A few days ago I stumbled across someone in the blogosphere who is very angry at me.
I don’t mean just plain mad – I mean red-eye raging, forehead-vein throbbing, spittle-forming-in-the-corner-of-your mouth mad. I think if I turned a corner and she recognized me for what I am, she would have offered a wide-eyed smiled just before stabbing me in the eye socket with a verbal knife.
Let me clarify – this was guilt by association only. This person doesn’t know me; she probably doesn’t even realize that I, as an individual, exist. But she is angry at a group of people because of what has been done by some of the individuals in that group, and she went out of her way to make sure her audience understood that there was no chance in hell that I was any different from the whole stinking lot.
Someone I don’t even know is angry at me.
For some reason this affected me.
* * * * *
The blog post was very, very long, but I made myself read it all the way through. I sighed. Many of the reasons that she is angry with me are the same reasons I am angry and frustrated and sad with the world. I wanted to comment and tell her that I was different. I wanted to ask her if she was willing to get to know me. But she was very clear in her blog post – if you are this one thing, then there’s no getting around it.
I hadn’t felt this way for a long time, so I dug into the emotion. What was I feeling? Why was my heart racing? What about this interaction made me want to give up hope that human beings can ever truly reconcile with each other? Why did I suddenly want to disengage with everyone who even slightly disagreed with me? Then I remembered it.
I felt stereotyped.
* * * * *
When Maile and I moved to England in 2001, 9/11 was scarcely a month behind us. England had moments of silence in which entire cities would literally stop – cars, people, trains – all in remembrance of those who had died. For those first few months of our time in England, if anyone heard our American accents they would stop us and ask how we were doing, ask if we had relatives who had died in the attacks.
But then, as America began pulling England into a war in Iraq, the sentiment changed. Our friends still treated us well, but occasionally a stranger would hear us speak and ask, with a slightly repulsed look on their face:
“Are you American?”
Or people at parties who assumed we were Canadian (I guess due to our accents beginning to meld with Brit-speak) would go on rants about “dumb Americans.”
Who would ever think that a caucasian, male, American could ever feel like a minority. But I did. And I tried hard to fit in: to look British, sound British. Maile and I talked quietly, so as not to perpetrate the loud American stereotype. Yet we almost always felt out of place.
It’s not fun, being the stereotype.
* * * * *
I had a few different reactions to the woman who is angry with me. I wanted to apologize for being part of something that made her so mad. I wanted to ask her, indignantly, how she could paint such a broad stroke. I wanted to write something that would prove to her that I wasn’t that person. I wanted to get angry back.
But I didn’t. I just clicked the little X at the top right hand corner of the page and left without comment.
* * * * *
There is nothing wrong with anger. For a great reflection on that emotion, check out Jason McCarty’s recent blog on it. Anger can spur us to action, it can shed light on injustice, it can save our lives. And like I said, 99% of the things she is angry about are things that a lot of people are angry about.
But I think that if there’s ever a chance for people to meet and form relationships and increase their understanding and eventually bring about change, somehow the anger, while it’s force continues to be aimed at bringing down the injustice, must still leave room for like-minded people with different backgrounds to connect. And that’s what I felt was missing. Basically, I came away with the feeling that she was saying:
“I’m angry at you, Shawn, because you are the human form of all that I am angry with, and there’s nothing you can do or say to prove to me that we could ever be on the same page or fight for the same cause.”
In essence, this is bipartisan politics at its worst.
It’s the root of what drives every ethnic conflict on earth.
Anger directed at causes and movements and injustice makes sense to me. Anger that leaves no room for dialogue is an anger that makes reconciliation impossible.
* * * * *
I sit here and wonder. Who am I angry at? Are there people, perhaps part of movements or belief systems that I find distasteful, that I could connect with, influence, and in the end make the world a better place?
My mind has never been changed by someone directing their anger at me.
But recently I have found my mind changing regarding things I had once felt so sure about. Not because the issue has changed or the people I once disagreed with have changed their minds. Not because they’ve gotten less angry. But because we have both deliberately set our anger to the side so that we can exchange emails, share a meal, get to know one another a little better.
By all means, let your anger motivate you to change the world. But don’t let your anger alienate you from a potential ally.
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