and our actions with our core beliefs, we retain our sense of inner peace.
Our goal is not to stop feeling angry. Instead, our goal is to learn how to respond to anger healthily. Here are my steps for healthy anger:
- Before feeling angry, practice mindful meditation and spend time in self-examination.
- When you feel anger, find your inner peace to help change your perspective to understand the situation from everyone’s viewpoint.
- Take action in union with your core beliefs and values, which will ultimately lead to the spreading of peace.
- When the situation is over, refuse the urge to hold onto the anger. Let your inner peace overtake the anger allowing yourself time to re-charge.
I agree that there is much in our world toward which to feel anger. Use the steps above to rise to the challenge of using your anger healthily.
I’m re-writing this article to help me process my feelings and mental struggles with all that is happening in my country. I originally wrote this piece back in 2015, yet I feel it remains appropriate for 2020. I, and others, struggle with a response to what we are feeling as there are so many diverse feelings at the same time. How do we process, in a healthy way, that which we feel powerless over?
A conversation between the Optimist and the Realist
In my life, I strive to be an optimistic person, although, I think I end up somewhere in the middle between being an optimist and a pessimist. This middle area I like to refer to as “being a realist”. I’m fine with being a realist as I feel it keeps me grounded in what is happening around me and in the larger world; the good and the bad. Although, a problem in being a realist is there is little room for making a change to the events which are happening. The optimist sees potential for change while the realist simply sees what is.
Recently there’s been an onslaught of negative news in all of the media outlets. It seems that the more I hear and read the news the stronger my desire is to escape from it all. That’s the realist in me talking. I guess the realist in me is leaning toward the pessimistic end of the middle; a place along the scale I try often to avoid.
The optimist in me wants to join the thoughts and conversation with the realist. As I said, I try my best to be an optimist. If the realist in me would allow such a dialogue the optimist, how might it proceed? In the present reality of the tensions in the world, what could the optimist say without sounding either naïve or like a quote from a greeting card? What does the blend of a realist with an optimist produce?
The optimist in me views the world from the mindset that every challenge can be overcome, where peace and joy always prevail. Even if we can’t imagine how that might be true, the optimist motivates us to strive for it anyway. Without at least trying, a future full of hope will never be realized.
The joint dialogue of the optimist with the realist would take into account the difficult realities of the situations we face, yet devoid of naïve “answers”. In place of answers, we will feel a sense of hope; a hope fulfilled through practical action.
Here is what the conversation between the realist and optimist in me concluded:
- We aren’t alone. The struggles in coping with a world in turmoil are not yours or mine to struggle with by ourselves since there are many people who feel similarly. Seek out others who are feeling the same emotions as you and, instead of complaining or despairing, work together on creating practical solutions to the problems.
- We aren’t victims. A victim is a person who suffers as a result of events happening to them for which they are powerless to control. Discover the difference between what is and is not in your control. In this way, you can create reasonable expectations. Reasonable expectations allow us to actually do something resulting in our expected change. For example, it is unreasonable to make our goal that of world peace; while a goal of creating a peaceful home, work, or local community is a reasonable goal.
- Empower yourself and others. Educate yourself about the struggles and solutions tried in the past. Learn what worked and what didn’t work, figuring out why it didn’t work and what you may do differently to make it work now. Find and obtain the resources needed to carry out your goal. Our ability to work with others in finding a workable solution to problems removes the label of victim, replacing it with survivor. Although we need to be educated about the issues, it is also important to keep a balance, allowing for some news-free periods.
- Regain your power. Once we realize that we are not powerless, our desire to implement change brings about renewed strength and optimism. Recognize the power and strength that you individually, and you as a group, have. Find creative ways of using your power for the good. Do not let the power itself take over, for hubris makes one feel invincible, while in reality, even though we have power, we will not always make the proper decisions. Knowing how to learn from our mistakes is a sign of strength, for the knowledge gained from the mistake will help you to avoid that, or similar mistakes, in the future.
- Focus your energy. As I previously mentioned, our power and abilities are limited, so wisely focus your energy on those tasks which can be completed and not on those tasks you know are impossible for you to complete. No one person, or one group, can do everything.
