I’ve been called “angry” a lot since June 5th. “Sore loser” has been rather popular as well in the passive aggressive ether of social media. “Lefty” and “liberal” have a hold on the top slots and remain my favorite slurs because, well, they’re already how I describe myself. I typically respond with either a “Yes…?” or a “Thanks!”
With the mix of them all swirling around together I’ve given more thought to the angry slam than would normally be called for. As I’m not angry in the snarling defensive animal sense the word is intended to mean, I was initially perplexed at the reason for its widespread use. And like most things I don’t understand, it’s rolled around beneath the surface as my subconscious attempts to wrestle it into submission.
I found the answer while reading a piece by Eric Foner in the June 25, 2012 issue of The Nation. In his May 13 commencement address to the doctoral candidates at Columbia, Foner acknowledges the “fading of the Enlightenment ideals that inspired the founders of this nation.” We have experienced a shift that deems any basic contemplation of events as an inability to simply accept the outcome; those engaging in such behavior are now considered sore losers.
Foner goes on:
We live in a world where scientific knowledge is subordinated to political and religious dogma, where intellect and expertise are denigrated as elitist, where demands proliferate that history be taught as an exercise in national self-congratulation, not critical self-examination. This is the frame of mind that divides the world, and America itself, into the forces of good and evil, and sees every dissenting voice as disloyalty.
Self-congratulation, not critical self-examination.
In our hurry to depict winners and losers, we have destroyed nuance. In our haste to simplify outcomes, we ignore causality and contributing factors. In our rush to the sound bite, we miss history as it happens.
And those of us pausing to consider recent history in the hopes of either replicating its success or avoiding the repeat of its failure are written off as angry. I have a request for the authoritarian mindset that demands such simplicity: stop projecting.
Don’t interpret my temporarily exhausted state of defeat as anger just because it’s how you would react in such a situation. My calm reflection and search for meaning in life’s important moments is my reaction. I’m entitled to it – as far as I know the Patriot Act and NDAA left me that right.
I prefer my way. The arc of the moral universe, as Martin Luther King, Jr. described it, is littered with such defeats as it bends toward justice. History does not bend without the weight cast off by the road weary faithful as they learn from their setbacks. Workers died fighting for their rights in the union movement. The first slaves to rebel failed to gain their freedom, often slaughtered instead. Susan B Anthony never saw her 1872 arrest for “voting while female” become the 19th Amendment.
We must work every day – every single day – to educate, demand, strategize, discover and crawl forward. And we must be ok with the thought that we will not personally benefit from our efforts. If you’re in the fight just for yourself, you won’t last long. It’s too daunting to sustain your efforts out of pure self-preservation or gratification.
And perhaps that’s the other reason I sound angry or sore or ungracious: many can’t understand the life of service to people they don’t know and will never meet. That’s ok. They don’t have to get it or even be in favor of it. I continue fighting on their behalf anyway. They can even drive on the roads, send their kids and grandkids to the schools and make use of the healthcare system I’m fighting for. I will honor their humanity and seek to care for it as I would those I care for most in this life.
I am not unable to “just be happy” and “let it go” – at least not in the pejorative way those phrases are intended. In fact, the only conspicuous piece of art I have says “Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life.” I am happy. I have found happiness so resilient that I can maintain it while glancing back and moving forward.
So I’m not angry, though not because I never am. Anger most certainly has a place.
“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,” Aristotle.
Certainly, there is righteous, useful anger. We must differentiate between the commuter screaming at other drivers and a fellow human being shaking their fist in indignation hoping others will wake up and see what is going on around them.
Our society has a rich tradition of truth tellers – and a habit of ignoring or undervaluing them. Now that communication has changed and everyone has access, it’s time to tune in, listen up and snap out of our shit-somebody-says, honey badger, cat video, sneezing panda stupor. Ok, the cat boxing the dog is pretty hilarious and I click on the link every time even though I know Charlie is going to bite his brother’s finger. But it’s a 56 second video, so we might try to consider it a break, not an evening.
With that calm dissection, I leave you a few folks who specialize in honest, visceral reaction to injustice, corruption and systemic stupidity. Call them angry if you want; I call them brilliant.
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Categories: Finding My Voice