angryflames

 

Anger, anger triggered by the slightest perceived offense or disagreement seems to have become a cultural norm.   Blogger John Pavlovitz, often quoted and re-blogged here published a piece recently titled, “Why Are We All So #@%^&$! Angry?”

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about quite a bit of late.

After his first few introductory comments, John asks the six-million-dollar question: “. . . why are we so damn angry and what, if anything can we do about it.”

The short answer to the first part of that question, as trite as this may sound, is “fear”.

Anger is one of those “fight or flight” emotions.  Rooted deep in the ancient reptilian core of our brain known as the “hypothalamus”, once a situation, pattern, or person has been identified as a potential threat this information is stored for future analysis by a nearby portion of the brain known as the “amygdala”.  Think of the amygdala as the “fear memory” department of your brain.  Anger is our brain’s response to something which has previously stimulated our self-preservation and protection resources.  These responses are our “on-guard” response to something we suspect, based on prior experience might pose a threat now or in the future.  It’s the “I see you as a threat . . .  so you had best keep your distance” posture.

Anger can be quite appropriate when encountering someone or something that is either a real and present danger, has done harm in the past, or based on experience is likely to cause such a threat.  The risk posed by the object of one’s anger does not need to be physical to be valid.  A person who has previously caused emotional distress or harm to you or others may quite legitimately stimulate the anger reaction – again, the memory of a prior fear stimulus.  One might also become angry when one witnesses harm or injustice inflicted on others, even strangers . . .  “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you might just do unto me”.

The question is, when is anger (and the fear it presupposes) an appropriate response, and why does it seem that our amygdalae have become hypersensitized to the point that anybody expressing an opinion on a topic online via social media (or on this blog) so often unleashes a tirade of invectives, accusations, vile comparisons to hideous villains . . .  or worse?

I don’t have all the answers, but I can sure throw out a few ideas and observations gleaned over what is soon to be six decades amongst my fellow inhabitants of this little blue globe.

Technology has brought world events we would never have witnessed before right into our homes, and right into our brains.  Today we are subjected to real-time and near real-time images of things we would never have witnessed at all just a few short years ago.  Among other things these images are brought to us by the over 2-billion and growing smart-phones that turn just about anybody anywhere into a video journalist with global reach.

We have become both desensitized and sensitized to acts of violence.  We have become desensitized in that images of violent death and wanton destruction both real and simulated are something we are far too used to seeing. We have become sensitized in that our brains are wired to take in this information and use it to determine potential threats in the future.

Cultural and social standards have changed dramatically, and whether real or imagined the lack of certainty about our neighbors and how we relate to each other contribute to fear that “our way of life” might be threatened or that “we” might lose some of the power and privilege we take for granted.

All of this works together to call in to question our notion of our boundaries and our identities . . .  what is “mine” and what is “yours”?   Who are the safe “us” and the maybe not-so-safe “them”?   How can I tell the difference?  How can I be sure that “my” way of life will be respected and that my certainties will still be certain in the face of all of this change.

And we are afraid.

And fear makes us angry.

And anger is just a few neural synapses away from lashing out in violent action.

It is pretty obvious that the genie is out of the bottle, the cat is out of the bag, the can of worms has been opened, and the horse is out of the barn . . .  (can you come up with any more metaphors for “there is no going back”?)  Despite it hall, many among us still want to reclaim a sense of the stability and the certainty that feels safe, while others wish to move bravely on into the future and embrace the possibilities in this new and unknown world.

And I have no certain answers.

And so I’ll end this with the second half of the question posed by Pavlovitz . . .

“What, if anything, can we do about it?”

Once open, worms don’t go back into a can.  Once liberated cats don’t go back in bag, horses will often roam for a long time, and genies set free will never be “bottled up” again.   Understanding this makes it clear that those who believe that the answer to our future is returning to the ways of the past just don’t make any sense.

How do you believe we can move forward?

Gratitude and Abundance

 

“As we express gratitude we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”  – John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

 

As those of us who celebrate this holiday prepare to gather with our families and friends, let us be mindful of just how much we have to be thankful for, and consider how we might express our gratitude in a meaningful way throughout the year.

If we are gathering with our families let us give thanks for the blessing that they are, and remember those who have lost their families to the violence and bloodshed in so many places around this small planet we call home.  Let us consider what we can do through our own choices and our own words to bring this to an end.

As we watch our children play let us give thanks for their joy and innocence, and remember those children whose innocence has been taken and who find little joy this day.  Think of those children in refugee camps, those who are trying to make it to safety, those who are turned away because of fear, and those who have perished trying to make it to safety.  Let us consider what we can do through our own choices and our own words to bring this to an end.

As we open the doors of our homes, or enter the doorway of a relative or friend to celebrate this holiday let us give thanks for the roof over our head.  Let us remember all of those who have no home, who rely on space in a shelter if they are so lucky, who live under bridges, in makeshift tents, in cardboard boxes, abandoned cars, or in whatever form of shelter they can find.  Certainly in this, the wealthiest country in the history of the world we can make it so that nobody has to live in these conditions.  What can we do through our own choices and our own words to help end homelessness?

As we celebrate abundance around a table laid out in extravagant bounty, let us give thanks for our good fortune, remembering that this is not the norm in much of the world, or even in much of this country.  In a nation where we waste and discard almost 40% of our food supply there is no reason why anybody should go hungry.  It’s a nice gesture to donate a turkey to the homeless shelter, but what about the other 364 days of the year?  What can we do through our own choices and our own words to end hunger every day?

Gratitude, real gratitude is not passing or temporary, and gratitude is more than attitude.  Gratitude is a way of living in such a way that we cannot imagine allowing another soul to live in need.

Let us be thankful and live in gratitude this day, and every day.

Live in blessing.

Most of us are familliar with the “Pale Blue Dot” image taken by the Voyager-I spacecraft in 1990.  From a distance of six-billion kilometers our earth takes up a little more than one-tenth of one pixel.

The late astronomer Carl Sagan, at whose suggestion this image was captured wrote the following a few years later.  In light of current world events and the dialog happening here in the United States over refugees, immigration and the ageless and timeless battles over religion it would do us well to ponder these words again.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”  – Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

Considered from a different perspective, this image is a closeup . . .  a “selfie” taken with a really long stick.  The vantage of Voyager’s cameras at the point where this picture was taken is at the edge of the Kuiper belt which lies at the outer reaches of our solar system.  Our solar system in turn is but a tiny and insignificant fuzzball in the infinite vastness of the universe, the observable portion of which is a sphere some 552 sextillion miles in diameter.

Who is my neighbor?

In reality, every person on this tiny spec of dust we inhabit is really, really close.

Perhaps we should all start acting as if we understand this.