Anger. There’s a lot of that out there since the election.
There’s shock, too, especially out here in California where the vote was overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, even the white vote.
And fear. With white supremacists appointed to White House jobs, hate crimes on the rise, promised deportations, the end of any reasonable efforts against climate change, and Paul Ryan salivating over dismantling not just the Affordable Care Act but also Medicare, there’s plenty to be scared about.
You can’t do much with shock and fear, so a lot of people are pushing anger. My Facebook feed overflows with rage. A friend emailed me, “Stay angry.” And I certainly get mad every time I read the news and see the latest outrageous appointment or notice that supposedly responsible reporters are treating the situation as business as usual.
But anger doesn’t work for me. I associate anger with helplessness, with failure. It’s the emotion I feel when I don’t think I can do anything about a situation.
I can’t act from anger – can’t fight, can’t speak out, can’t do anything except scream in rage and frustration. Screaming may be therapeutic for some people (not me), but it’s rarely an effective strategy for changing anything.
To act, to fight, I have to be calm and centered. I discovered this a long time ago when I was first training in martial arts. (You probably knew the martial arts connection was coming.) My karate teacher kept trying to make me mad so I’d fight harder. It never worked.
But when I was calm and centered, I was in control of what I was doing. Then I could hit or kick, or move out of the way – whatever I needed to do. All my best actions – in the dojo and in real life – have come when I was in that centered state. I can’t think of any time when I acted out of anger that I don’t regret, and most of those regrets are based on the fact that my response didn’t work, though some are based on yelling at someone unfairly.
Basically, my reaction to anger is the same as my reaction to fear.
I’m not arguing that this is universal. I have no idea how other people relate to fear and anger. I only know my own reactions. However, I will note that Zen Buddhists, at least, reject acting out of anger. If I were going to be officially spiritual in some way, I’d likely be a Buddhist, so that may have had an impact on my life.
I also know that I can’t live in an ongoing state of either fear or rage. It tears at my guts and probably does terrible things to my blood pressure, plus it leaves me on edge so that I snap at innocent people for little things.
I just took a writing break and checked some news and got angry all over again. Right now it’s hard to keep that center, hard to rein in anger so I can act. I have to pay attention to it all the time.
But I know that’s the first thing I have to do, before anything else: find my center. I have the tools: meditation, Tai Chi, Aikido, breathing. Grab whatever one’s handy and get calm.
And then act. Because I’m not just getting centered so I can get through the day. I’m getting centered so I can do what needs to be done.