Okay, I had the blog pretty well ready to go this week. It was all about cannibalism in science fiction. Lovely topic, right? Macabre and fantastic. Beyond the boundaries of most of our personal realities. (I’d like to say all of our personal realities, but, well, y’know…)
But before I talk about the macabre and fantastic, life this past week has been a bit… ugly here in the United States, and even here in my own little corner of the world. And a lot of the ugliness stems from anger.
I used to think I was the angriest person I knew. I mean, when something pisses me off, I can’t help but show it. And I get pissed off easily. My anger issues were so disruptive in grade school that it actually became my biggest personal quest to conquer my anger. I even made conquering my anger the subject of my college entrance essay for Johns Hopkins, much to my guidance counselor’s and my parents’ dismay. Too negative, they said. Too candid. Meh. I got into Hopkins. Didn’t go, at least until I got my Master’s; but I got in. I believe in being candid, in knowing myself, and in being aware of my anger so I can get hold of it before it gets hold of me. Doesn’t always happen that way, but I believe in it.
It’s funny, though, putting a lot of energy into understanding anger, and learning what makes it tick. The more you know, the more you realize how little most people know about anger, and how bad they are at controlling it. Sure, most people don’t have their tempers get written up on their third grade report cards, but… a lot of people, when they do get angry, don’t know what the hell to do about it.
Anger is important. According to my high school psychology class, love, anger and fear are the basis of all human emotion. We have all three because we need them. Anger can actually protect us, motivate us, keep us from getting stepped on, keep us from becoming lazy and complacent. It can also get us in a lot of trouble. Anger is toxic. According to WebMD, “Emotions such as anger and hostility quickly activate the ‘fight or flight response,’ in which stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, speed up your heart rate and breathing and give you a burst of energy. Blood pressure also rises as your blood vessels constrict.” Getting too angry too often, or staying angry, is not something your body is designed to do. Anger is for extreme situations.
But a lot of people let anger simmer. They can’t or won’t express it or take steps to change the situation that’s causing it. So they just let it be. They stay angry. They poison themselves, physically and emotionally. They become time bombs. The end result of this kind of anger was witnessed in the news last week in the wake of the grand jury decision which determined that Police Officer Darren Wilson (no relation that I know of) would not be indicted in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, a young man suspected of robbery whom Wilson was attempting to arrest. (Though Wilson apparently didn’t know about the robbery when their confrontation began.)
A lot of people were angry about the grand jury’s decision. Understandably so. A young man is dead. People should be angry. Whether you feel Officer Wilson is criminally liable, or whether you feel Michael Brown behaved improperly and aggravated the situation, the bottom line is that Michael Brown should not have died that day. Perhaps a pattern of mistreatment of one group of citizens by police cause Michael to be afraid and not know how to react to a police officer. Perhaps racist stereotypes caused the Officer Wilson to panic and perceive a credible threat where there was not one. Either way, it looks to me like these two young men did not receive the training they needed to get along. Now one of them is dead.
And a lot of us are angry. But anger, again, should be brief, should motivate us to take steps, to make changes, and, above all, to heal. Because you don’t legislate away racism or hatred or fear. You simply can’t. You have to heal them. Hanging on to anger to the point that we destroy the property of innocent people, risk innocent lives, or over-react to protestors, wave guns at them and call them “f___king animals,” is not going to effect change or promote healing. It’s just going to make matters much, much worse.
Where do I stand on this issue? Why am I dancing all around who was right and who was wrong? Because I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I didn’t know either of the men in question. I didn’t sit on the grand jury. I’ve read a lot about this case, but I will not commit trial by news media. So I’ll just say this:
The death of Michael Brown should be the beginning of a nationwide conversation about the use of force by police, about racism, maybe even about poverty and opportunity. But that conversation shouldn’t be held in anger, and it shouldn’t be born in violence.
Violence solves nothing. I don’t care what Time Magazine says about how these riots are a natural part of the political process. I’ll let my anger flare long enough to say that that argument is pure horse shit. Riots, war, murder… these are not political tools. They are the fear-driven and anger-driven by-products of people believing that their political beliefs are more important than someone else’s life. Never. Never ever.
Violence. Solves. Nothing. Anger is supposed to be a short burst. Get angry. Know why you’re angry. Then decide what it is you’re going to do about what made you angry, within the confines of civil behavior, and remembering that every life is sacred, including those of the Michael Browns and the Darren Wilsons of the world… and (if you’re not sick of these three words already) let it go.
You’re spot on here, Steve… and it’s a shame. I thought Mankind was more evolved than this. There must be a way to show how angry you are without risking life and property. In the end, it’s too often not your anger. Without control, anger affects freinds, family and our community in staggering and tragic ways. Oklahoma City. Virginia Tech. 9-11. Perry Hall High school. It hurts just to watch it happen. There needs to be something we can do to reign in the insanity.