Get Angry, But Don’t Live Angry

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)

Always angry.

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.

 

 

Hell Will Be an Airport (A Layover Story)

Hell will be an airport, I’m almost certain of it.

The damned will find themselves in a massive, snaking line, boarding pass in hand, their essential earthly belongings heaped upon their shoulders and pulled behind them on jittery roller bags with one bum wheel. They will have an initial wave of expectancy at the thought of the journey ahead and this will render them fully oblivious to the fact that they’ve entered into a period of eternal suffering and are quite surely doomed. They will gladly move in painfully slow, three-foot increments through a long maze of the similarly ill-fated, unaware that this is the most hope they’ll ever have today.

Herded like livestock toward a large metal gate, they’ll be asked to quickly remove their shoes, belt, and jewelry while an assortment of grim-faced ghouls photograph and prod them. If they’re fortunate enough to be allowed to pass through without a second, more involved manhandling, they will scramble to retrieve their things from a swiftly moving conveyor belt before they’re crushed by the crowd of sock-footed humanity behind them who are irritated at their poor progress. They will frantically reassemble themselves and scan the horizon for a hint as to where to go: It will be B9.

The damned will traverse overcrowded hallways, wildly ping-ponging against a small army of sweaty strangers, and when they finally arrive at B9 disheveled and perspiring, there will be a sign telling them they now need to go to C17. Once at C17, they will be met by a joyless woman behind a grey counter who makes no eye contact and seems bothered by their presence when they ask the reason for the change.

They’ll turn sheepishly and tiptoe their way down one of the narrow rows of thin, rigid chairs, clearly not meant to accommodate the human frame, dotted by clusters of dead-eyed figures huddled around electrical outlets, several of which will not work. As their bodies finally fall awkwardly into an L-shaped piece of black leathertte, they will notice the clock: They were supposed to have started boarding ten minutes ago. This will be their first hint that things will not be going as planned.

Five more minutes will pass. Then ten. Then fifteen. They will wait and be told nothing. Restlessness will rise among the damned, and they’ll scan one another’s eyes as if hoping someone else will approach the joyless woman behind the counter. No one dares. Suddenly, she will pronounce through distorted speakers, in words barely discernible to the human ear, that there is a delay. She will offer little details and quickly end transmission, while the doomed travelers stir and grumble, speaking desperate follow-up questions into the ether, but the joyless woman and her cadre of blue-vested minions will pretend not to notice, as they stare into computer screens and speak on corded phones closely resembling children’s toys.

As the minutes tick by and the damned nurse the remaining morsels of the snacks they’d hoped to be enjoying at 30,000 feet over 45 minutes ago—they suddenly begin to feel a looming sense of dread. Prayers and incantations begin, requesting relief from the Fates or the Travel Gods. Panic will begin to grow steadily in their midst. They will begin calculating the earliest chance they’ll have of arriving where they’re heading and their blood pressure will rise dangerously as they inventory what they will now miss. And then, just at the moment when their spirits are almost broken, they will be given a reprieve (cruel and brief though it will be). They are told to grab their things and they are ushered into the cramped confines of a tiny metal tube, crammed with far too many elementary school child-sized seats. Somehow, every overhead bin will already be full.

After having their belongings unceremoniously whisked away, the damned will shoehorn themselves into their appointed places, wedged tightly against the moist humanity on either side of them, unable to bend, extend their legs, or rest their arms without also recreating some ancient marriage rite with the adjacent person. But they will all exhale as one, as the engines roar to life and for the first time in their seemingly endless journey they begin to have some hope for deliverance. Then, the engines will just as quickly go silent and they will moan in unison as the voice of a nondescript man with a perpetually buoyant voice comes over the speakers positioned a few inches from their heads, simply saying, “Uh folks, there seems to be a problem. The plane—is broken.” He will say nothing more.

Time will begin to pass and a heavy sense of dread will move through the capsule as the damned begin to understand what is happening. Cramps will move through their extremities, their eyes will tear as tiny jets pummel them with recycled air, and they will watch in abject horror as the percentages on their phones drop precipitously, and with it their optimism.

It will be another 40 minutes until the nondescript man with the perpetually buoyant voice comes on to tell them that “The plane is still broken. We’ll update you as soon as we can.” Things will begin to unravel among the doomed assembly. Every baby will begin to cry, as if programmed and synched together. The young and the elderly will be the first to lose hope, followed by the small-bladdered and those traveling Internationally, along with the First Class folks who already resented being forced to travel with the common rabble, separated only by a thin fabric curtain. (They too are in Hell, though with a bit more leg room.) 

