unhappy

Self-Righteous Anger – or how to deal with life when everyone around you is losing their shit

I don’t know about you, but it is hard for me to make it through a day without seeing someone lose their shit. Maybe someone goes on a rant about how everyone should wear a mask while someone else goes on a rant how they will never be forced to wear a mask. This post is not to debate who is right, who is wrong, or how both may have some truth. What I would like to discuss is how do we deal with a world – and our friends, family and loved ones – that are all breaking apart at the seams.

For some time, we have seen that the institutions we came to rely on as never-changing beacons of truth, going through a transformation – changing, morphing and in some cases being torn apart. All the things mom always said never to talk about – religion, politics, and money – are collapsing, along with the social constructs of gender and race. The guidebook we had all been given for how things are and how they should be, has been thrown out the window.

Some of us are doing ok with this shift. We know that the way things were, was not ideal. The systems and institutions need an overhaul. I, for one, wish that it could be a peaceful and easy transition, but transition – death and rebirth – are hardly ever easy-peasy. So instead we are seeing protests, long-held secrets revealed, and collapse from the inside out.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Some of us are not doing ok in this time. Some do not want things to change. Even if they don’t like how things were, changing to the new is too terrifying for them. Instead of seeing that all of life transforms and continuously grows, some people want to blame others or create elaborate conspiracies to explain why the world they knew is falling apart. John Oliver had a great piece on this recently. To explain proportionality bias or the “tendency to assume that big events have big causes,” he compared the JFK assassination to that of the shooting of President Ronald Reagan. When President Kennedy was shot, it was too much of a shock and unbelievable that one random man could kill a sitting United States president, so a more complex theory was created to explain something of such great significance. When President Reagan was shot – and survived – no such theories were created. We didn’t need them because the impact was not as strong.

Whether those around you are buying into conspiracy theories or just being angry at this group or that group for trying to change the system (or not changing the system quickly enough), everyone is a bit on edge. Anna Madrigal from the Tales of the City series on Netflix said, “Anger is the tip of the iceberg, but it is not the whole story.” The anger-iceberg concept is what I try to use to make sense of others’ and my own anger.

Don’t Squash the Anger

Being a peace lover, I often want everyone to be free from negative emotions. My knee-jerk reaction is to try to minimize the anger. However, not acknowledging the anger or trying to minimize someone’s anger never works. The anger is a symptom, it is the tip of the iceberg not the real problem. Instead of reacting to someone’s anger, focus on the fact that a person is in pain. Don’t try to remove the anger. Just hold space for them and respect that they feel the way they feel.

Uncover the Story

What you can help someone (or yourself with) is to uncover why they feel the anger. This past week, I witnessed a few events where loved ones experienced self-righteous anger. They were incised that someone accused them of being in the wrong and proceeded to provide a litany of reasons why they should be the one accusing the other as wrong. A wise woman once told me that “everything someone says or does is all and only about them.” We shouldn’t and can’t prove someone else as wrong because they are seeing the world through their own eyes, experiences, and preferences. That will not change until they want to change. What I can find relief in is uncovering why they, or I, am feeling so much emotion around an issue. When I can identify that, I have something tangible to address or at least just understand.

Discern When to Act

The Serenity Prayer has become a mainstay for me lately. This prayer teaches us to not accept everything as it is, nor to always take righteous action to change others, but to discern what needs to be said and done – and by who. If you are triggered by someone else’s actions or their anger, decide if what you want to say is true, necessary, kind, and helpful.  Lately I have been really trying to pause before I say or do anything. I ask if anything should be said and done, and I also ask if I am the best person to do so. If everyone took a pause before they reposted on social media, I think we would see a lot less negativity out there.

I wish I could tell you that the transition the world is going through right now will be over quickly and smoothly, but I don’t think so. Welcome to the new normal. Be open to new ways of thinking and being. Respect the opinion and struggles of others. Create good boundaries to protect yourself. And have hope that what is on the other side will be better for all.

peace

Let Peace Begin with Me

Ten seconds on Facebook or any newscast will find one instantly overwhelmed with fear, hatred, anger, sorrow, and hopelessness. For my own health and sanity, I had long ago decided to remove myself from the fearmongering of the media and the one-sided rants on social media. That does not mean I keep my head in the sand and hide from the realities that are happening. It just means I do not allow myself to be addicted to the negativity.

