Emotion and rage

“Unmanaged rage is not helpful for anyone and can do more harm than good for the person who harbors it.” — Catherine Meeks, The Night is Long But Light Comes in the Morning

I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. — Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

There is rage. The question is what do we do with it? We have injustices and we have perceived injustices. There are ways to harness rage for what is just. There are ways we allow rage to go unchecked and wreak havoc on lives.

Here is a point of rage for me: The same people who shook their heads at Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd was murdered and wanted “normal” back are the same people (in large part) who say nothing about January 6, 2021. Or, they say, “I can understand why they’re mad, even if I don’t agree with their actions.”

That is a point of rage for me.

Rage unchecked ruins. Meeks identifies three areas of major damage in our culture when rage is unchecked: 1. Massive drug abuse. (Drug overdose deaths are at a record pace and we’re finding more potent drugs to kill us faster than ever before.) 2. Mental health crises. (Since 2008 we’ve spiked in children and youth with ideations of suicide, attempted suicide, and suicide and have not gone below 2008 rates ever.) 3. Riots like January 6, 2021. (Rage at being “left out” so massive destruction takes place.)

Meeks makes a bold claim: “…it is possible to find ways to turn that energy into a creative force.”

Dr. King exemplified that. He would rage at those who sat back. He would turn his rage into non-violent protests as well.

We need more self-discovery. Dr. King exemplified inner strength. He took that from Mohandes Gandhi, who turned his rage into non-violent protest to free India from British rule.

Anger will be in our lives. Rage will tempt us. These are facts. How we deal with them is crucial. Turn to self-examination. Ask the tough questions of yourself. Learn how those deep emotions can serve you and move away from the harm they can bring.

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