On the Value of Anger

I’m going to write a really long thing, and I’m pretty sure everyone in America is going to disagree with me for this, but I think it needs to be said. It’s also rambly. Also, this post has NOTHING to do with books, so if you don’t care about/are sick of politics, feel free to move along.


When I was first married, I managed some campus computer labs. It was a quiet night, snowy outside, most of the students were gone and I was done studying, just passing time. This lady walked in, wrapped in a thick coat and carrying a really heavy backpack. She came up to my desk and said, “You’ll think I’m a silly girl, but I need help with my computer.”

I spent the next few hours with her, helping her doggedly type out her paper, helping her format, showing her the basics of Word, and while I did this, we talked. She was a refugee from Uganda. The war in that country had torn it apart, and her family had died. She, at the age of ten or thereabouts, was captured by a warlord. She got away, obviously, and eventually wound up in that school, on that night.

We talked a lot about the people that helped her, rehabilitated her, the things that had to happen in order for her to turn from being that girl owned by a warlord to the young woman sitting typing out a paper in a university. We talked about how much action was required to change a situation, and how much determination, not just by the individual herself, but by society as a whole.

I have never been a person who likes to sit idly by. Talking to her, in some ways, fundamentally changed my perspective on the world and my place in it. A week later I announced to my husband that I was doing a book drive. I gathered together about 1500 school books, and a few hundred dollars in donations, and I shipped them off to schools in a few different African nations, schools for girls. Education will change the world.

You see, what talking to her made me realize is the fact that we, people, save each other. We make our messes, and we have to clean them up. We have to help our fellow man in order to survive. I fundamentally, in the core of my soul, believe that this world will succeed or fail based on our actions, both yours and mine.

I believe in action. I believe in getting my hands dirty and making a change, being the difference. I believe that we can rise above our challenges by actually rising above them, by refusing to be tethered by circumstance or situation, by not letting “power” and those who think they have it, cow us. Entire civil rights movements were formed this way. People’s lives have been fundamentally altered this way, a young girl got away from a warlord in this way.

There are a lot of tensions right now. A lot. And I feel them all. I am hurt, angry, terrified. I am so many things that it’s hard to put a name on them all, and I’ve addressed it on my various social media platforms so I won’t go into it again here. But I’m trying to keep that in mind. In the future that we are about to enter, our fellow man will need our help and service now, more than ever before. I urge people to be civil servants, to help where help is needed, to give what you can afford to give, to lend help to those marginalized communities, and never forget that by helping someone else, you are helping yourself, and your world as well. Doing this is letting everyone know that the government might not forget you, might marginalize you, might feel like your rights are something that should be bartered because they know better, but we never will. We won’t forget you. We won’t let you fade away and become forgotten. We, the people, will stand up for you. You fit with us, because you are us. Power and authority only goes so far.

It is a small thing, but it is a way to fight, and it is powerful. It creates ripples. It births change.

This morning I was catching up on podcasts. I’m a practicing Buddhist (though I lose the path occasionally, I always come back to it) and today’s Dharma talks were about three things: Anger, uncertainty, and change. Very applicable for how I’m feeling right now. These three topics were exactly what I needed to hear for the current social situation.

There is a very real power with anger, and I think anger is a valid thing to feel. It should be felt. I’m absolutely furious, I’m so furious I’m aching inside, burning from it. But I think there is a way to feel that anger, and channel it into good means. The fundamental question I’ve been asking myself is, How am I improving the world I live in? How can I improve it? How can I take all of this stuff eating at me inside, and try to make it into something better for my family, my community, my future? How can I take my anger, and create with it?

If I was starving, and someone found me and they had food in their hand, I wouldn’t want them to stand next to me and rant and shout about how horrible it is that I’m starving. I’d want them to give me that food. In a broader scope, I think that’s what we need to keep in mind right now. We need to be angry. We should be angry. We need to let our concerns and voices be heard, and damn it, we need to stand up and refuse to sit down. We need to defend what we believe in, but we need to remember that actions speak louder than words, and if we band together, we can change the world through those actions. We have the power to do that.

People are so incredibly powerful.

The violence that has erupted makes me sick. I don’t care what side of the line people are on, there is no excuse for violence. Period. I am saddened, anguished that our country has divided so deeply that smashing and burning buildings is the answer some people seek. I’m upset that racism has spread so rampantly and hungrily. We are better than this. People are better than this, and we need to rise above it. Neither side is innocent.

