I am reading "Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success" by Hall of Fame coach and player Phil Jackson. In the chapter entitled "The Wisdom of Anger" Jackson states that managing this emotion is every coach's most difficult task." It is necessary to have aggressive intensity to win games and yet it can become destructive quite quickly. However, it must be channeled.
Though he was writing about coaching basketball, I found his insights on anger, as related to how we feel today to be helpful and hopeful.
In Western culture we tend to view anger as a flaw that needs to be eliminated. That’s how I was raised. As devout Christians, my parents felt that anger was a sin and should be dispelled. But trying to eliminate anger never works. The more you try to suppress it, the more likely it is to erupt later in a more virulent form. A better approach is to become as intimate as possible with how anger works on your mind and body so that you can transform its underlying energy into something productive. As Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman writes, “our goal surely is to conquer anger, but not to destroy the fire it has misappropriated. We will wield that fire with wisdom and turn it to creative ends.”
In fact, to recent studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology demonstrate a link between anger and creativity. In one study, researchers discovered that feelings of anger initially improved the participants’ ability to brainstorm creatively. In another study, the same researchers found that subjects who were prompted to feel angry generated more creative ideas than those who experienced sadness or a non-emotional state. The conclusion: Anger is an energizing emotion that enhances the sustained attention needed to solve problems and leads to more flexible “big picture” thinking.Jackson concludes that it takes both practice and courage to be present with anger. Indeed. But when viewed this way, anger can be a powerful force for bringing about positive change.
We need not pretend like our anger isn't real. We are angry that again, lives are lost at the hands of police brutality. We are angry that our problems with race still linger, fester, harm and hurt. We are angry that gun violence has taken so many innocent lives. We should not tell one another to "deal with it." Rather, let's harness our anger and brainstorm creatively. Why not link it to solutions that are fresh and new? I truly believe we need creativity now more than ever.
I bring one suggestion to every conversation I have been having on racism. We need to talk about it. The question I have doesn't take away from my belief—but it's one I need to ask.
I want to talk about race and I want to listen to others talk about it. However, if we do talk about it, are we willing to listen—truly listen— to what others say when they talk about race? I firmly believe listening is an act of love. We see this modeled by God in Scripture. God hears the cries of the poor. God heard the Israelites who lived as slaves. It is not easy to do....it might take time, patience and practice as well.
And what if we do not agree with another person—how will we respond? How will you respond? (I say this assuming a person is NOT holding racist, dehumanizing or hateful points of view. There ought to be a no tolerance policy that...though you might contend, who decides). I want to know: Is it ok to be in different places? to have different points of view? Do we always need to agree? And what if we just don't know what to believe?
For example, I am still very conflicted about my feelings toward Colin Kaepernick. I understand why he took a knee during the national anthem (rather than sit or not put his hand on his heart). I respect the intention behind his actions. I know about the relationship between the NFL and our military, the wealth of owners and how the league doesn't function without the players, which add to the complexity of responses and reactions. I wonder about options that could have been taken by Kaep as a member of a team. I also believe it's difficult to separate the message and the messenger. Kaepernick still raises questions for me. I really don't know that I have a full opinion. I have serious questions about the governance of the NFL, his employer a financial force. I question their message and their messnger too. I think that's ok. But is it? Some will say "yes" and some won't.
I believe in talking and in listening because I hope to learn from others and I hope others can learn from me. I enjoy raising questions. I do my best to listen with an open mind and heart. However, I have found that many of the questions I raise—sometimes simply for the sake of looking at an issue from another point of view—arouse hostility and anger. When I raise a question, I am not trying to undermine a person's point of view. I am not even endorsing another way. I am simply trying to have a discussion. Again, I don't always know. I don't assume another person does either. I love when together—a friend, a family member and me come to a new understanding. Maybe even a creative one! This isn't always easy.
How to root out racism isn't the job of teachers and parents, activists and athletes. It's work we all must do. Some people will have read more. Some will have been directly affected by racism in a way another has not. Some will want to ask questions. Some will want answers. Some of us might struggle with both.
To me, racism is not just this country's original sin, it's one that humanity struggles with. That is precisely why I am a Christian. I am in need of a Redeemer. As a spiritual hymn proclaims "I know that my Redeemer lives." He does. I pray to him with my anger and with my questions....I do think HE has the answers.