Ekodo: An Ecology of Anger (Part 1)
Anger is such a powerful force of nature. It is a perfectly appropriate response to witnessing needless suffering and violence – extinction, contamination, exploitation, domination, abuse, manipulation… But I am wisely informed that anger’s use-by date is about 30 seconds. Thereafter it becomes toxic to the body, to relationships, to a group, and to an environmental or social justice movement.
If I go looking for things to get angry about I do not need to look very far. Scratch the surface of an environmental or social justice issue and one can commonly find deeper causes in a social order, an economy, and a modern industrialised growth culture foolishly pretending that this planet is infinite. Scratch several environmental and or social issues and one can commonly find common denominators: selfishness is one of them, greed another, hatred has a supporting role, ignorance as well.
Worse still, these emotions and conditions get rewarded and then justified by convoluted moral gymnastics, so regularly that they have come to define a political culture that one can challenge only if one can tolerate an emotional bruising from skilled bullies in the political and public relations arena. This is frustrating, and frustration is good fuel for anger; anger fuel for hatred; and hatred fuel for violence.
So how to break the cycle? And why might this be more powerful and effective than the sweet taste of well-justified rage?
I taught myself to see environmental and social problems everywhere I looked. Not a spoon, a pen, a garment, a poster, a smile was safe from my skilful grumpy gaze. And in this condition I painted myself into a corner of chronic pessimism, where the only escape it seemed was to dig deeper into what I later recognised as paranoia, self-righteousness, arrogance and depression. They seemed somehow noble at the time – and yet dare not speak their name.
But thankfully the fog started to lift enough to allow me to recognise how bearing witness to the suffering of the world is not an end in itself. I started to see how instead of being the destination, it is merely a valuable and necessary way station on a path of practicing compassionate works.
After bearing witness we need to do something: identify the underlying cause of our problem, design an enduring solution, and develop an implementation strategy to bring the solution into being. But using anger as the emotional basis for actions will impoverish our efforts. We will fall into blaming and shaming, settling on superficial causes worthy of abuse, and demanding silver-bullet solutions that create more problems.
But harnessing the energy of anger, being grateful to be sufficiently awake to experience it, and then transforming it into something more constructive is far more capable of delivering enduring outcomes in an interconnected world. In this interconnected world, we too are connected with our opponents and the causes of our problems. Our solutions become riddled with ‘we’ statements when identifying cause, solution, and implementation strategy.
A warm heart and a cool head will do more for the planet than anger ever will.
If we are to be effective agents of positive change, we will need to motivate others into action. This is because we can never do it alone. I have never found anger to be a particularly good motivator. So what emotions do motivate? How about: enthusiasm, support, encouragement, solution-focused statements, can-do attitudes, and friendly, happy associations. Granted, vested interests may laugh at this. But how about the vast majority of people with an open mind who respond to reasonable and warmly packaged recommendations? These people can influence those who control vested interests.
Remember – we live in a political society, and in politics public opinion helps to define strategic decisions. And if we want to sway public opinion in our direction, give people something positive to buy into. It works. I have tried it. And I will share some examples in my next installment…
You can read Part Two of this series here.
Sean Weaver is the founder and host of Ekodo – a professional development life-skills programme for compassionate ecowarriors. He lives in Wellington. See the Ekodo Facebook group here.
Sean is also a climate change solutions consultant through his business Carbon Partnership.