Steve Rogers: Doctor Banner, now might be a good time for you to get angry!
Bruce Banner: That’s my secret, Captain: I’m always angry. (The Avengers, 2012)
It might work for massive, green, gamma-saturated superheroes needing to give a beatdown to a giant alien ship—but for most of us normal folk it’s probably a bad idea.
Many really good people are furious right now, and for good reason. This outrage is natural and called for and deeply human. It is the appropriate initial response of working hearts to the outrageous things we’re witnessing in these days. The sickening parade of terrible continually passing in front of us, certainly merits our collective fury. We should be offended to the point of disgust and it is a redemptive thing to feel so deeply at the pain of others that we are so altered. But much like a seemingly attractive vacation spot—we might visit such fury, but we can’t live there. It is unsustainable.
Anger as a catalytic moment is often necessary, moving us from complacency or ignorance and propelling us into movement. We’ve seen the virtue of outrage in this Resistance movement over the past few months. But as a cultivated condition, anger is almost always toxic. If we sit with that rage too long and nurture it too intently, it slowly begins to pollute us, seeping into our bloodstreams and contaminating the compassionate hearts that caused us to be angry in the first place. Little by little, we become used to a posture of irritability and defiance. Gradually we can become more about the fight itself than about anything or anyone we’re fighting for: We can begin to live angry.
And the problem is, people who live angry are the very reason so many of us decent folks were outraged in the first place and are outraged now. It is those men and women who are fully marked by malice and bitterness and enmity that initially caused us to resist—this is what we’re pushing back so fiercely against. People who live angry eventually discard their humanity and default to contempt for the world. Unable to transform their profound emotion into something beautiful or life-giving, they end up only able to destroy stuff, not build it. We’ve seen this in a GOP who spent the last 8 years learning only to fight against something or someone, never to participate in thoughtful construction—and who now have nothing of value to offer.
We who feel a furious desire to defend equality and diversity and decency, need to make sure that this fury is channeled into lives that reflect these things. Our work may begin in outrage but it cannot be built or sustained on it. We have to be fierce protectors of humanity—ours, those we fight for, and yes even those we oppose. We have to guard against becomes marked only by our outrage.
Since last Fall I, like millions of people have been fully pissed off, but I don’t want to be a perpetually pissed off person. I’m totally at peace with the anger that moves me, but I don’t want that anger to define me. This is the way we will be a rival people of hope as we genuinely oppose those who broker in hatred. It is the softness of our hearts that makes us different. Our ability to care and to feel and to grieve is the antidote to the violence that so repulses us and it is what will separate us. Compassion and gentleness and decency are our true superpowers, in such dangerous days when heroically human people are so needed.
Like the television version of our hulking green friend was quoted as advising an adversary: “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry—You won’t like me when I’m angry.”
Get angry, dear friends, at all that is wrong in the world.
Be angry long enough to be moved to push hard against it.
Just don’t live angry.