The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Just Anger (Part 2 of 2)

The previous blogpost suggested that when anger arises inside us we are faced with two pathways. The first pathway leads in the direction of resentment, a desire for revenge, and possibly all the way to violence.  Standing at that junction this first pathway is highly visible.  It is well–trodden.  It is lit up with signs seducing you with promises of retribution, righteousness and winning.  It promises relief from the anger.  Yet, as we all know, such promises are illusory.

The second pathway, in contrast, is hard to see.  It is obscured, perhaps hidden by the bushes along the roadway.  Not many turn towards this pathway.  However, many of those that have are house-hold names, giants in the history of the world: Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Rev Desmond Tutu, Emily Pankhurst, Te Whiti o Rongomai, Vaclav Havel, Rosa Parks, Thich Nhat Hanh.1 

Anger is often a secondary emotion, meaning that some other feeling or emotion has triggered the one of anger.  The first pathway is very easy to step onto when all we recognise is the emotion of anger.  However, if we are mindful and patient, we can realise that our anger is a signpost to something else within us.  If we allow our anger to dictate our actions then we will never discover the underlying emotions.  But, if we step back, perhaps take a few deep breaths and just witness our anger (not acting on it, nor trying to drive it away, or suppress it), then we may find that the underlying emotions are ones of hurt, pain, insecurity, dejection, revulsion, or (the biggie) fear. 

Uncovering and discovering these emotions that lie beneath our anger is how we do justice to our anger.  We treat anger as a friend, saying “thank you my friend anger; you have allowed me to discover my fears and pain.”

The next thing we notice on this pathway is that we are all the same.  Our anger hides pain, hurts and fears.  This is just as true for the person who we believe has angered us.  They too are likely to have acted out of a hurt or fear.  Their words or actions that angered us came from their hurt and fear.  When we start to understand our own suffering then we also start to understand the suffering of others.  With that clarity, compassion can arise.  Once compassion has entered our heart we are well on our way down the second pathway.

But, what about those situations we (as social justice activists) should be angry about?  Certainly, there are many injustices in the world and we get angry because of them.  When Khandro Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, was asked this question, she replied “Anger is always a waste of time.”  Persisting, her questioner responded that there were some things we should be angry about.  Khandro Rinpoche immediately replied, “I didn’t tell you to give up your critical intelligence.  I told you anger is a waste of time.”2

Acting with compassion, and critical intelligence, is a very different venture to that of acting from anger.  Compassion and critical intelligence open up the space for creativity, honest dialogue and the chance of healing.

Pathway Tools

Along this second pathway there are many tools at our disposal.  Sadly, our cultures have very rarely used these tools and few of us get the opportunity to learn them.  Here, are some of the tools we can pick up on this pathway:
  • Forgiveness:  The forgiveness cycle has been eloquently described in The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond and Mpho Tutu.3  They describe a fourfold journey of: telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness, renewing or releasing the relationship.  Forgiveness is not a condoning of the action, nor is it forgetting.  Forgiveness is not a weakness, nor is it easy, and it certainly does not undermine the concept of justice.  In most cases forgiveness is an action that frees the forgiver from the trap of pain, anguish, revenge, and anger.
  • Nonviolent Communication (NVC):   Developed by Marshall Rosenberg at the time of racial tensions in the USA, NVC recognises that our emotions arise from our needs (or values).  If our needs are met, then we will experience “good” emotions, such as happiness, joy, excitement, peace.  However, if our needs are not met, then “bad” emotions such as despair, misery, distress, fear, or anger, will arise.  NVC provides tools for dealing with our emotions and needs and how we communicate these with others.
  • Nonviolence:  As a means of dealing with social conflict, nonviolence has a long history and theory of practice.  Nonviolence has often been defined simply as non-harm.  However, it also recognises that conflict is natural in society and there are positive ways of dealing with that.  Nonviolence separates the issue from the person, recognising that our opponents have value and are worthy of respect and dignity.  Nonviolence often espouses a more holistic view of the world and one that is non-hierarchical.  It is often used as a socio-political means of confronting injustice.
  • Mindfulness:  Mindfulness has already been alluded to – it is a practice of awareness.  Becoming mindful we become aware of each moment, we become aware of our bodily sensations, of emotions arising and passing away.  The practice of mindfulness means that we do not grasp and hold on to our thoughts and prejudices with desperation, nor are we repelled by them.  They simply are.  With mindfulness our attachment to ego begins to dissolve and we recognise our interconnections – what Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing.
  • Non-attachment to Outcome:  Acting from anger we are often wanting an outcome.  We may desire revenge, retaliation, or perhaps just the self-satisfaction of winning a verbal battle.  However, one of the biggest realities that we must come to terms with is that there is no such thing as a surety of outcome.  We can no more control the future than we can control the spin of the Earth.  Understanding this we can approach our anger with compassion and wisdom.
A final word of caution.  Just because we decide to travel down this second path does not mean that the other(s) will join us on the journey.  Although we offer the hand of forgiveness, or the words of NVC, we may be responded to with anger.  Does this mean we should not turn down this path unless our opponent, enemy, or rival does so also?  No.  Vaclav Havel understood this when he noted that, “Hope, in the deep and meaningful sense … is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”

Anger.  An intense emotion.  With practice, we can work with it, instead of it working us over.