I do need to be informed and I also feel I have a responsibility to help bring a positive change to the world. The question I have is how do I best support the betterment of society. As duality is one of the world’s core issues today, it is hard for me to join any groups fighting for rights because, although their heart is in the right place, they are still caught up in the belief of duality. The question I posed to myself is how am I supposed to bring understanding, compassion, and hope to the world.

I learned long ago that we can not change others. In my coaching, I can only inform, provide objective insight, and introduce new concepts. We can lead the horse to water, but it is not in our power to make them drink. If you speak to any parent, they can tell you well that they are powerless to make their children act a certain way and in fact, their instructions and demands are often ignored or countermanded. I know I have often done the opposite of what my parents demanded, just to prove that they could not control me. In the same way, I can not make anyone change their mind or behaviors. What I can change is my own thinking and behaviors. The answer to how I can help change the world is by living the way I hope the world can be. What I can do is be the image of how we all can act if we choose, therefore encouraging others to join the peaceful bandwagon.

By changing my thinking and my actions, I hope to be a beacon for others. Not that I do it perfectly, but I can do my best to show a different way than hate and attack and separation. I hope that my focus on love, compassion, empathy, and understanding starts a ripple that will help at least one other individual to experience life more positively and at best creates a wave of change.

I can practice the nonviolence of Gandhi who said, “I am certain that if we want to bring about peace in the world, there is no other way except that of nonviolence. . . . The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.” When I feel angry, instead of fighting, judging or labeling, I try to find common ground.

I can follow Saint Francis of Assisi who said, “Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart.” My gut reaction is to look to the other – what they are doing wrong and what they need to fix. What is more productive is to look at my own thinking, my own anger, and to make inner peace first.

I can follow Thich Nhat Hanh and be the voice of reason and calm in midst of fear. Instead of focusing on my own fear and worry, I can think of others and make choices that benefit the whole.

In all the crazy that 2020 has brought us, I thought I needed to do. What I am learning is I need to be. Be centered. Be peaceful. Be compassionate. Be empathetic. Be present. My friend often says that waiting is an action and now I am learning that holding space, being present, and exuding peace is a powerful healing action too.

This week stop trying to change how others act and first change how you react and live. Are you spreading the acceptance, compassion, and peace you want to experience? If not, what can you shift to make your own footprint closer to that desired path?

“You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one / I hope someday you’ll join us / And the world will be as one” – John Lennon Imagine

student learning

Surrounded by Teachers

Seeing the discord in the United States is very painful for me, as I am sure it is with others. In a recent article from the Center of Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr shared a practice of learning from others which really resonated with me at this time.

To me, attacking the wrongs of others, does not help. Debating the issues does not solve them. Voicing support for those marginalized does send some good vibes but does not seem to do enough. Blaming government or other institutions as the cause of this discord, resolves nothing.

If we want to make a difference in the world, the first and truly only thing we can change 100% is ourselves.

Instead of pointing at others, instead of feeling a powerless victim, instead of showing support but taking no action, look to yourself. Cultivate authentic solidarity as Richard Rohr recommends. Instead of speaking from a point of privilege, shift to understanding the world and experience of the other. Seek understanding and acceptance. Step out of the ego-role of being a savior, helper, warrior, or prosecutor, and instead be with the other.

Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo on Unsplash

Try this today. Look at each person you meet – in person, online, in the news – and view them as your teacher. If they are inspirational, if they share knowledge you do not have, if they treat others as you aspire to, uncover what can you learn from them. How can you embrace their good qualities? Which ones are missing from your life that you can begin to adopt? The same goes for those acting in ways you do not condone. They are your teachers as well. Which of their negative characteristics do you have as well? Perhaps they do not appear in the same way, but how are you selfish, self-centered, dishonest, frightened, and judgmental? How can you change how you speak, act, and approach the world in a better way?

I used this same type of mentality when I was learning to be a theatrical director. By watching other directors – how they treated the cast, how they interpreted the text, how they worked with the creative team, how they handled pressure – I picked up clues about how to be a director. Honestly, I learned more from the less talented directors than I did from the good ones. It is like trying to learn how to play basketball from Michael Jordan. He made it look easy and magical. Instead, by watching someone who does not perform as well, it is easier to see what they are doing wrong or what they can improve. And then I look at making those improvements in myself.

Because my heart goes out to all those in pain and suffering right now, I find it much more productive and calming to focus on what I can change. I am learning of my own prejudice. I am learning how I assume I know how others should act and think I can make them act that way. I am learning how attachment to my expectation causes pain.

As you go about this week, instead of commenting on the actions or words of others, look to them as your teachers. What can you learn about yourself to help you be a better person?