Processing Anger

(Newcomers to this blog: this is not my usual tone. This is me processing a whole lot of things the only way I know how – with a whole lot of words. I’ll get back to pulling apart some poor unsuspecting database soon enough. Probably in Azure. For now, bear with me.)

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I have a bookshelf right next to my “work” desk. On it, sits a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, simply titled Anger. I have referred to it in the past when I am overwhelmed by emotions. Anger at injustice, anger at inequality, anger at hatred, anger at other’s actions, and also anger at myself. I’m not immune from making mistakes, assumptions or selfishness. This is what it means to be human.

But it is also human to grow. To change and be changed both within and without. Someone who is committed to growth can say, “I don’t understand, but I can learn.”  Sadly, we often let our anger cut off our growth. Our lack of understanding becomes “you’re wrong”, instead of “I must learn.” This is where we fall. This is where we fail both ourselves and each other.

In Anger, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of approaching your anger with loving kindness. This is the central theme of the book. And it doesn’t just stop with approaching other people’s anger with loving kindness, it includes our own anger as well. Approaching anger with anger never works. It’s like throwing kerosene on a fire to put it out. You only fuel your own anger, and those around you. Nothing productive is gained, and much that is valuable is lost. Approaching anger with kindness, especially loving kindness, is like cool water on a hot forehead. The burning subsides slowly, gently, and the ability to think clearly returns.

This past Sunday, I logged into Twitter for the first time in many days. Someone notified me that “something important happened”, and I had better check it out. That’s when I read this:

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My immediate reaction was one of shock. It is unfortunately my default setting, and not easily changed. I have learned to manage it a little better lately, but still find myself paralyzed sometimes by the pain of seeing someone I care about get hurt. After reading the series of tweets, the blog post they referenced, and being involved in more than a few online conversations, I felt sadness, and a little ill. To think that someone who had come such a long way in their journey could be treated so badly in a community where they felt safe, was unconscionable to me.

My subsequent reaction was, as you probably suspected, anger. Who did this? Who could be so cold? Name and shame! Take this person to task for their insensitive and callous behavior. How dare they treat someone like this, especially in the vulnerable state they were in? How wrong! How mean! I’m going to….

… take a deep breath and reach for the book.

This is a situation that calls for loving kindness, not anger. The anger is never productive. The anger in us drives things away when what is really needed is to bring things closer. Examine ourselves and others more fully. Seek understanding and commonality, not dismissiveness and division. Borrowing some words directly from the master himself:

To the first person, I say this. “I see you, and I am here. I am happy to see you and glad that you are here as well. I am so very sorry that you were hurt, and especially hurt by someone who could have been trusted. I know that you are hurting, and that you will likely hurt for a long time. What I want to tell you is that things will get better. You are not alone. You have me to lean on and to listen to you. I am certain you have others as well. We are all here for you and will love and support you no matter what. Stay strong, and please let me know how I can help you, if only just to listen.”

To the second person, I say this. ” I see you, and I am here. I am happy to see you and glad that you are here as well. I understand that when we cause others pain, the pain originates from within ourselves. Often, we feel like this pain is a part of us. I do not believe that it is. Something is wounding you, burning inside you. That pain is preventing you from accepting the world as it is and being a part of it. I know that you have caused someone pain, and that never feels good, especially when it was a deliberate choice to do so.  I would love to see you let that pain go, to heal and to grow, and to become an even better person. I am willing to listen to you and help you work through that. Maybe we can make that pain go away.”

Finally, to everyone else: “I know you are angry and that you are sad. I am as well. But fueling that anger only causes more pain. It drives the wound deeper and does nothing to heal. If you need help letting go of your anger, or just want someone to listen, I am here for you. Let’s build something better.”

Parting Comments: My thoughts on transition and trans people. 

I can only imagine what it’s like to be trans. I’ve comfortably identified as male all my life. I consider it a foundational part of who I am. I have no idea what it would be like to question those foundations, but I imagine it would be terrifying. I feel incredibly happy for someone who is not only brave enough to question their own foundations, but to go through changing themselves physically and in other ways to be the person they truly want to be. It doesn’t matter where on the gender spectrum that is.

To those of you who are trying to be your true selves: I support you, and I admire you. You have chosen a very difficult path, and few will understand. Some will even allow their lack of understanding turn to fear, and from there to even worse things. When that happens, know that there are those who will support you. I am one of them.

Thanks for reading.

-David.