Articles & Essays

If Left Alone, Small Unseens Become Things We Cannot Unsee

By January 6, 2021No Comments

Today, people have broken into the U.S. Capitol building.  As is my wont, my initial reaction was one that leans center-left. Shock.  Outrage.  Sadness.  Fear.  And along with many friends who posted and re-posted on social media, I openly wondered why the Capitol was protected by heavily-armed National Guardsmen during the Black Lives Matter marches, while the need to protect the Capitol against people of European descent– oh I’ll just say it: “white people”– who actually invaded the place was much less, er, “impressive.”

And the question many ask is, “how did it come to this?”

It came to this not because of perceived election fraud. It came to this because “small matters” have been left unchecked and uncured in the hearts and lives of the deceived.

I get a fair number of people who come to me for help with “anger issues.”  Admittedly, I’m not an expert in it, but the literature and treatment of anger management problems usually circles around recognizing your emotional state (by recognizing your heightened physiological state) and then, by dint of practicing relaxation exercises, calming yourself.  Along with these, there is also the question of “what makes you angry” that needs to be asked, so that we can prepare people for “triggering” circumstances.  

But very often, what we do not ask often enough is, “why are you angry?” Most of us respond to that question “what makes me angry”:  

“I’m angry because my ex-wife won’t let me see my kids.”  

“I’m angry because my boss won’t get off my case.”

“I’m angry because that man disrespected me.”

But that is not what I’m asking. The question, “why are you angry” is meant for you to look beyond the circumstances that elicit that anger and into the purpose of anger itself. Contrary to the ideals of the Vulcan race, our emotions are essential parts of our lives because they convey vital information about who we are, what we value, and the hope we have. If you are curious, here is why I think we get angry:

“I’m angry because I feel disempowered, insignificant, and unloved, and I want to get back my sense of power, significance, and being loved.”

I titled this little blog musing this way because even as I keep flicking back and forth between news tabs and this post, the scenes that have unfolded have reminded me of how the small, “secret” work of intense relational encounters is essential to unwinding the evils that fester in the dark. I have not yet had a client who openly planned seditious violence (which, by the way, is reportable to the authorities), but I have had many clients tell me that they felt like breaking the teeth of the wicked. And instead of censuring them and saying “bad boy”, my task is to ask, “what stopped you from doing it?” Then, if we can, we inculcate empathy and understanding by wondering about the tangled webs in which we all live. A racist lives in fear.  A sexist is enslaved to ignorance.  A person who plans violence does not know how to use their words.  And instead of reacting in anger, we react with compassion– a suffering with and for the evil that resides in people who have been born and bred in sinful systems of oppression.  

We cannot cease to work for justice in the big things.  We need overhauls of government, policing, education, and health care.  We need housing, food security, addiction treatment, and expanded coverage of mental health.  We need so much to change for justice to be done!

But we cannot, must not, forget the small things.  The tiny tickles of fear that lead to hatred.  The inability to be vulnerable that leads to anger.  This is not so that we all can become namby-pamby “snowflake” liberals. No, those who can carry with them the entire weight of human experience and can be appropriately angry and appropriately vulnerable are actually those who have the strength and wisdom to do so.  It will not come in an hour, it will not come overnight.  It will come when we, over much more time, gaze at our mortal flesh and learn to confess, “forgive me, forgive them– we are in this together after all. Lord, have mercy then, upon us all.”

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