I will never stand on the side of violence, or bigotry, regardless of the politics behind it. We are more than this. This is not a discourse, this is not an exchange of ideas, this is not progress.

I refuse to live in a world of fear, and that fear is coming from both sides. A man just won a powerful office based on a campaign of fear, and now the other side is afraid for their rights, their health, their lives. Fear is everywhere. It’s a bomb just waiting to go off. It’s a virus that spreads and infects everyone it touches. I can’t live in a life where I’m just waiting for the government to come and haul my loved ones away. I refuse to give anyone that much power over me.

But I can act. I can stand up, and say, “This is not okay. I won’t stand for it. I will do everything in my power to keep you safe.” And then I can act.

I don’t have the answers, and I won’t pretend to, but I do think an Us vs. Them dialogue is a huge part of what got us into this mess. The truth is, a gigantic chunk of America felt (and feels) left out of their own country, and they are reacting. Right or wrong, that’s the heart of it. Now, we can either yell at them and call them fools, or we can try to understand why they feel that way and what pushed them to this point. What pushed us, the other side, to this point? We are coming at things from other directions, and dialogue and discourse is essential to move us forward and bridge the gap that is dividing our society.

Progress, any kind of progress, stops when we stop seeing the other side as people, when we stop seeing disagreements as learning opportunities. It stops when we think burning our way through a city is a viable option, rather than listening in an effort of finding common ground, and acting in service to those who feel like they have been forgotten, regardless of their personal ideals. Progress is forgotten when we forget that helping you, helps me, which in turn helps us.

I am scared. I am sad. I feel homeless in my own country. I am worried about the violence. I am an outsider looking in. I don’t agree with anything happening. I don’t like it. I have felt sick for days.

But I’m trying. I’m trying really hard. This is the world I woke up to, and I am fighting it in my own way. I’m doing service with my daughter, volunteering to make the world a better place, acting as a safety net where I can, and speaking out when I can. I’m writing letters to Very Important People. I’m trying to stay in touch with the disabled community and various organizations affiliated with us to help where I can in that regard. I’m also talking to the people I disagree with. I do disagree with them, but they are people, and they are just as upset as I am (though for different reasons). We are two sides of the same coin, and I am trying to understand that, because understanding them, and understanding where they are coming from is helping me understand how we got to be in this situation.

At the end of the day, I am creating a world that my children will inherit, and I cannot, and will not forget that.

Because I fundamentally believe, in the core of my soul, that we can save each other. We are the only ones who can make this work. The power is in our hands. It truly is, because we are powerful, incredible creatures. We are people, and people can move mountains. But this will only happen if we stop fighting and start talking; if we use our anger and turn it into something productive. We need to see a world we can all live in, and then work together to create it. No more Us vs. Them. This is about all of us.

Comments on this post will be HEAVILY moderated. Please be civil. Please be polite. Talk, but don’t yell.

6 Responses

  • I’m angry now too, and have had a few rants of my own, but still haven’t said all I want to say. I’m afraid if I start typing or talking I’ll not stop for a very long time. I’m a straight, 66-year-old white guy from Central Texas, and if I wore a Dallas Cowboys or Rangers shirt instead of my typical geeky ones, most people would think I’m one of them, an overweight, graying man, part of the “silent majority.” Well, they’re not silent anymore, and I don’t want to be either. I’m normally not a joiner, an activist, whatever, but I want to be more now that ever. I want to be an ally to all marginalized groups, women and all people of color, immigrants and refugees, the disabled, those of other orientations or identities than my own. The thing I’m most angry about right now is that with the normal privilege I’ve experienced my whole life, I’ll probably be okay unless they take away SS & Medicare, or if stocks fall so much my pension is wiped out. I’ll probably be lucky, but I know so many other that won’t, and that pisses me off.

  • Traci

    I think a lot of people will agree with your sentiments, and I hope the trolls stay away.

    Personally, I’m currently stuck in fear and anger. I want very much to lash out. I know that’s not productive, so I’m refraining from indulging in the full-on rant that I’d dearly love to unleash on the family and friends who are remaining stubbornly and willfully ignorant.

    Your analogy about starving while the person with food goes off on a rant is perfection. I’m the person with the food. I’m broke, so I can’t flood donations to orgs like ACLU, but I’m white and therefore privileged and therefore feel like I should be doing something other than ranting.

    I hope and believe that I will get to a more productive point soon.

    Right now, my energies are divided and unfocused:

    I’m a female in a same-sex marriage. So, our fist instinct was to flee = energy going into looking at other countries, trying to figure out where we’d be safe, etc. But, then there’s that whole “I’m broke” problem. And there’s the feeling that, I’m an American, dammit–I can’t let “them” chase me out of my own country!

