Last night I was reading Rebecca Traister’s 2018 book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. In the first couple chapters she focuses on the history of social justice movements in the United States, and on the putrid behavior exposed in the 2016 election. Disappointing and unsurprising, it’s so relevant to the present that I kept flipping through to double check the publishing date to make sure she hadn’t released her work, like, today. Despite this dark reality, I was able to gain some clarity on one thing in particular: the tight bond between love and mass anger.
For anyone just tuning into the current events:
WHERE THE F&%$ HAVE YOU BEEN.
Covid-19, a.k.a. Corona Virus: It’s Getting Real, has been whipping things up like a global Santa Ana wind. Large segments of our nation’s population are fearing for their safety and sanity: people with compromised or delicate immune systems, workers and business owners faced with rapid loss of income, parents facing the daunting tasks of homeschooling or securing emergency childcare, the uninsured's inability to access healthcare, people trapped with their mental illness or the mental illness of their quarantine-mate/s, and so on. Signing onto social media can exacerbate anxiety and feelings of neglect or isolation, weighing one’s own fears against the range of privilege expressed online. Collectively we feel many things. One of them, undeniably, is anger.
We are being told to soften our anger, that it is of little to no help in these times. In Good and Mad, Traister shares various examples throughout political history when the softening of anger for others’ convenience has resulted in little more than maintaining unjust status quo, causing further harm to marginalized bodies, and elevating dangerous myths that empower white heteropatriarchal supremacy and economic disparity.
My friends, I don’t agree that we are existing in a time where softening our anger is the morally superior way to go. Though I feel confident that collectively we are making strides to emerge from previously held beliefs that anger is toxic, negative, or a secondary emotion, it’s worth repeating that anger is its own bag, and you have the power to either isolate it or link it with a wide variety of other emotions to fit your cause. You may choose to unite your anger with hate, if that’s what serves you or your belief system. I choose anger because I choose love.
I have believed for quite some time that love is not the secret of the universe, nor is it some powerful driving force within us. I believe that the “secret” to the universe is connection, and love is the chemical reward we experience when we attain a connection that feels supportive or visceral. When I say, “I love you”, I mean that somewhere on a long spectrum of bondedness, I feel connected to you. It could be in that moment, or a general experience of consistent connection felt over time. This is why we can’t provide a neat and tidy definition of love: because there isn’t only one way to connect with one another.
There is deep, powerful love to be found in mass anger. When we join together in the passionate, brilliant bond to stop hurting and start living, we are existing in a state of love. Look around-- how many of us have acknowledged the interconnectedness of our current crisis, and allowed that to bring us to a point of breaking open and surrendering to kindness? How many of us have been inspired by the warmth, empathy, and service of others, all the while knowing full well that an insatiable rage is bubbling just beneath the collective surface, just daring the government to make one more punkass move? We are not kind instead of our anger. We are not kind despite our anger. We are in love with each other because we are angry together.
While individualized anger is not “wrong” by any means, it does risk interconnectedness. When something or someone is registered as a direct threat, we put up walls to protect ourselves. In these moments, we are the center of our universe, and all of our energy needs to go toward protecting the self. When sustained over time, this energy will pull our vision almost exclusively inward, and we might begin to adopt narratives that we are all alone in our experience. By the very simple nature of how this works, it makes perfect sense that one might feel a loss of love. If this is you right now, don’t feel shame. Your body is highly intelligent (even when our aches, pains and illnesses may want us to believe otherwise), and it’s doing what it can to protect itself. Thanks, body! But if you’re finding yourself growing bitter and hopeless, perhaps allow even just one eye to gaze outward. This does not mean that your feelings aren’t real and that if you share your experience then it will trivialize your anger and you’ll start wearing canvas pants and bloom into some patronizing faux bodhisattva.
Rather, it could mean that you have more support and more resources to help remove this threat that your mind and body have so brilliantly been protecting you from. If more than one person is angry about the same thing, that is an indication of a larger problem. With all the wisdom and insight you’ve gained from fighting things alone, you have tools to help others who are dealing with similar issues. There is power in numbers, and for the love of your cause, you stand a much better chance at change if you band together. Love is complex and expresses itself in infinite ways. One way might be to say, “I don’t deserve this, and neither do you. Let’s work together and beat this thing.”
I’m not totally sure what exact changes need to be made, and I can’t prescribe any generalized cure to the fears and suffering we’re seeing around us at this time. However, I do know from experience that love has the power to create miracles, and anyone who is floating on air after a first kiss, great night out with friends, or witnessing a new milestone for their child, knows that love can make us feel like we have superpowers. Imagine the distance we could go if we combine these superpowers with our collective, justified anger. That sounds like a beautiful revolution to me.
Enjoy being madly in love with one another this week.
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