Peaceful Anger: Surrendering Our Need to Fight in Response to Fear

For this morning's HK Dialogue Hour, which was a follow-up on the screening and filmmakers' Q&A of Disturbing the Peace, we looked at our own identities and how they contribute to our experience of privilege and victimhood. We were tasked to read Charles Eisenstein's 2019 Cobb Peace Lecture. A few hours later, Brain Pickings' midweek pick-me-up, Ursula K. Le Guin on Anger, landed in my inbox. I read these two articles in the context of my Facebook feed was blowing up with outrage over protests and unrest in Kenosha, WI triggered by another police shooting of a black man as well as Hong Kong police changing the narrative about the 21 July 2019 mob attacks in Yuen Long in reaction to pro-democracy protests. I was also reading an OCCRP investigative report on the Beirut blast. So there was a lot for people around the world to be angry about. That's why this quote from Le Guin's "About Anger" essay struck me:

"What is the way to use anger to fuel something other than hurt, to direct it away from hatred, vengefulness, self-righteousness, and make it serve creation and compassion?"

I found the answer in Eisenstein's lecture:

The third pillar of a peace narrative is to end the internal war and to develop a peace narrative inside of ourselves. It is to heal the wound of self-rejection, and thus to remove the psychic engine of war – the division of the world into us and them, good and evil, me the good person and them the bad person. The best, easiest way to establish your identity as a good person (and meet the need for self-acceptance) is in contrast to the evil people. So, are you willing to give that up? Are you willing to give up having been right all along?
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The point here is not that anger or hatred are wrong. It is that the energy of anger is neutralized when it is diverted towards symptoms rather than causes. It is that hatred is based on a misdiagnosis of cause. They lead either to revenge, defeat, or endless war.
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What's the alternative?
The alternative comes from an entirely different place: interbeing. It starts by asking, Why?

A mark of victimhood is asking, Why me? But the moment we start seeking to understand the bigger, deeper, interconnected picture -- Why are things the way they are now? -- that's when we use our anger as a guide to seeing more of reality rather than as a crutch to get through a distorted reality. Eisenstein does a brilliant job dissecting our war mentality and illuminating us on how deeply ingrained this mindset is in the evolution of our systems.


Dismantling this war mindset begins with the courage to be honest about our intentions. Are we asking why in order to condemn or to comprehend? Are we seeking to confirm our own worldview where we are right or to expand our worldview to include the experiences and perspectives of those who have angered us, those who have hurt us, even those who hate us (which really stems from fear of not knowing us)?


In the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich Democratic) world we take safety for granted; freedom from fear is supposed to be a given. Or at least, we're supposed to be able to, because didn't we create institutions to safeguard us and our freedoms? This may explain why we are so terrible at dealing with our fears; we can't deal with something we are supposed to be free from. This thinking, of course, is another mark of privilege. As Le Guin reminds us:

My fears come down to fear of not being safe (as if anyone is ever safe) and of not being in control (as if I ever was in control). Does the fear of being unsafe and not in control express itself as anger, or does it use anger as a kind of denial of the fear?

It may seem paradoxical, but the key to diffusing someone's anger may be in first acknowledging the fear that person's/those people's anger stirs up in us and then pausing to recognize our habitual response to that fear. Much easier said than done, especially in the heat of the moment. But that is the work of peace. And whether we believe it's worth it, ironically, usually boils down to how much pain we're feeling. Granted, these days, there are many ways to numb our fears and other emotions, but that's another post.


When we start to point figures at others for disturbing our peace, we should ask ourselves if we are willing to do the long, hard, uncertain work of birthing an alternative. That, to borrow Le Guin's insight, would be to use anger to "serve creation and compassion".

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