1.  In previous blogposts I have written about GandhiRev Desmond Tutu,Te Whiti o Rongomai, Vaclav Havel, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Thich Nhat Hanh.
2. This story is related by Rita Gross in Melvin McLeod (ed) Mindful Politics, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2006.

3.  See my review of The Book of Forgiving  here.

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Just Anger (Part 1 of 2)

Is anger ever justified?  Some suggest the notion of a Just War – does that mean there can be a Just Anger?  Working in the area of social justice we can be confronted with ideas, articles, speeches, or everyday conversation that causes our anger to rise.  If the offending speech was given by a public figure we can often react with outrage, condemning the speaker by suggesting that they are idiots, bigots, or inhumane.  We might label them racists, misogynists, war-mongers, or a number of other epithets.

In doing so, has our anger been justified?  When our anger lapses into such verbal abuse, or worse, into violence, then it is not justified.  Nor, paradoxically, have we done justice to our anger. 

When anger arises it opens up for us two possibilities, two pathways that we can take.  One pathway is the pathway just described: it includes verbal name-calling, abuse, labelling, right through to violence.  The other pathway is one where our anger is a pointer towards something deeper inside us.

Taking the First Path

Too often, in our culture, the first pathway is chosen.  This is unsurprising as it is the path that many before us have chosen.  It is the path that our “leaders” take time and time again.  We hear it in our parliaments and debating chambers: name-calling, verbal abuse, confrontation and adversarial debate.  We see it on the battlefields of the world.  Our televisions beam it into our living rooms daily.  Newspaper headlines scream it out in bold print.

Not only do we see and hear this pathway being taken, we are not taught an alternative.  If we are taught anything about dealing with anger it is to tell us to suppress it, deny it, or perhaps to vent it by beating a cushion or yelling and screaming in the middle of a forest.

Choosing this first pathway becomes habitual.  Every time we arrive at that junction we take this path, without even seeing that there is another option.  Blissfully unaware we follow this path of rising venom, abuse, or violence.  We continue down this path thinking that the person we feel anger towards “owes me.”  With our anger so justified, we think that we have a duty to teach the other person a lesson.  “I’ll show them” we say to ourselves.  This path holds out the hope that we’ll feel better if we react against our “opponent.”  By venting against our “enemy” we are appeased, we think we are justified because we are doing so from a higher, or superior, understanding or moral standpoint.

But, where has this pathway truly taken us?  We have taken our “opponent or enemy” with us down the same path.  But, we have not arrived at a peaceful, harmonious, or even mutually agreeable place.  More often than not we have arrived at a point where our “enemy” is now more entrenched than before, likely to more forcefully espouse the ideas they stated earlier.  And us?  Our “enemy” has not become contrite and has not shown a new understanding that accords with our own, so we attack them again, perhaps more vehemently than before.  And then what?  The cycle begins again.

And what a cycle it is.  It goes round and round, gaining strength and power with every revolution.  It becomes so entrenched that there appears to be no way to break out of it.  All we can do is forlornly hope that the other person or group will eventually give in, give up, withdraw, or get beaten into submission.  Any such outcome is unlikely to be lasting.  The seeds of resentment, frustration, and anger will simmer below the surface and erupt somewhere else or sometime later.  It is a false accord. 

We could, however, take the second path that lies before us.  Before exploring that pathway, a brief diversion into a discussion about the nature of anger.

Just what is Anger?

Anger is one of those emotions that is a combination of feelings and thoughts.  We all know the feelings associated with anger: tightness in our hands (clenched fists), gritting of the teeth, a quickening of the heart, a general tenseness in many of our muscles.  There is an intensity about anger that is unlike most of the other human emotions.
Our anger is fuelled also by our thoughts.  Anger can arise in us because we think we are right, because we think our way, or our understanding of the world is the correct one, the acceptable one, the just one.  We think that our morality is superior or more humane than that of others.  Anger is often coloured by our judgements – our thoughts about what others think and feel.

It is the thoughts within anger that give us the opportunity to understand our anger and respond in ways that do not follow the first path of increasing vehemence, resentment and violence.  We gain the possibility of clarity.  It seems strange to use a word like clarity when speaking of anger.  Anger is often metaphorically associated with murkiness and unfathomable depths.  Yet, by looking to anger as a signpost to something deeper within us then clarity is what emerges.

Part 2 will explore the second pathway and look further at how we can gain clarity from understanding our anger.