Rage and Joy

There’s nothing wrong with efficiency, but sometimes easy bypasses create and amplify the very issues they’re intended to avoid.

I think the above is true in the realms of travel, relationship, leadership, learning – and in this case, emotions.

Specifically anger, rage, and other feelings we avoid or quickly file under “negative”, “bad”, “damaging”, or “dangerous.”

For context, we live in a cultural moment suffused with fear-driven division, blame, emotional (and spiritual) separation, and yes, anger, rage, and violence. The stuff is everywhere.

Yet if we really look and listen, we’ll hear leaders, speaking in the wake of violence, say things like: “This is not who we are. We’re better than this.”

Yes, of course we’re better than this… and yes, this is exactly who we are!

Can I get an amen for paradox?

I’m not going to go too deep into Shadow 101, but if you’re observing the wars, (both shooting and culture varieties) episodes of mass gun violence, rise of authoritarianism, and attacks on free speech, (from both ends of the political spectrum) yet somehow can’t find the spark of each of these things internally, there’s likely some work to be done.

If you honestly hate, as in feel hatred, that these things are happening, that’s worth noticing.

And before you accuse me of projecting, let’s take a minute to look closer.

It’s wildly common to look out at the troubled world as a sympathetic spectator. After all, it’s got to be so hard to wake up in a war zone, to find peace in a hard, violent place, to raise children over “there.”

“There is no there there,” said Gertrude Stein. While she was talking about her childhood home of Oakland, California, I’m repackaging her words for my own purposes. Thanks, Gertrude.

In this case, let’s bust the notion of “there” as some otherworldly place we can point to, or look away from, as if it’s so far away, so very alien, as to be of no concern.

On a small blue planet, there is indeed no there there. There is only an ever present, palpable here. Now.

And here, I can certainly try my best to pretend that whatever rage inspired a mass shooting at a Louisville bank or an Alabama sweet-16 party has nothing to do with me. I can attempt to distance myself from the delusion and desperation behind a despot’s invasion of a sovereign nation or the crazed violence of rival generals vying for power in Sudan. I can pretend that others putting bullets in the heads of young people for ringing the wrong doorbell or driving up the wrong driveway doesn’t rend my heart…

But what does closing my eyes to all that say about me, about my relationship to my world? About my responsibility and legacy?

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that one is obliged to glue themselves to the news every moment of every day. That’s a set up for endless overwhelm.

I am strongly suggesting learning to feel, and to allow oneself to fully experience those feelings.

Not all of it at once. That too would be overwhelming.

Let’s get down to the reason this piece is entitled “Rage and Joy”, shall we?

Bottom line, because both live on the emotional continuum, hence they’re related.

“How is that?”

I’m so glad you asked.

Think of rage as anger amplified by voicelessness, powerlessness, and/or invisibility. If you reflect on your own experiences of livid outrage, for instance, you’ll likely find that there was something you were angry about, and you weren’t being listened to. Maybe no one was paying attention, no one saw you, or worse, no one who mattered seemed to care.

Maybe recalling your worst-ever customer service experience will get you there?

If that doesn’t work, think of an angry 4-year-old to whom no one is paying attention.

A slow build that soon elevates to rage served on a big-eyed, loud silver platter.

If you found your own example, what did you want?

I’m guessing you’d want exactly what the angry 4-year-old wants: To be seen and heard. To have your voice acknowledged. To be advocated for, listened to, maybe even protected, knowing you belong and you’re loved.

One thing I love about young kids is that they can move so quickly between emotional extremes. A little real attention, listening, love, and care can go a long way in a short time. In a few heartbeats, the previously raging child is laughing and playing again, reconnected to their joy.

Sure, it usually takes longer for a sophisticated adult to cross the divide from rage to love and joy. We have a habit of letting our minds complicate things. It can still be a surprisingly short journey, though.

The key is allowing the full experience of emotions most of us have been taught to avoid or just plain deny.

Of course, we know the suppressed stuff will eventually find its way to the surface. Whether through distorted outbursts, physical maladies, destructive behaviors, addictions, passive aggression or other forms, those disowned feelings find their way, often whilst doing enormous, unnecessary damage leading to even deeper pain and separation.

Don’t know about you, but I think facing and feeling this stuff consciously, in ways that harm no one, is a better way to go.

Back to the bigger picture of the culture, which tends to conflate the emotional experience of anger, and particularly rage, with violent acting out. They’re not the same thing. Truth is, conscious adults – human beings with a modicum of self-awareness and impulse control – are capable of feeling a broad spectrum of emotions, including rage, deeply, without doing damage to themselves or others.

That’s the good news.

The bad news? To make our way past the fear cultural myths use to wall-off emotions takes practice, discipline and, most of all, a willingness to experience and observe our own discomfort… without placing blame or reaching for old, reactive tendencies.

Why bother going through all that?

I can think of many reasons. For one, while it’s not automatic and there are no promises, the possibility of experiencing new levels of love and joy lives on the other side of taking responsible ownership of the dark stuff, rage and all.

But I think the most compelling reason is this: If we don’t face, feel, accept, and take full ownership of our current flood of fear, separation, and rage, we risk giving those emotions dangerous, distorted power over us, making it far more likely that we’ll do irreparable damage to ourselves, to others, and the planet.

The choice, as uncomfortable as it’ll be in the short-term, is clear.