Many of us are angry these days. Perhaps there has always been anger hovering just under the surface. But in the past year, it has surfaced and grown exponentially.
I have been thinking a lot about anger. My anger. That of those who hold different beliefs than I hold. Those who are in a situation that is different than my situation. And I wonder if, just possibly, it boils down to being “unheard.”
Hear me out. Let’s start with my assumption that most people want the same things – making it simple….we want peace, safety, freedom, and prosperity. It is the definition of those terms that causes conflict.
How do you resolve conflict? You talk. You discuss. And most of all you listen. You ask questions to try to understand, you listen to the answers with an open mind.
Ah, that might be the challenge.
It is difficult to have an open mind when you are angry. Particularly if that anger has festered below the surface for a long time.
I fear that we have a very angry country right now. Clearly, we are divided, fractured.
I can only look into my own anger to try to figure out what is causing it, and I can feel the anger grow when I feel as if I am not being heard. I position my points in the discussion…they are cogent and logical – but probably just scratching the surface of what’s really going on in my emotions. And the other party shares their opinion, perhaps laced with some of their anger, and I don’t feel heard. So I restate my point more emphatically, more forcefully. And perhaps laced with a bit of my own anger. And off we go.
Now we have two angry people who don’t feel heard. That hurts. It feeds the anger.
We move from trying to convince another that we are right to, eventually, name-calling. How’s that working for us?
I have friends and family members who have become more angry and more strident in their anger in the last four years. It felt to me like each Tweet brought out issues to the surface that had been festering for a long time. They were thrilled to dispense with political correctness. They were excited to see the possibility of dealing with the expanding immigrant population. Perhaps they were excited that special treatment for minorities had come to an end, and we could get back to “normal.” At the beginning of the four years, I was actually right there with them.
For me, and I can only speak to my own thoughts, I began to see an “either/or” emerge, along with an emboldening of speaking out about things that were taboo to be discussed outright. That concerned me. It felt like there was a gauntlet being thrown that said, “We’ve stayed silent for too long, and now we speak.”
The realization that the “either/or” seemed wrong to me led me on a path of reading, talking, and pondering. It led me on a path to see the world differently. In particular, a picture of black America emerged for me after the death of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor. Over months of reading and reflecting, I caught a glimpse of a people that had, perhaps, been unheard for many years, and as the post-death riots erupted, I looked at our country differently.
I saw a country that was still fighting the Civil War, as well as a group of Americans that had been trying, unsuccessfully, to be heard for 200 years.
I read about the Jim Crow laws – I’d heard the term but never thought much about it. The more I read, the more I realized that while slavery ended with the end of the Civil War, in some cases it returned in the form of laws that messaged that blacks were somehow inferior. That message, while subtle, was loud and remained in the historical memory creating a systemic anger of a large group of American citizens who felt unheard.
If you are interested in a succinct, metaphorical history of the evolution of Blacks in America, read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste.
While the 1960s saw formal elimination of those laws, the mindset was cemented in the American people. We legislated the heck out of equal everything, but as we know, the legislation only fosters compliance, not commitment. To truly change our culture, we need commitment, not compliance.
But in the land of the free, blacks could protest, and protest they did. How long do you protest and not be heard before the protests escalate?
Fast forward to recent time. There are many American citizens who, today, mourn what could have been. They are my family, my friends, and my acquaintances. And I cannot have a conversation with them. They are angry. They feel unheard.
How long does this group protest and not be heard before the protests escalate? Perhaps this was a much shorter window.
I’m not excusing any of it. Rioting is wrong. Looting is wrong. Destruction of property is wrong. Violent loss of life is unforgivable. It doesn’t matter who perpetrates and who is the victim. It is wrong.
Could we start there? If we can’t agree on that, there may be no reason to continue. But if we can agree, then there is only one path forward. To seek the root cause and fix it. For all. That requires dialogue with an open mind and an open heart. That requires putting away the defensive shield we unveil when we think someone is challenging our beliefs. That requires asking questions to clarify intent and content.
That’s hard to do when you’re angry. It’s hard to do when I’m angry. I don’t know of another way out of this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
We need to allow everyone to feel heard.