Desperate pleas will be made to the blank-faced, smiling sentinels roaming the aisles; begging for information, snack mix, anything to stave off the panic now gripping their contorted bodies. No such comfort will be given. Another hour will pass, with all but a few becoming fully catatonic in their despair. And the nondescript man with the perpetually buoyant voice will suddenly return to tell them that they’re changing planes, and they should quickly gather up their things and hurry to their new destination: B9.

Their bodies will respond poorly, being riled from their contorted states so suddenly, and they will stumble and stagger through another overcrowded hallway filled with sweaty strangers, experiencing a disorienting deja vu as they are again crammed into a seemingly identical metal tube. They will all fear the worst, and yet as the engines once again roar to life, with a mix of elation and disbelief they will leave the ground and finally imagine themselves fully delivered—for a moment.

There will be no drink service due to the lack of preparation for the second capsule, but the damned will not care, as they are airborne and once again feeling a small bit of the expectancy they began their journey with, but it will be short-lived. When they finally arrive and endure a seemingly endless departing recessional, they are unceremoniously deposited into another hallway, yet this one empty and darkened.

The damned will crane their necks and through exhausted, half-closed eyes, gaze upon giant glowing screens, and terror will grip them completely as they learn their fates: they’ve missed their connecting flight—and the bar is now closed.

And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guys, Stopping Campus Sexual Assault is on You

The Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN)  reports that 11.2 percent of all college students experience rape or sexual assault while undergraduate or graduate students.

A 2015 survey of women places the number at 23 percent—nearly 1 in 4.

Young men, I need to tell you something, something that maybe your fathers or your coaches or your uncles or your buddies or your action movie heroes never told you, but something that you apparently really need to hear.

I know you’ve been led to believe that when a sexual assault occurs, it’s usually somehow the girl’s fault: the way she dresses, the shape of her body, her flirtatious nature, her mixed messages, her level of intoxication.

I know you’ve grown-up reading and hearing that since guys are really “visual”, that the ladies need to manage that by covering-up and keeping themselves hidden, that they need to drive this whole physical interaction deal—because we’re not capable of restraint in the heat of the moment.

I know the media likes to suggest that when a woman is sexually assaulted, that how she dresses or the way she dances or who she’s dated or how much alcohol she’s consumed is somehow to blame.

And I need you to know that’s a load of garbage.

Stopping sexual assault on campus or anywhere else—is about men not assaulting women. That’s the deal.

Yes, we are visual.
And yeah, we do love the shape of women’s bodies.
We are aroused by their physicality.
Yes alcohol does complicate all of that by clouding judgment.
And our responses to all of that are solely on us—not on them.
You see, we are not helpless victims of our own libidos.
We actually live in our bodies.
We direct the limbs and movements.
We choose what we grab and touch and rub-up against.
Our bodies ultimately do only what our brains tell them to do.
And so guys, sexual assault is not a sex issue—it’s a brain issue.

This is about what we choose to cultivate in our heads and what we choose to do with our hands as a result. It’s about the value we ascribe to another person’s life and about our decency and character and goodness in response to it.

At the end of the day, guys—this is a matter of ownership.

The women you date, those you share classes with and meet on social media, those you pass on campus and hook-up with at parties are not only not property, and they’re not only priceless—they don’t belong to you. It’s really that simple. They are beautiful, specific, never to be repeated in the history of the planet lives, and they merit a reverence befitting that truth.

Women deserve full autonomy over their own bodies. You don’t now, and you never will own a square inch of another human being, and so any part of your actions that breaks the plane of a woman’s body ultimately aren’t your jurisdiction—they’re hers. Yield to her in these matters.

The only thing you own at any given moment, the only thing you’ll ever own—are your body and your choices. That’s why it’s called self-control. This is a poorly cultivated art for us historically, but it’s worth the investment of our time.

I know that’s a rather old-school idea and it isn’t particularly popular or sexy.
It’s not typical pop music fodder.
It’s not something you’ll brag about in the locker room, and it won’t make a good multiplex movie.
It also the place where we move from being men in theory, to men in practice.

True, sincere, decent, mature men don’t rape women—period. They don’t force themselves on or physically intimidate or coerce or take advantage of another human being for their own pleasure.

I’m sorry to have to break this news to you, as I know it’s probably difficult to hear.
It will certainly make life much more challenging for you and you’ll probably have to make some changes as a result, in the way you think and talk about sex. But I also know that these words could alter your relationships now, and preserve your marriages someday. These words can protect women from damage, nurture your character, and shape the campuses and workplaces and communities that other young men will enter after you.

Women shouldn’t have to bear the responsibility for stopping sexual assault. They shouldn’t need to dress differently or carry a gun or take self-defense classes or stop drinking. They shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders or alter their social lives or inventory their dating histories. They shouldn’t always have to account for our propensity as men to be horrible or to take advantage of a compromising situation simply because it presents itself. They should be able to count on better from us. They should be able to count on a baseline of human decency.