- Empathy. As we learn about the issues affecting our world we begin to realize that many of our problems originate with us not understanding each other. We tend to view the world from our perspective and our history, failing to recognize that those with whom we may disagree are also viewing their world from their perspective and history. Finding solutions to problems presupposes that all parties agree on the nature of the problem. Empathy, placing ourselves in the shoes of another, provides us a deeper understanding of the concerns of others. By viewing the world through their eyes we will be better informed and so better prepared to find and carry out solutions, together. Empathy does not necessarily mean I agree with another’s opinion, only that I view the other’s opinion respectfully.
- Self-care. The realist in me recognizes that to accomplish all of this I will end up draining and wearing myself out. But in the union of the realist with the optimist, I recognize the need for self-care. Take time for yourself; keep up bonds with your family and friends; find activities or hobbies which do not relate to the work at hand; spend time in meditation and quiet to focus yourself.
I don’t propose these steps as solutions or answers to the problems we are currently facing. But rather as guides to keep us grounded in reality and yet passionate enough to still try to make a difference.
The “new normal” is a phrase that has entered our everyday speech, along with phrases such as “social distancing,” “physical distancing,” or “PPE.” Due to COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been changed. The questions are, how much longer will our lives be changed, and will our lives ever be what they were before?
Therefore, the idea of a “new normal” worries some people and causes many to feel anxious. Friends of mine, and some clients of mine, lament that life may never be how it was before the pandemic. Yes, that may be true. But I wonder if a return to normal is what’s in our best interest.
When we focus on the new normal, we compare our present moment with the past of a few months ago. As I reflect on the past, I recall many positive aspects of our society. Yet, I also remember many negative aspects of our society. Might it be possible that this time of “difference” within our society can also be a time to create a “new normal”? Might this present moment be an opportunity to move into the future of possibilities?
I propose a shift in perspective so that we can take the positive elements of this present time and continue them when the pandemic is no longer an issue. Instead of a return to normal, let’s proactively work toward a positive new normal, which will, over time, simply be known as “normal.”
Here are my suggestions for valuable lesson opportunities we can learn from this new normal:
Re-define the phrase new normal
Normal is what we’re used to; for months, that routine has been challenged. Longing for normal means of longing for the past. What if we look to a “new normal” filled with possibilities?
Let go of victim thinking
These events were not targeted to you individually, even if you are affected by them. A victim is a person devoid of choices. You do have options today. Some aspects of life are beyond your control, while other aspects are in your control. Learn the difference and focus on those areas you can change.
Re-connection with family
The quarantine, for better or worse, forced families together in their dwellings. No family dynamic is perfect, but has your family grown closer? Have you eaten more dinners together or started game nights? Lack of commuting to work and fewer activities and meetings provide families more time together. How can this togetherness become our new normal?
Find your peace
Anger has a way of taking over our life, spilling onto people or events we aren’t even angry about. Our society is sharing in this everyday new normal, enabling us to better understand each other in our shared experience. Take the energy of your anger and shift it to a passion of service toward society.
I grew up before the commercial use of the internet, and before the existence of social media. I recall spending much of my time with my friends in person. During quarantine, we can’t physically spend time with friends, but we can use technology for good. Spend time with your friends via the internet, where you can see each and share in a group conversation and group activities. If this interaction with your friends is new to you, how can you maintain this new normal into the future?
Be kind to others and yourself
As society tries to cope, I find that most people seem a bit nicer and more patient. We’re in this together. Many messages we hear lately are reminders to take care of ourselves during the quarantine. This is essential daily, regardless of what is happening. In the new normal, how will you continue, every day, taking care of yourself and being kind to others?
What aspects of this new normal would you like to keep moving into the future? What would you like to change or stay the same? Start making a list now for you and your loved ones. Also, share with us here or on social media so we can learn from each other.
I challenge us to shift our perspective to no longer look at this period from a negative attitude but to look at it from a positive outlook. We can then create a future filled with positive experiences. Don’t let these past few months pass us by without us walking away with healthy learning. Let’s proactively shape the future we want to live in.