It is time for us to see Red: The importance of passion and constructive anger
Somehow, it has become normal for ordinary humans to feel powerless. And when we feel powerless, we accept powerlessness.
Worse than that, we have come to believe that this is the natural order of things, and only in exceptional circumstances does this change. Unfortunately, because we see abuse of power in others, we do not trust power in ourselves, so our response on so many occasions has been destructive. We tear down the abusers, but seem unable to replace them with something better. On many occasions, other aspiring abusers usurp the impulse of such movements in order to seize power for themselves. See Russia after 1917, Hitler in 1933, Zimbabwe or Trump for examples.
How did we get into this state?
For many centuries human expansion looks like a series of empires achieving dominance by conquest and subjugation of the many. Of course that is not the whole story. There have also been periods of stability, when towns and cities developed order and organisation and found a sustainable balance between rulers and ruled, or governors and governed. But still, even now, one individual can decide that he is the one with manifest destiny and the megalomaniac vision to unleash hundreds of thousands of soldiers in pursuit of empire.
In our awareness of such individuals our attention is distracted. We see them but we don’t see ourselves. They have power, so they count. We do not and feel ourselves to be irrelevant.
It seems that the habit of powerlessness runs deep. We witness the examples of mass movements that changed the world; we admire Gandhi and Martin Luther King but we don’t emulate them. Even while noting that both of them were assassinated and that true shifts in power take longer, we could miss a deeper point, a critically important point. The revolutions don’t sustain because we, the people, don’t sustain them. South Africa after Mandela drifted back towards the hands of a Jacob Zuma. Black Lives Matter exists because, despite the vote and other progress, there remains a significant racial divide.
Is it time for this to change? What would sustainable progress take?
It requires a shift in us.
Greta Thunberg is angry – visibly angry - willing to stand in front of power-holders and express her outrage at their failures. She is not destructive. She is not seeking power over others for herself. She is simply empowered, propelled by a passion for things to be better, releasing her frustration that they are not better. She is in the public eye because a few years back, she took individual action, decided that school was less important to her future than a lone protest.
She was not willing to wait for “them” to do it.
Anger has at best a mixed reputation. In many contexts getting angry is treated as a weakness. It is presented as irrationality, so by definition you have lost the argument even when you are in the right. Yet we know that it is possible to provide rational arguments for almost anything, however unacceptable. Sometimes that involves lies and distortions of the truth. Often it comes from false premises and assumptions which ought not to be acceptable and which we know in our bones to be wrong, but are delivered from an authority to which we are expected to bow down.
The dynamic of this behaviour can easily be abusive. Against individuals, particularly women, whose somatic response in such situations is to produce tears of frustration it is used to demean, embarrass and suppress. But even without this, it sets up rationality as superior to all feeling. So compassion, sympathy and care are relegated to unimportance or inferiority. Outrage at wrong-doing is somehow made to seem childish; the message is that we should be dispassionate and objective.
Inside, we know better. Pre-verbal infants demonstrate an instinct for what is fair or unfair. We carry that instinctive knowing; analysis is not needed. If anything it gets in the way of a true human response.
The attitudes and conventions of authority and false rationality place us in the position of children. Mummy / Daddy knows best. Presidents, ministers, CEOs, bosses take it on themselves that they have the right to override us and we comply. Sometimes we comply because they truly do have the power to make our lives difficult, because sometimes punishment is real. But very often it is not real and we are subservient out of habit or because we make ourselves inferior even when it is blatantly, even outrageously obvious that our “superiors” are flawed. The result is that we do not stand up for what we know and for our right to have our voices fully represented.
I am not advocating that the streets should be filled with infants having tantrums. There is a reason for the existence of our human will. Greta is a healthy example because she owns her anger and uses it in service of something higher. Infants have melt-downs because their will-force is impulsive and they have not learned to manage it; self-control has to be learned. But strong will is there for an essential purpose. It is what fuels humans to create, to do, to express their intention, to be effective. Without it we are passive and able to be controlled by others.
We are no longer infants.
As parents, we want our children to be cooperative and to understand that they cannot always have their own way. Equally, as healthy parents we should want them to develop their own being, their personality and to have the inner strength and perseverance to carve out their own way in the world. Not all parents are healthy in that way. Often they have their own fears, including fears for our future and believe that they must control, compel or manipulate us into being what they think will serve that future. Some may believe that it is their job to dominate. Some may compensate for their own lack of power in the world in the one area where they are able to do so, with their children.
We are no longer children either.
It is now time for us to fight for our children
When I was about 14, I had an encounter with a bully. He was bigger than me, heavier and stronger. Meeting him and his friend on a local street, I was an easy target. Prey. I was not by nature a physically courageous person, not a fighter and don’t know why I didn’t run away. Perhaps it was because where I was going required that I go past them. When he blocked my way, I hit him. He hit me back. You could say that I lost that fight, since I carried a black eye for many days after. However, they carried on walking and so did I and they never picked on me again. That was a victory, because the pain was temporary but the benefits were lasting.
A mother animal will fight to protect her offspring. Most of us do not think that is wrong. It is not merely that we know that behaviour to be instinctive. It is also because we recognise it to be in service of life and often because we resonate with it, knowing that impulse is within us too. We would fight for the future of our children, even if we are not inclined to fight for ourselves.
