by Ed Gurowitz
In MKP we talk about feelings a lot, and particularly, it seems to me, about anger. We have processes to “get anger out,” and implicitly or explicitly we seem to value other feelings (love, joy, empathy) over anger and fear.
On the one hand, I can get that – so much damage seems to be rooted in anger – violence, abuse, destruction, war to name a few. But what if that is only the shadow side of anger? Is there a gold side as well?
Much of what I see in the world brings up anger for me. Racism, sexism, hetero-sexism, oppression, terrorism, rape – the list goes on – and this anger seems honest and appropriate to me. The philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written extensively about emotions, and she makes the case that all emotion is based in judgments, and judgments are based in values. I can see clearly that this anger that I judge to be “healthy anger” is based in my core value of fairness. So what? What good is it?
One way of looking at feelings is that they are energy. I’ve gone through some periods of my life when I was clinically depressed and, whether because of the depression or the meds that treated it, I felt very little; I also had very little energy – just getting out of bed in the morning was an effort. When I’m in a more stable state, I have feelings and my feelings energize me.
After my son died in March, I had several weeks when all I could feel was sadness and grief, and the only action of which I seemed to be capable was crying. At an NWTA weekend I had occasion to be part of a man’s carpet work – he chose me to represent the energy of his dead father, and as I lay on the floor, he communicated everything he had to say to his Dad, and I responded “I’m sorry.” Not by chance, I think, almost everything he was angry at his father for were things I’d said to my son, and you won’t be surprised to hear that by the end of the work I was a complete mess. I stepped out with the Ritual Elder for the weekend and processed my feelings, and by the time I was done I was clear what there was for me to do – to turn my son’s life and death into a contribution – to take his loving heart out into the world through me.
I describe this because, for me, it’s an example of the gold in anger. Under my sadness and grief, I was angry – angry at myself for what I considered my failures as a father, angry at Michael for dying, angry at God and fate and anything else I could think of. When, through the work in MKP and with that Ritual Elder I processed the anger, I found an impetus for positive action
As I said earlier, there is a lot in the world to be angry about for me as an individual, as a member of various groups, and as a human being in society. I intend to use that anger as a stimulus for constructive action to change the world. Each thing I’m angry about points me in two directions – inward to ask what shadow of mine is reflected there that I’m struggling to accept in myself? What in my own racism, sexism, hetero-sexism, oppression am I seeing out there? Where do I oppress others, where am I given to violence? And outward to see what can I take on and change in the world – where can I strike a blow against all that?
So I’m suggesting that the energy we derive from anger (and all our feelings) be put to work in constructive ways – not just complaining or engaging in flame wars, but by directing the energy into a project of service within our individual missions and the overall mission of MKP. Some of what I think are MKP’s proudest work – the work in Pine Ridge, the statement against Racism, the Multi-Cultural trainings, to name just a few – came from men putting their energy into doing something about things they were angry about, hurt by, afraid of, or loving toward.
Don’t know what to do? Look to what you care about and do something – I’m on the Finance and OrgDev Committees because I care about the financial health and viability of the organization – use the energy of your feelings to get into action in your community, in your Area, or in MKP USA.
As a man among men, I am a committed man and I choose to use my anger as a goad to put me in action to heal myself and to heal the world, one man at a time.