A very wealthy businessman and I often got together to talk about human nature in broad terms. As a businessman, he wanted some pre-Google knowledge on what large groups of people might do based on their common values and interests. And as humans, we are remarkably predictable.
I was, and am, able to help with questions like that by simply noting shifts in the patterns that I started detecting following my accident. Since then, I cannot help but notice these flows and shifts in language use, behaviour, and media.
For me, these forces are near-tangible, in the way that a person might perceive a current moving through water. And it has a surprisingly consistent logic to it all. And not unlike fluid dynamics, pressure is a major factor. Over the last several years, I have been noting a growing amount of pressure that is often discussed in other terms.
When I say ‘growing,’ I don’t really mean in size. In fact, the good news is that it’s actually shrinking. But that also means that these ways of thinking are being increasingly squeezed by the other much larger forces around it. The internal pressure is rising. And it’s that pressure, in various groups, that’s creating a lot of the hubbub we’re seeing in society today.
Whether we agree or disagree with them, the average person knows these ‘currents’ by their primary features, which is often some form of negative, disruptive, and often unproductive display of fear-based anger. And this emotion is generally exhibited towards ideas, symbols, institutions, and often against individuals for simply holding a belief, or for simply having some connection to any of the defined symbols or organizations.
While their intentions are generally good (even in cases where their information is bad), in using their anger as a threat, people unwittingly become vigilante Thought Police. Others must agree to think like the angry person or they will be attacked or undermined in some way, shape or form.
For the angry person, the desire to control others is partially about superiority and control. But it is far more useful to recognize its source—which is fear. In reality, all anger is created by fear.
A racist isn’t angry at the person they are racist toward—they are afraid of them or their influence. Maybe they’re worried about living up to new competition, or threats to their status. Animals experience those feelings too.
The problem is, humans turn that natural competitive experience into a narrative. In seeking to explain our ugly feelings, our egos will often encourage us to outsource our troubles to someone other than us. Which means the blame game is merely a way of dealing with an insecurity.
Of course, people of all stripes have the ability to be afraid and to have that fear present as anger. And every group can justify its actions with a positive narrative—even some Nazi’s, arguably the worst people ever, truly believed that they were ‘saving’ the world. That’s the scariest part about them.
This is why we all must be suspect of our own desires. We must always remember we can be wrong, and every human often will be. This is why it’s often more valuable to listen to those that disagree with us, than those that agree with us. As the saying goes: ‘a person can be smart, but people are dumb.’
Fortunately, our behaviour will tell us who we are really being, because it all happens in the present moment. So even if we believe our cause to be good, our test to know if we’re off target is if we find ourselves engaging in cruel, abusive, or opportunistic behaviour, simply because we have a narrative justification for it.
The narrative is nothing more than an ephemeral thing that temporarily exists between our ears. The abuse is damaging to another living being. One can be thought of at any time, and so exists in the realm of ego. Whereas the other is an action that can only take place in the present.
Of course, today, people seem particularly keen on describing their own anger as righteousness, and other’s anger as ‘the issue.’ And certainly some groups do seem to more aligned with the future than others. But we don’t even need to take a side to recognize that the real issue is not between the actual people—it’s simply that there are major perception differences between the groups.
Since confusion is more of the issue, we do not repair the culture by forcing others to think like us. That’s a form of tyranny. We’re better to allow people to have their beliefs even if we disagree with them. But if we cease to judge them, and instead endeavour to understand them, then we can find healthy, positive and productive ways to communicate and share our concerns with them.
If we feel there are healthier or more productive beliefs for others to have, we should not try to force them to think like us because we claim superiority. We should win them over on the inside, by doing our best to compassionately illustrate why it is that we find a different approach is better for all involved, including them.
Confused people do ugly things. If we keep mistaking the confusion for ugliness, we will continue to try to fix our problems using the wrong set of tools. Anger, force and demands are not effective ways to see change in others. We are best to seek the best within them. It will reliably be there.
If we want people to display more compassion to more people, then we are best to start by modelling it in our interactions with angry people. Fortunately, in most cases, once we make it past their initial set of defenses, we will almost always find someone eager to make the connection we’re offering.
Remember: anger is fear. Do not react to other’s anger. Respond to their fear.
I’ve posted it before, but it’s very apropos to the subject, so for those that haven’t seen it:
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.