“Few are guilty but all are responsible,” the great religious scholar and leader Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about the moral state of a people. As a people, we Americans are at a turning point in our history. The core issue challenging us is alienation. Alienation is at the root of decades of increasing violence and misogyny. It is at the root of destruction for destruction’s sake in our politics, too many newscasts, and internet vitriol. And it is at the root of how we have failed to come together to respond effectively to the pandemic, to gun violence, and to climate change. Out of my deep concern and fear, this is the third of six posts which are passages from chapters 12 and 13 in my book The Midnight Hour which I believe can help us reclaim responsibility for the spirit of our country.
Taking Responsibility for Rage and Creativity
Oh yes, it has been a rule in my life for a long time that rage is bad. I was taught from the beginning of my life that rage is destructive. For my first ten years or so that teaching was crudely enforced by my father’s outbursts of rage, which terrified me even though he was never physically abusive to any of us or even threatened to be. But I sure learned I didn’t want to be like him, and I didn’t want to scare my children that way. I still have what almost seems like a natural inclination to want to smother my rage even though I now know better.
What does it mean now to know better? It means I have learned that for any real creation, there must be a rage. It takes rage to break through the chrysalis of fear, pride, conventional thinking, our need for approval, or whatever is encapsulating us. Creativity requires the concentration of all our passion, our love, our anger, our rage, and our hatred—the concentration of all of these combined with our sensitivity and our thoughtfulness. This reality is true whether we are creating art, a new business, or a new life.
If we simply act out our rage, we are wasting it in a destructive manner. Looking back, I want to weep for my father. He expressed his rage over and over. He was wasting it and using it to avoid the real issues. If he had forged it with his other feelings, he could have become passionate enough to break out of the life that encapsulated him and break through the inner barriers of fear that blocked his ability to find his creativity and through it a life with a more satisfying purpose.
We must not waste our rage. And we must remember there are some things we should hate furiously. Acting out rage and hate may bring temporary relief and may make us feel powerful for a moment, but this path is never satisfying in the long run. It can also become a perpetual path of denying the real issues we need to confront. It is much better if we learn how to confront and accept ourselves and forge our rage into the kind of passion and fierce love that fuels creative action.
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Maya Angelou, the great poet, writer, and educator who inspires me with everything she has said or written, once roared, “Be angry! It is right to be angry. It is healthy!” Well, it is getting very healthy for me. But, I’m not so sure it will be for those who love the status quo, who love peace of mind, who want to avoid life as a creative struggle, and who are afraid of having to confront themselves, their shadows, and the shadows in our government and society.
At this point, my rage is becoming fierce love and tough. It eliminates easy answers, compromises, and considering whether we should follow the politics of the practical. Our country was not founded on this kind of weak thinking. It was founded by people, big and small, who were willing to risk everything. Bobby Kennedy once reminded me of our heritage, saying in his wonderful accent, “Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” These are the words that reflect my belief in the American spirit.
The only way we are going to reclaim the heart of our democracy is to have legislators that are dedicated to the job of governing—not fundraising, personal power, party power, and re-election. The way to have this kind of legislature is clear. First, we have to vote in every election, big and small. We need to have the highest voter turnout of any democratic country. Let’s be number one where it counts the most! If you don’t like or can’t support any of the candidates, write someone else in. Make your protest visible and explicit. Don’t sit it out and give an implicit vote to the wrong person. Second, vote for someone totally committed to campaign finance reform. Don’t compromise. We must cut the tie between government and personal and corporate wealth or our democracy will fail. Remember, our candidates must deserve us! It must be a privilege for them to serve. Senators and representatives cannot govern when they have to start fundraising and running for re-election as soon as they take office. For God’s sake, this is not rocket science, it is simply common sense. Every other politically advanced nation limits campaigns to a few weeks or months and stops them a few days before elections so people have time to collect their thoughts before voting. Elections are not entertainment. They are deadly serious and need to be treated that way.
There are two other hard facts we need to consider. The first one is that we have the right to reform our government every two years in elections. This reforming need not be based on the power politics between the two major parties or the president. It needs to be based on the
principles of getting out and voting for campaign finance reform and shortened campaign periods. The second hard fact we have to face is that if we fail to cut the ties between wealth and government, all our concerns about social justice, fairness, women’s rights, discrimination, and other problems I have been writing about are causes that will never really get on the table. They will never become more than political tools and lip-service government concerns. We must own our democracy as citizens in order to come together and thrash and hammer these issues into a moral vision that assumes we have a spirit and values higher than our material appetites and economic cravings. We can do this!
Guess what? This 2016 election proved we do have power. The president who was elected, the most unlikely candidate I’ve ever seen, swept all the well-moneyed traditional candidates in the Republican party right off the board. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate in his seventies, stirred the hearts of the young and young-at-heart who are not trapped in the love of comfort, and almost upset the most well-financed and -engineered campaign I’ve ever seen in a primary. His message was direct, for the people, and in actuality his agenda was common-sense. Without grand financing or strategies or propaganda, he gathered huge support. This election proves we can do it if we really try with candidates who
Go deeper into this and related topics in The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment.
Book Excerpts and Resources
, America, anger, capitalism, citizenship, creative life, Elder Wisdom, fear, hope, Personal Transformation, responsibility, struggles
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