    I’m terrified that this new administration will lead us straight into another Great Depression. And the whole “I’m broke” problem makes it even more terrifying = energy toward trying to figure out if there’s any way to protect what little we have from the economic disaster we fear.

    I’m so sad that I can’t come up with words adequately to describe this level of despair = energy sapped from crying.

    I’m so angry that I have TOO many words and most of them are profanity wrapped in barbed wire doused in gasoline and lit on fire = energy into fighting the impulse in favor of maintaining polite and respectful discourse.

    And I’ve long been prone to depression and nihilism = energy into just trying to rise to live and fight another day when so much of me doesn’t see the point in anything.

    I hate this so much. Oh, yeah, hate. Another energy suck. I don’t know where to put it or how to let go of it.

    A niece posted a suggestion she found on Pantsuit Nation: instead of the holiday gift you might have sent to friends/family who voted for Trump, make donations in their names to groups like ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Trevor Project, etc. It may seem petty. It probably IS petty. But I’ve lost quite a bit of energy worrying about how to handle the holiday giving when, right now, I truly want to cut these people out of my life altogether — and her solution gives me great relief. It may cause a few raised hackles amongst the conservatives on my list who receive a card noting the donation rather than my usual time-consuming (and not inexpensive) gift of homemade treats, but it’s better than a note telling them they can go get f*cked.

    So, I guess that’s one place where I can start while I’m processing the rest and figuring out how best to move forward.

    • I understand. I think you and I are a lot more similar than either of us realized. I am disabled, and I’m sick with a chronic degenerative illness. I’m a three time cancer survivor. My entire life, my entire EXISTENCE is defined by the term “preexisting condition.” My husband and I had to have a talk yesterday that amounted to, “Okay, so what in the hell are we going to do to keep me alive IF something happens and our insurance situation gets shaken up?” Because if that happens after the ACA is removed, then me and people like me run a very real, very serious health threat, a possible risk to our lives and our quality of life. It’s TERRIFYING. I have been locked in this mind-numbing state of terror since Tuesday, and I’m trying so hard to look past it, to see all the people out there who are also marginalized, struggling, and need comfort, but you know, there’s this part of me that has been just screaming with fear. How is this going to impact my life directly? Because I’m afraid. I’m really scared. If I don’t take my medication each day, I die. If I don’t go to my 12+ specialists, I could have a ton of other serious problems crop up. I NEED my doctors and my tests and my numerous appointments just to TRY to stay one step ahead of my disease. So yeah, I’m terrified. But we’re locked in here, running isn’t an option for us, so I have to put my energy to other outlets and I think the best way for me to stay the course, to protest in my own way, is by helping out all those other people who have been determined to not matter as much, whose lives are now marks on a grand political tally board.

      I don’t know, that’s just how I deal with stuff. We aren’t rich, my constant medical bills keep us on the borderline between nervous and comfortable financially, and now my baby has a kidney problem which may or may not require corrective surgery (Oh god, another preexisting condition…) and so now every cent we have is being saved, and all I have left to give is myself.

      I guess my long, personal rant can be summed up with a pledge of solidarity. You are NOT alone with all of your emotions and fears. I feel them all. Every. Last. One. Of. Them. Please feel free to contact me anytime.

      • Traci

        You’re so sweet! I totally hear you about the medical bills and pre-existing conditions concerns.

        We’re incredibly lucky in that our conditions, while requiring lifelong medication, are minor compared to the type of conditions you’re dealing with — and even so, it’s another worry. A constant worry.

        That’s one of the many things that I think really punched us in the gut this week — we were so hopeful of a little relief! We knew it wouldn’t be immediate, or even soon, but there was a ray of hope that the medical/pharma/insurance mess would be addressed. Among many other issues and injustices.

        I’m really grateful to you for your posts and your way of thinking about how to move forward, how to find purpose and direction in the ruins of our dashed hopes.

        Big cyber hugs.

        PS — the captcha is actually making me laugh because it’s requiring simple math that’s currently beyond me…so, there’s that.

  • Paul Weimer

    Thank you for sharing this, Sarah.

    I don’t think a lot of people realize,or care, just how people on the margins of things–and that’s defined in terms of health, social status, relationships, etc, are now extremely vulnerable to the whims of Donald J Trump and his court. I fear for people like you, and the Thomases, and all of my gender queer friends…Yeah. Anger doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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