Women should be able to walk out every morning into a world where men won’t assault them; men who understand what consent is and why they don’t get to decide for anyone else what that person wants or needs.

That’s the truth today, guys. What you do with that—is on you.

 

 

 

 

 

No Mr. Trump, America is Not a Mess

Dear Mr Trump,

Mess.

I’ve heard you use that word quite a bit over the past few months:

The world is a mess.
America is a mess.
You inherited a mess.

I’m not sure if you actually believe these statements, or whether they, like many things you say are simply lies meant to instill fear and to mask your own deficiencies—preemptive salvos fired in advance of your failures.

Either way, I want you to know that you’re full of it.

America is not a mess—it is complex, and I imagine this is the disconnect if there is one. It doesn’t seen like complex is your gig. America is made of intricate systems and a complicated history and delicate social relationships and elaborate laws, none of which you seem all that interested in or capable of understanding. So yes, I can see how you would look at all of this and be overwhelmed, as this is what 65 million of us saw coming a mile away. We’re just surprised that you’re surprised. 

The reality is, you didn’t inherit a mess, Mr Trump, you received the job that you politicked for, lied for, likely colluded for, sold the remaining segments of your soul for. Even though you weren’t qualified or deserving or chosen by the people, you received the title of Leader of the Free World, and the least you could do is not act like this country owes you sympathy or some special grace period—or that we’re the problem here.

We’re freakin’ amazing, actually.

We’re who we’ve always been: a beautiful, flawed masterpiece in progress. We are a diverse mosaic made of every kind of humanity on the planet, and we’ve been doing this for a couple hundred years and then some—far before you ever showed up. With all our profound imperfections, we have made a home to freedom and equality and goodness like few places on the planet, so don’t you dare pretend that we’re the issue, and don’t make us think that we’re here waiting in our mediocrity (or worse) for you to bestow greatness upon us, because we both know that ain’t happenin’.

This isn’t a campaign promise, it isn’t a news story sound bite, and it isn’t an ego rally speech tossed like raw meat to your shrinking faithful cult of salivating sycophants—this is the Presidency. It is a big person’s job. It’s complicated and it’s difficult and it requires work, and it requires a capacity and commitment that it’s fairly clear you don’t possess. Most of all, it requires an ability to know when you’re attempting something above your pay grade and when you need to delegate to qualified people, instead of flailing around wildly and blaming everyone else when it all hits the fan.

44 other men already sat where you now sit (where a woman should rightly be sitting), and dozens of them inherited far greater financial, social, or military challenges than you have. Yet not one of them daily complained to the Press about how difficult their job was, and they didn’t blame America for being “difficult”, and they didn’t publicly declare their country a mess (of course none of them spent 20 percent of their days on the golf course either, but then again they seemed to realize the gravity and responsibility of the position.)

But the point, Mr. Trump, is that we are not the mess you say we are, we are not standing on the precipice of certain disaster (your staggering recklessness aside), and we are not presently horrible.

If you stopped golfing and Tweeting, and indiscriminately dropping bombs to distract from talk of Russia long enough to actually took a look around, you’d see:

This country is wildly diverse and quite miraculously coexisting in this reality, all things considered.
Christians and Muslims and Jews are serving in the streets of their cities together.
People are marrying outside of their faith traditions and across color lines.
More and more churches are welcoming the LGBTQ community.

Good people are feeding the poor and teaching children and rebuilding neighborhoods and caring for the elderly.
Families are raising children to be decent and generous and compassionate.
Teenagers are discovering who they are meant to be.
College kids are studying hard and forging their dreams in real-time.
We are straight and gay, bisexual and Transgender.
We are people of every pigmentation.
We are Christian and Atheist, Muslim and Agnostic, Jew and Humanist, Native American and immigrant.
We are refugee and undocumented and 4th generations born here.
We are rural whites and coastal elites and Bible Belters and heartlanders.

In other words, America is being who America has been long before you arrived and (if you can manage not to completely destroy us), long after you’re gone, hopefully less than four years from now. Far from perfect, but even further from being a mess—we’re the place where all people are supposed to be treated with dignity and decency, and allowed to pursue life, liberty, and happiness unfettered. We are the land of the free, the home of the brave, and we’re not falling for your nonsense that pretends we’re anything less than that.

So, Mr. Trump, stop being so cavalier and careless with something that we and our forefathers and foremothers worked so hard for. You don’t deserve this country, and the least you can do is stop try to gaslight us into believing that we are broken and in need of fixing or that we’re something doomed that needs saving.

We just need you to stop fighting and derailing and sabotaging us at every turn and we’ll be just fine.

We’re not the mess here, Mr. Trump—

—we’re pretty damn glorious.