just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness

Is Anger Ever Justified?

Published on 12/11/15
by randy


Examining the wake of our actions, thoughts and emotions


This has been one of the more difficult spiritual questions. No doubt, as an emotion, we can’t stop anger from bubbling up. But what happens when we water the seeds of anger, growing our discontent, attaching to our justification for it? I posed this to our prison sangha (spiritual community) yesterday and received some insightful replies. Some spoke to the need for anger to motivate us to do something when we perceive something’s ‘not right’. One inmate spoke to what we do when our ‘core beliefs’ are threatened. I then asked what a belief was, suggesting that any belief we hold is a continued attachment to a thought. The Buddha said we suffer to the extent we attach to our thoughts, emotions, stuff, etc. Our peace and freedom are found in a skill at letting go these attachments. As we grow our greed, fear and illusion of separateness we grow our suffering. As we water and grow the seeds of generosity, compassion and sense of belonging we decrease our suffering. So how does that relate to effectiveness in social change? No doubt, many of our most significant social changes have come through strong justification of anger. Individuals and groups have felt forced into a corner by a perceived adversary that threatens their very existence. Both parties have taken thoughts, elaborated on them, developed a strong opinion, and fed negative emotions that create a readiness to war actions. We can’t deny the effectiveness of ‘anger justified’ in progressing our society to more humane behavior. Yet, we can see how history has not been kind to those who started a movement in such a way. They create a backlash that often results in their death and our worship of the martyr. We can’t judge the positive or negative value of this since life is simply too complicated. However, we must never stop asking how we can do it better. We must forever review history and examine the results of our ‘justified anger’.

Our spiritual teachers advise us to always humble ourselves to the vast mystery. When we act from humility and faith to life’s uncertainty and our limited information, we’re much more careful. Wisdom has shown us that ‘the problem is never what we think it is’. Our spiritual teachers have directed us to non-violence, to let go our anger, and to water the seeds of our compassion for one another, even our perceived enemies. Most of our military conflicts have been initiated on faulty information. In my life, most of my personal conflicts have begun on incorrect premises. When we see how huge the mystery is, when we step back with a bigger awareness, we get bigger than the perceived problem. The operative phrase is, “When the problem seems big, get bigger than the problem”. Our current political system no longer meets the needs of our rapidly changing world. Our political leaders and potential candidates are locked into ‘justified anger’, holding what I see as ‘small minds’ to a much bigger issue. Greed for power and special interest, fear of things not going the way we’d like, and attachment to small belonging and persuasion threaten our planet. This is a sure fire recipe for justified anger and impulsive behavior. The most obvious symptom from this ‘dis-ease’ is inability to listen and anger. The attached mind refuses to listen to possibility for another map. They’ve concluded the map they’ve drawn in their minds is the ‘right map’. They see their job as one of convincing others to agree with their map. Yet, the territory is way too big. The mystery is bottomless and the only appropriate response is to listen to one another, rely on divine Providence to offer up bigger solutions, as we silently humble ourselves to cultivate a deeper sense of interconnection, of a bigger belonging.

We spend months and billions of dollars going through our political election campaign. To me, the most important skill for leadership is effective listening. Yet, our media channels don’t want this. By definition, they’re motivated by conflict. Their job is to increase viewership by generating a fighting climate that thrives on ‘justified anger’, ‘fixed maps’, ‘fighting debates’, ‘monolog and persuasion’. The concept of non-violence doesn’t seem to be in their agenda. They seem to only base their comments on who won, who was most greedy and effective in the power game, who sold the parent (Big Daddy take care of us) image, who raised the most money for their support and their ability to demonize their competitor. Yet, most of our great leaders, over the course of time, come to see the value in collaboration and sophistication in dialog skill. Media only wants to speak to skills in negotiation and debate. The divided mind is forever asking how it can win. Donald Trump may be the most extreme example of this. These power brokers feed on the weak mind, seeking to gain confidence from their followers, and personify the essence of the ‘con man’. It’s someone who persuades you to believe their map, convincing you that it’s the territory. They work to justify their fixed thoughts and opinions, seek to justify their anger, hope to bring you to agreement so they can act upon their incomplete map.

Today is Veterans Day. It originally started as Armistice Day, a day to lay down arms in recognition to our divine interconnection. In pause to the horrors of WWI, 11/11 was set aside as a day to cultivate the oneness of humanity, the non-dualistic mind and the commitment to not harm one another. It’s been transformed to pause in respect to the pain and suffering experienced by those who’ve fought in military conflict. To me, it will always be a day to strengthen our commitment to listen deeply to one another, acknowledging the fact that we can never understand each other. Yet, deeper listening will move us closer to understanding, will lesson our need and greed to change one another to our map, will loosen our attachment to anger and fear, and will bring us closer to a non-violent outcome.

We’re not born with sophisticated listening skills.  It’s a skill set that takes a dedicated practice and years of training and application.  It’s a spiritual path that cultivates our interdependence, that mandates ‘anger is never justified’, and always aims to cause no harm in faith to the vast Mystery (Source, God, etc.).   It’s leadership that balances the body, mind and spirit in deep stewardship to the precious nature of life, forever humbled to the omnipresence of the Divine.  In vetting a future leader I’m most interested in how they take care of themselves, how they’ve found similarity and openness in diversity, how they take care of nature, and most importantly, how well developed they are in active listening skills. If they’ve locked into a ‘justified anger’ rant it’s my opinion they’ll take on a powerful position with potential to truly create a mess of things.  How do I know?  It’s what my personal experience has been over decades of living.  It’s been far better to always save my anger for another day (Solomon’s Wisdom).  Amazingly, when that next day comes I can see how things have changed and my actions cause less harm as I diminish growing and justifying my anger.

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