How can I cultivate intentional kindness & decency despite fear & anger?
January 9, 2017 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Like many of you, I've been imbibing a heady emotional cocktail of fear and anger since the US election. I'm putting more time/effort/money toward opposing Trump's agenda and supporting progressive policies at the local level, and I'm working to stay on top of self-care (therapy, as-needed anti-anxiety meds, occasional spiritual counseling, sharing love & support with family/friends, closing the fucking tab when I need to). Here's where I'm concerned: I think it's important to maintain the capacity for moral outrage in the face of injustice. However, I worry about turning into an "angry person."

More specifically, perhaps, I worry about anger giving way to bitterness, and the bitterness just becoming part of who I am. I want to maintain my capacity for moral outrage without my anger becoming misdirected. When I am angry, when I am upset about the state of the world, remembering to approach the people I encounter throughout the day with love and openness falls, unbidden, from my list of priorities. So how can I hold on to the intentionality of kindness and decency? How can I call down the better angels of my nature as I go through my day-to-day life?
posted by duffell to Human Relations (14 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is very much about developing better boundaries. There is a lot of shitty societal stuff out there that expects us to give until it hurts (or it doesn't really count) and lots of social bs that causes an act of kindness to put you on a slippery slope towards being everyone's bitch and doormat and victim until you hate people.

Learn to give what you can comfortably spare.
Learn to measure your giving by how much it benefits other people, not how much it costs you.
Learn to politely say "no" when people try to bleed you because you made the mistake of being nice to them once. Also learn to recognize when it is time to put your foot down more firmly and let them know their expectation is inappropriate and will not fly.
posted by Michele in California at 8:56 AM on January 9, 2017 [8 favorites]

I think this is why people go to church. I've been trying to figure out some kind of non-authorititarian, non-corrupt, non-boring, outwardly-focused, meaningful-activity-centered, regularly-scheduled church substitute, but haven't succeeded so far.

The closest I've come is the occasional theater group, but they seem focused on "providing opportunities" and self-focused fulfillment for the artists _themselves_, which tends to feel empty to me.
posted by amtho at 8:59 AM on January 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

Go for a daily walk during which you think about only good things -- e.g. the trees and whatnot around you -- and do not think about any of the things that you are angry/upset about.

When interacting with a person, give that interaction your full attention and endeavour to be maximally kind and charming.
posted by heatherlogan at 9:03 AM on January 9, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Trust but verify. This mantra has helped me acknowledge my anger and pain, but it also helps me to recognize that not everyone is a terrible person. However, at the same time, once I've seen any capacity for unkindness, I know I don't have to be a doormat.

The other thing that has helped me is find a community of kind people, where I can witness their examples to remind me of the good in the world. This could be anything from volunteering at a community level, participating in an activity, or even sharing meals/coffee with people you know are kind in their every day life.
posted by A hidden well at 9:13 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: What is helpful to me is that there is a difference between being angry (I am often angry) and acting angrily (I am outwardly calm most of the time and working on it when I am not). Have a conscious approach to when, if ever, you act angrily which is appropriate to the situation. Learning to detach feelings from actions is useful. You can approach this in a number of ways. For me, taking some time to meditate--specifically when I felt I HAD NO TIME, because of course that feeling is part of it--and learning to just have a feeling without it immediately turning it into "Something MUST be done"

Because a lot of the time, honestly, you're not engaging in direct action to solve all the worlds problems. You're sleeping or eating or reading or being with your friends and family. And that, too, is part of it. That too, is helpful. No one is fully 100% committed to ALWAYS ON JUSTICE. We all do what we can, when we can. So the immediacy of anger which can help you get away from a bear, does not always serve you with the long goals of dealing with the depressing drama of This Political Situation. And the urgency of "this is the only thing that will help!" is good for spurring action but doesn't always play out that way (i.e. maybe that didn't get done and here we are mostly still alive).

It's okay to feel bad and it's okay to talk about it and it's okay to be angry. Choose your companions and associates from people who help you be a better you, not the people who make you feel bad about how you feel or how you act (if you've determined you are feeling and acting appropriately). Find ways to experience joy with the world (I watch birds, I write letters to friends) as well as sorrow. Hopelessness is a bad place to be stuck and it's a lava pit that can often be danced around without falling in. Be kind to yourself first and it helps you be kinder to others.
posted by jessamyn at 9:31 AM on January 9, 2017 [16 favorites]

It's the tiniest thing but I try to take the end of "Lot's Wife" from Caroline, Or Change as my mantra: "Don't let my sorrow make evil of me."
posted by ferret branca at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I keep a gratitude journal. I list 3 things that I am grateful for each day. I am working on finding acts of kindness done by people as part of my new years resolutions to try to train myself to defaulting to seeing people as mostly good & kind. So I list 1 act by a person, 1 beautiful thing I saw, 1 thing within my family.

It's OK to be angry at those that deserve it use it as a motivating force to do things to oppose those people & limit the damage they can do. But living with anger is, as the quote says "like drinking poison & expecting the other person to die." the continual anger will hurt no one but yourself and more importantly help no one at all.

