We often pervert the relationship between love and anger, to our own detriment.
Reading D.A. Wolf’s blog, A Daily Plate of Crazy, I found myself provoked by her article Is Anger a Barrier to Love? My initial response was “What? Barrier? Something stops us from loving?” Having thought about the article for a few days, I see that I have something to say about these close cousins, Anger and Love.
Wolf is critical of people who proclaim, “Let go of your anger and forgive, if you want to find peace.” I share this feeling, although from a slightly different angle. The idea is loaded with all sorts of poor assumptions. Its roots arise from a kind of pop-philosophy of selflessness. It’s not exclusively an American phenomenon, although Americans tend to flock to it in greater numbers and with a child-like form of excitement.
There has, for a long time, been this idea floating in our culture that universal happiness, a loon-euphoria, is possible—it’s our right, and it’s ordained. We should never be miserable, and we should never feel pain. If we do, there’s something wrong and we need immediate remedy. America operates under the assumption that the default reality is a space of predictable safety in which we can pursue bliss. When something interferes—when we become sad or a tragedy occurs—we look for the culprit. The culprit is always on the outside: it’s someone or something, some entity’s action, some organization, some “ism” must be to blame. Liberals, gays, corporations, the government, the military, feminists, unions, insurance companies, immigrants, foreigners, atheists, Catholics, Jews, Muslims—whoever is convenient at the moment.
We need this blame because it simplifies reality. It actually drives our obsession with litigation. There was a guy in my neighborhood who got threatened with a lawsuit because his lawnmower blew dust and grass over a newly purchased car. A goddamn Chevy bound for a junkyard in only a brief decade.
I love my car. But now I’m angry. Look at my car. It’s covered with clippings and dust. I had just waxed it. Motherfucker! You’ll pay! How dare you mow your lawn without a bag for your clippings. How dare you mow so close to my fantasy of power and importance? You! Some guy in torn shorts and an Allman Brothers t-shirt.
The accused fellow offered to pay to have the car washed and waxed again. When the fury settled, the offer was accepted. Then, in a few short weeks, this same gleaming red Chevy found itself in the wrath of a Midwest hailstorm. Its driver could wear sleeveless shirts and show his armpit hair around the neighborhood all he wanted, but now he’d do it while owning a car heavily scarred by summertime ice. There was no one to blame, no one to sue. You can’t sue the sky, and you definitely can’t sue The Deity, whichever one you’re fond of.
I’m using this example of the Chevy because it illustrates something I’ve noticed about love. I teach English in a community college, and I’ve noticed that my students, even those in their ’30s, very often look at love as a form of possession. You’re my lover. You’re my spouse. You’re my child. You’re part of an empire I’m building, one that must respond to my demands and wishes. When you do not, when you break the very serious rules, I get pissed. So stop or I’ll blame you for treason. I’ll point out your faults. I’ll cut you off from the things about me that you thought you loved in the first place, and I will express fury.
This is frightening. And it very seriously compromises this idea that we should let go of our anger and forgive if we want to find peace. Before we let go of our anger, we have to have a clear understanding of what we love in the first place. Are we interested in the welfare, safety and peace of another human being? If we do, we probably love them, and we will feel anger and pain when something harms them. But if we are interested in having a host of players, a court to our monarchy, that provides one thing or another for us, we love only one person. The anger we feel is a result of a desire that everyone love us as much as we love ourselves while they help us collect our cars.
If, however, we find ourselves in the sights of this car collector, this person who wants to sue us or blame us when their prized possessions no longer reflect delusions of power—cheap and trashy, but no matter—we have every right to be angry. We must protect ourselves from being hoarded into the false empire. To forgive that bastard, we must hear them say: Please forgive me. I’ll change my ways. Then the ways must change. And we can get on with the business of forgiveness.
It’s true that we can forgive someone privately, in our own consciousness, and wish them well in their folly. We’re all fools in the end. If we’re not attached to cars, it might be to diamond rings or DVD collections. But when we know that we will be hurt if we place ourselves in the path of the bastard, and we place ourselves in that path out of some pop-philosophy, some demand for blind selflessness, we have to wonder if we are masochists. At that moment, we might get angry. We might realize we don’t really love ourselves, not as much as we should. And then we might need to start some self-forgiveness.
Photo by akbarsyah / flickr