It has become unfashionable to think that way. There is a pervasive mindset among (Green) progressives and post-moderns which encourages us towards love and peace at all costs. In some quarters this is aligned with a “spiritual” perspective which holds that love must be enlightened. One day I hope and trust that this will be how humanity behaves. Right now, while I acknowledge the paradox of “fighting for peace” and recognise that the price of peace tomorrow always seems to require war today, I believe that we have to be where we are. We are not yet in that ideal world and believing in it doesn’t make it so. I say this as someone who also practices and teaches in that context of consciousness. That world will come, but first, something else is required to happen.
We must first become fully embodied. Unless you are ready to leave the planet, the healthy spirit calls for a healthy body. As a collective, that means a healthy system. I am calling for a deeper recognition of what is in service of life on earth. Before we can reach up to the ideal state we need a balanced platform to stand on. That systemic platform is a just world order in which the degree of discrepancies between wealth and poverty, exclusion and inclusion, sickness and well-being, are reduced to sustainable levels. Martin Luther King said “Without justice, there can be no peace”. Justice has to start at the human level. As Pope Paul VI said fifty years ago, “If you want peace, work for justice.”
The current state of human (spiritual) evolution
To put it bluntly, the notion that such a shift will occur purely through a change in consciousness, be that spiritual or cognitive, flies in the face of all experience. The development of human spiritual perspectives has taken place hand in hand with our social progress and our ground-level world views. First peoples (Purple) have a shamanistic relationship with spirit and nature gods. The (Red) stage of warrior bands and early empires brought worship of and sacrifice to impulsive and unpredictable power gods like Zeus, Apollo and Odin. As we developed cities and city-states the organised religions and monotheistic cultures arose (Blue). We no longer viewed God as impulsive but instead as a source of rules and written codes that we must abide by. While largely mediated for the masses by authoritative priestly castes, this also allowed the development of mysticism and contemplation for a select few.
Thus there is a visible interaction between the development of worldviews (consciousness) and the life conditions that support them. Order on the ground and order in the heavens grew together. Modernism (Orange) replaced God’s laws with those of science, and spiritual perspectives were pushed to the fringes. Now, in the (Green) post-modern world there has been increasing rejection of priests and rules, but also of materialistic mechanisms, in favour of individual responsibility and personal spiritual experience.
Conversations about consciousness and its significance for our future are taking place in this most recent world because a few people, an influential sub-group, are beginning to grasp the implications of quantum complexity and the relationship between energy and matter. From that (Yellow) perspective our evolution is becoming conscious. Meanwhile, for as long as people are in fear and lack, prioritising spiritual development is a minority choice to be pursued by the ascetics and mystics. Even for those who do not lack, it is a luxury for the privileged that we can prioritise time and money towards self-development and spiritual growth. To date, such minorities, whether hermits in caves, mystics in monasteries or new-age consciousness gurus and their adherents, have not tilted the world on its axis. It has not happened because as a whole we are not ready for it.
I am not saying that such approaches are unimportant or criticising their message, far from it. They offer the leading edge in that realm and I regard myself as a beneficiary of such pioneers. This is not an either-or choice. Even so I am saying as emphatically as I can, and as someone who believes strongly in the importance and power of conscious spirituality, that those approaches are insufficient at this point. They have not prevented gross inequalities and they have not prevented the rise of despotic dictators with delusions of conquest and empire. Nor have they held back climate change and ecological catastrophe. We have to deal with the issues that keep the vast majority of humans in struggle and fear. The material world, including flesh blood and bone, exists together with the spiritual world. They cannot be dealt with in isolation.
Action, activism and anger
The desire for peace at all costs is ineffective. 2000 years of Christianity has not created a race of humans who “turn the other cheek”. Even the Dalai Lama has accepted that there are times when violence is justifiable in order to protect others from harm. His caveat is that we must be willing to accept the karmic consequences. Action is sometimes necessary. Spirit cannot always adopt a passive and accepting stance. The meek shall not inherit the Earth until they can constrain the domineering. Pope Paul VI was saying the same.
Humans have powerful (Red) will-forces for a reason; it is what propels our action. When our actions and intentions are thwarted that causes frustration and sometimes that is simply how life is. We learn to deal with it. But when we recognise that the blockages are unfair, immoral and destructive of well-being, it causes us to be angry. And so it should. Holding back often leads to apathy and depression as well as to compassion exhaustion. There is only so much that we can take. In conditions of abuse, anger is a healthy response. It enables us to fight for justice. It makes possible the heroism that will sacrifice its own immediate interests and even lay down its life to protect others or forge a better world.
Sometimes we need to fight for what is in service of life. A healthy future is not one where we are driven by our emotions and acting blindly on impulse. But neither is it one in which we ignore what our emotions are telling us or suppressing the natural response of our embodied knowing. Our rational minds do not hold the whole picture and they can override what we instinctively know to be true. Those instincts are worthy of our respect. We must be willing to use our anger in service of a better future and engage the full force of our passion to make that happen.
Our anger is a call to action. Sometimes we need to see red.