Last week we heard news of another mass student shooting-suicide in a school this time in Washington State and two policemen killed in a senseless shootout in California both due to anger expressed through the barrel of a guns. Every day in the U.S. an average of 289 people are shot. 86 of them die: 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves, 2 die accidentally, and 1 shot by police. Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns in the U.S. in contrast to 58,300 troop killed in action in over 11 years of intense fighting in the Vietnam War. Gun violence is one of the most common and extreme expressions of anger due to gun availability and their ease and efficiency at dispensing instant gratification and deadly retribution. But gun violence is only one of the many acts of anger.
Expressing anger is far too common a response when confronted with situations we have difficulty dealing with. When we can’t resolve a situation to our satisfaction we act out. Road rage is one clear example when some driver pisses us off bringing out the very worst in us including a few choice but unheard expletives. Violence at sporting events such as Bryan Stow who was beaten in 2011 at Dodger Stadium suffering brain damage occasionally happen. Fights not resulting in serious injuries are more common. Then there is national anger expressed by our government against others who we find extremely difficult to deal with and end up sending troops in an attempt to resolve our way.
For a civilized nation which professes a strongly opposition to injustice we too often go out of our way to demonstrate that we are not a country others should tangle with by dishing out some of our own unjust justice. We reflect this as a nation when we feel compelled to fix the perceived evils of the world by showing everyone that we have the mightiest military fighting machine the world has ever seen. But too often we are surprised and further angered and frustrated when a small force of terrorist using early 20th century weapons against our overwhelming modern 21st century technology manages to keep us at bay.
What compels us to respond with so much anger when as young children we are taught that love is good and hate is bad and that we should forgive those who are mean to us and turn the other cheek as taught at Sunday school and church? We seem to live in two worlds, one as religious people in love, compassion, and forgiveness and the other of anger, hate and revenge. Our brains seem to have a love and anger switch. We turn on the love switch on Sunday at church then switch on the ‘I’ll teach you whose boss‘ switch when leaving church. Our favorite pastimes are watching violent contact sports such as football, ice hockey and wrestling, playing video games of killing and mayhem, or watching violent movies or TV programs. We are so competitive both at work and play that it seems our sole objective in life is to get ahead of everyone else by figuring ways of humiliating or eliminating the completion. It seems so much part of our culture.
Perhaps I am being a bit extreme but there are some people like this and most of us are like this to some degree. Climbing the social or workplace ladder of success often seems to requires aggressive behaviors, aggression being the precursor to anger. Being at the top of our profession or organization brings much prestige, praise, satisfaction and monetary reward. So we play all kinds of games such as acted out as in some of the reality TV shows we watch with such fascination every week.
So how do you think this all looks to someone not part of our culture? A bit barbaric, egotistical, and self centered? Is it possible that those backwards fundamentalist Muslims may actually have it right? I’m not talking about the few terrorist that hate and kill but the many more decent peace loving and faithful Muslims. They live their religion daily throughout every aspect of their lives, not just on Friday at the mosque. They believe that goodness and compassion are virtues to practice daily. I worked with Muslims in Malaysia and they were wonderful and loving people.
So maybe there is something to be learned from other cultures where anger is not such a common response. Perhaps we should take our Sunday school teacher’s lessons more to heart all the time. Perhaps love, charity, compassion, forgiveness, humility, and turning the other cheek are better and more powerful life forces than anger, hate, revenge, destroying the opposition, and showing others you are not to be messed with.
It would seem quite rational that peace is far more preferable to war so why declare so many wars? The U.S. has been in more wars in the last half century than any other nation due to our intolerance and anger. War is simply a nation acting out its anger violently. It seems we need to humble ourselves and stop getting so angry both as a society with so much gun violence and as a nation of so much war. This seems the most rational approach to life and living don’t you agree?