Why Are We So Angry?

I sliced my thumb today while using a sharp edge to open a stubborn bottle top. While it hurts, the greater distraction was the judgment: Why wasn’t I more careful? Why do I keep doing things that make life harder?

The wounded thumb accessed a deeper wound, the inner story that turns each mistake into further proof of an innate defect. Rather than a silly accident being just a silly accident, it is processed through a judgmental filter that is always looking to find fault.

When feeling “not good enough”, a little dose of judgment can assure the wounded, self-loathing place within of being more worthy/lovable/virtuous than that idiot over there. It’s a storyline that provides no healing, only a brief release of tension.

From recycling that is not placed in the proper bin to long lines at the store to poorly timed traffic lights to cut fingers…any undesirable incident can trip the judgment sensor, which insists someone must be at fault. Someone must punished or loathed from a distance.

Internal or external blame is pinned, and there’s a twisted sense of relief as I make myself right by making someone else (or myself) wrong.

This is also a core storyline in our political strife. “My life is harder than it should be, and someone out there is to blame.” Anger arises and seeks a target. Now if that anger leads us to face unpleasant realities, seek solutions, and make good faith compromises, then it has served a useful purpose.

However, increasingly we stew in our anger, which festers into rage and personal animosity. It’s no longer just about justice. It’s a desire to see our opponents demolished, and this type of anger is stoked by politicians seeking to rile up a base of supporters who see themselves as victims.

Rather than engaging in difficult conversations, negotiation, and even forgiveness, our communal currency is judgment and vengeance. See Charles Duhigg’s recent recent article on anger in The Atlantic in which he posits that we’ve lost the constructive use of anger as a means to help resolve personal and political issues. Duhigg invites us to look at the sources of our anger, to do some inner reflection, and to transmute our anger into transformation and peace.

This in no way excuses the misery inflicted by the current administration. Nor does it release us from the obligation to speak up against falsehoods and prejudice. It does, however, help explain how we got to where we are. And it does offer us an alternative path in which we can bend the arc toward justice without hating those who seem to be bending the arc in the other direction.

A few weeks ago, I hit my forehead on the corner of a shelf and could not stop the bleeding. As I drove myself to the emergency room, I felt the familiar self-judgment grip my body. But I chose to release the blame, and exhaled the storyline. I inhaled light and love into the places of constriction in my body.

By the time I got to the hospital, my heart and mind were free and clear. I was totally fine when the nurses asked me to wait a while longer so they could tend the sick child who arrived after me. I joked with the nurses as they assessed me. The technician who tended my wound thanked me for making his first patient of the day such a pleasant experience.

The choice before us is a matter for the heart. What will we do with our judgment? Whether it’s a personal mistake or a political policy that hurts the most vulnerable among us, judgment is always lurking, ready to make enemies within and without.

Can we address the issue without spewing resentment? Can we humbly take a stand or make a personal change, while remaining free and clear of toxic energy? Are we finally willing to let the light of unconditional Love enter the most damaged places within and fill the voids with healing, acceptance and forgiveness, without any strings attached?

If so, we might find ourselves freer to deal with conflict and anger constructively rather than reactively. We might discover that the idiot over there bears some resemblance to the one we judge within, and find a way to have some compassion for both. We might begin to respond to issues from our wholeness rather than our brokenness, which is the only way to heal our fractured world.