I find if I allow myself time to be actively angry. ie I can't just stew I have to be doing something with that anger, really helps me. So in my case I've set aside time every Thursday to spend a half hour to an hour to do something active to fight against the people that make me feel angry & despondent. I will write a letter or make a phone call to a representative. Spend time learning more online. Tracking what bills are coming up at a state level. Write donation cheques. Having this time where I allow myself to feel the anger but do something with it has made me feel less helpless & has also allowed me to put the waves of anger that sweep over me into perspective. I'm like yes OK I'm angry right now, there is nothing I can do in this moment to improve that situation, on Thursday I will find an active way I can fight whatever is making me angry right now. I find this has really helped me compartmentalize the anger & stop it taking over my life. I have "stopped drinking the poison."
posted by wwax at 10:05 AM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: What helps me a lot is to remember that only a fairly small minority of people voted for that guy. In my city, despite being relatively wealthy and way too white, he lost by a landslide. So most of the people I see walking around here may look like bad guys, but I probably do too.

There are some supporters here, though, and for that, I think it helps to be as public, as articulate, and as consistent about your message as you can. I don't want the Trump supporters to think I might be one of them. I want them to be uncomfortable around me, and I hope that by extension they'll be less comfortable around other people who look like me. Send out whatever cultural markers you're able to. Declare it on signs, clothing, reusable bags you use at the grocery store, write letters to your local papers, anything else you can think of. (I don't do bumperstickers personally, because once, near my house, a guy tried to run me off the road because of a tiny ACLU sticker on my car, and that would have put a lot of people in danger. I'm OK if someone wants to egg my house or punch me in the face, but road rage doesn't just affect me, so I don't consider it my risk to take.)

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of them are OK. If they reveal themselves not to be OK, then you get to be shocked and appalled, and as far as I'm concerned, you can direct your perfectly reasonable anger toward them loudly, clearly, and articulately. The shock part, I think, is important. If you're a perfectly reasonable, non-angry person who becomes angry once someone reveals their hateful beliefs, it leaves little doubt as to where the problem lies.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:08 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For me right now, part of the answer is being really selfish right now about taking care of physical, mental and spiritual health. I realized more deeply in the last election cycle that all the anger and outrage in the world isn't enough to stop great evil from happening. I also realized that my continual outrage was wreaking havoc on my health. So I'm taking a step back from the news and intentionally not got gearing up for the "resistance" -- but rather, focusing on how I can lower my stress, improve my relationships with the people in my life, cultivate joy and a sense of peace on a daily basis. I'm sure that at some point in the relatively near future I will come back to the political process, but I can't do that when I'm feeling angry all the time or stressed to the point of delirium. I want to enjoin positive collective change but I realize that unless I prioritize my health, I won't be able to bring my highest, strongest, wisest self to the service of humanity.

By the way -- I think you're a really awesome person for even asking this question.
posted by Gray Skies at 10:18 AM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

I picked a new organization in my town with which to volunteer, so that I will be providing service to and having contact with real people who I am likely to interact with -- and if I am a dick to them, there will be Real Consequences.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:59 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm actively volunteering with a group that directly serves my city, the dividends paid to me of making my city *better* are priceless even though I don't earn dollars. It makes me so grateful that I have a job that allows me to also volunteer (bc I am able to work PT). I truly believe everyone needs something in their lives that gives them personal satisfaction in this way (helping yourself through helping others). Find out what that is for you!
posted by Pocahontas at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have been struggling with anger, too, and my answer to that has been to turn to compassion, again and again. It's hard, but I consider it my "true north" in life. I feel that if I am coming from a place of compassion, I will always be choosing according to my principles. (Michelle in California mentions boundaries upthread, and it reminds me that Brené Brown wrote that compassion starts with boundaries and does involve holding people accountable.)

The other half of dealing with my feelings has been to engage in battle. I am ferociously determined to put more active kindness into the world to offset the horribleness. Even small acts ripple out.

It helps to sometimes watch videos of acts of kindness.
posted by moira at 11:40 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

I agree that it's extra hard these days, but I got to this place by meditating and reading/consuming media by/about Alan Watts, Tim Leary, Baba Ram Dass, and very especially Robert Anton Wilson.

The journey of finding your way from a natural place of difficulty, fear, and hate while maintaining social integrity is exactly what RAW details in the Cosmic Trigger books. I'm paraphrasing, but there is a story about his daughter Luna that seems to have been very important to him and is now very important to me. It almost always brings me to tears to read it or think about it.

Luna as a teenager worked in some local retail shop and she was beaten fairly severely in a robbery. Understandably, her father, RAW, was beside himself in anger. He wanted to find them and personally wring their necks, but Luna said something to him along the lines of, "But think of the fear and pain they must hold in their hearts every day that would leave them capable of doing what they did. If we respond to that with hate, then we're just passing along the pain they passed to me." And at that moment he understood what was meant by "stopping the wheel of karma."

Some time later she was beaten to death in a separate robbery, and RAW and his wife Arlen then had to use their own daughter's insight to find a way to forgive their daughter's killers. If they didn't, not only would it have meant passing on that pain to others, it would have meant that they would do so forever because they would also have carried that pain in the form of hate inside themselves for the rest of their lives.

I cannot imagine what it would take to perform a feat of compassion of that scale, but remembering that story helps me try to forgive and understand rude drivers and Trump voters at least.
posted by cmoj at 2:29 PM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Anger is totally appropriate, and even healthy as long as you have a suitable outlet for it. My plan? I'm going to attack him in the c*ntiest way possible. On twitter. Every day. Feel free to do the same. And enlist all your friends. That's what I'm doing. Because it's really hard to destroy a country from the executive office if all your time is eaten up by glaring at your phone in a blind and ineffective rage.
Pass it on.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:21 PM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

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