Holbrook: A summer of anger (column)
August 22, 2016
This has been a summer full of angry outbursts.
Back in July, as the US electoral landscape heated up, my sister and I got into a furious email debacle over a politically-charged YouTube video. My sister bolstered her side of the story with a barrage of links to articles on Breitbart News, while I staunchly defended my position with the help of experts at The New York Times. Thanks to the ever-narrowing filter of the internet, it seems that each of us today is living in our own private and separate world of news and information. My sister's position was as incomprehensible to me as I am sure mine was to her. Currently, we are not speaking to each other.
Then, for nearly five weeks, I was busy with a large-scale project that involved traveling throughout Colorado, interviewing and photographing winemakers and others in the agricultural industry. As I traveled across our beautiful state, I was dismayed by the enormous number of combative, political placards and bumper stickers — even lovely old barns had invectives scrawled in graffiti across them.
How much was my own state of mind influenced by the rancor I'd wake up to every day, when I turned on the radio or logged in to various social-media accounts? Although I was working on a project I cared deeply about and enjoyed my time chatting with local farmers, I also noticed my mood turning officious and controlling when things didn't go my way. I was quick to anger at the colleague I was traveling with, a person whose style was more tentative than mine, which made him seem less competent in my eyes. At least twice during our project, I leveled angry accusations at him about how I felt he was falling short.
And then last week, there was the honey jar.
At one of the local grocery stores, we'd recently purchased a big, new container of honey. My boyfriend picked it out, attracted by the container's honeycomb pattern that felt nice when you picked it up. And I liked the neon orange cap and label, with "Raw And Unfiltered" stamped in bold, graphic black lettering.
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At breakfast, my boyfriend noticed that the front and back labels on the honey container had biblical phrases printed across them.
"I am not crazy about having religious verses on my honey," Alan said. When I didn't respond, he persisted, "Don't you think it's inappropriate?"
I hadn't noticed those verses, and it didn't particularly bother me that they were on the honey label. Was Alan just looking for an argument? Rather than pausing to consider a more measured response, I snapped: "Do we really need to get into a fight over the honey container?"
Then I noticed that the label also included "Made By American Bees." Now MY buttons were being pushed. Why drag bees in this? Is the manufacturer certain that these are "American" bees? Seeing as this honey was produced in Texas, could it be possible that some of these bees had crossed the border from Mexico, looking for work? In fact, wasn't this the most offending part of the honey labeling?
And even though Alan and I share most of the same views, we got into an argument anyway and spoilt what is usually a favorite time of the day to spend together.
Anger can be a tempting option, and it seems to be one that has been given full license these days. But how much good does it ultimately do? "In the grip of anger, we are no longer the master of our thoughts speech or actions," writes Columbia University professor and Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman. "Once this happens, we are not 'expressing our anger,' as is often said to justify a supposedly healthy release; rather, we have become the involuntary instrument of our rage. No longer in control of it, we have become its effect." (Tenzin Robert Thurman, "Love Your Enemies," 2013)
What is one to do about all this? After all, isn't it the political landscape that has made us edgy and contributed to a simmering sense of unease and a quickness to anger? Surely it is the politicians, the media, corporate interests, the insurance companies, our family and perhaps our annoying neighbors who are to blame.
But is that the case? Or is it we who bear some responsibility for this angry, divisive environment we now find ourselves in? Is the world mirroring back at us an unflattering but true reflection of who we are?
The words of the Chinese philosopher Confucius are a good reminder for us today. He lived during the Zhou Dynasty from 551 to 479 B.C. As a teacher and a politician, he had strong beliefs about what qualities would create the basis for a stable society. Individual self-awareness and strong personal ethics were chief among these. In other words, it all comes down to each of us:
To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.
If we want to see change, and change for the better, it is up to us to set our hearts right, to resist the easy out of anger and blame that not only divides us, but also erodes our personal relationships, happiness and peace of mind. It may be through trial and error, and it may be imperfect, but, ultimately, change will only come when we find a way to relate to each other with tolerance, insight and compassion.
Christina Holbrook lives in Breckenridge.