I have often been frustrated and had that frustration boil over into anger. Most often, I am angry with myself, especially how my anxieties overwhelm me. My kids would confirm that I am not a good boat owner. I anticipate something bad happening. My anxiety often turns boating into an unpleasant experience. I am still working on this issue, but at least I am aware my own anxiety is not a reason to be angry.
There was massive anger that fueled the American Civil War. The people of the southern states were angry that outsiders thought they could tell them what to do with the people they owned as slaves. That anger was so intense it sparked the formation of a confederacy of those states who wished to create their own country where slavery would be legal. How much of that slaveholder anger was fueled by an internal anxiety of what would happen if slavery was illegal?
I heard anger expressed toward people who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline. I wonder if some of that anger wasn’t generated by anxiety on what would happen if American Indians were able to stop the construction of the pipeline under the Missouri River just north of their nation. What if the courts and the federal government started taking the Indian’s side on treaties, environmental protection, cultural preservation and voting rights?
There was a lot of anger expressed in Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency in 2016. That anger was likely driven by anxieties as well. People were anxious that outsiders would tell them what they could or couldn’t do. Much like the confederacy, the coalition that elected Trump wanted to preserve their current way of life. Mining coal, pumping oil, building pipelines and keeping minorities in their place. Those who benefited from the way things were didn’t want change. People seeking change made them angry.
Not all anger is generated by self-interest or anxiety. It is possible for a majority population to be angry at injustice to minority populations. It is often the majority, the privileged portion of a society, that creates the change that benefits the minority. Men voted to give women the right to vote. White people fought and died to end the enslavement of black people. It was Christian nations that created Israel and liberated concentration camps. Jewish rabbis protested Trump’s Muslim ban.
The brutal treatment of adults and children seeking sanctuary in the United Sates makes us angry. Aristotle said, “Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
Politicians stoke anxiety-based public opinion to justify brutality. Politicians are the right people to feel the anger of people of all faiths who know that brutality needs to stop. We have seen the picture of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria, who drowned seeking safety. No ignorant fear of immigrants can justify their deaths.
Bill Bullard said, “Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self-kind of understanding."
The majority of Americans have that highest form of knowledge, empathy for suffering people. Politicians who promote fear and ignorance need to feel the anger of the majority. Let us find the right way.