Getting past the anger

In Myers-Briggs lexicon, I’m an ENTJ—a decisive strategist, someone who you want on your team to get shit done, and maybe even to lead the team, but someone who has to be mindful of ensuring that other voices are heard and that final decisions are informed by more than one my viewpoint. In Myers-Briggs humor, the definition of an ENTJ’s hell is: “Somebody is wrong, and they’re directing a large group of people! You can’t do anything about it and will have to obey whatever inefficient policies they decide to implement.”

Boy, has my hell come home to roost, in the form (or lack thereof) of a flabby orange-colored petty tyrant who is somehow occupying the Oval Office. The period of time in which Trump has occupied the presidency has been nothing BUT wrongness. And yes: the worst thing about Trump’s reign is really, I can’t do anything about it, at least, not right now. I mean, I can support the media to patiently document his crimes and offenses; I can give money to help capable leaders eventually get elected and replace the belligerent clowns currently running the show; but in the meantime, yes, there’s not a lot to do other than stew, stew, stew.

I haven’t given up hope. I think that the upcoming elections are looking promising, both for the presidency and for the Senate and I get upset when people say things like: “Oh, Trump is going to win again. And even if he doesn’t, we are going to be left with broken laws and crappy lifetime-appointed judges and his supporters will be angrier than ever and will do even more damage,” etc., etc..

Number one, if you THINK like that, we will FOR SURE end up with those outcomes. I fervently believe that no matter what, the plan should be to WIN. Number two, I don’t think you’re focusing on the other important problem, which is, what happens when we DO win? What do we do with our anger and our rage about all of the terrible, terrible things that have happened under Trump’s unbelievably incompetent leadership? What can we forgive? And how can we possibly heal and build to replace what has been destroyed?

I think about this a lot, mainly because I often think about the role that anger has played in my work life (and my personal life). Without a doubt, I’ve internalized a general principle that anger is bad—that it’s a destructive emotion that leads to no good outcome. And to a considerable extent, I actually believe that. When I have felt anger—towards my spouse, my children, my co-workers—the feeling is completely unhelpful when it comes to offering a way out of the situation that provoked the anger in the first place. Anger does not facilitate compassion, or reason, or understanding. Anger drives you to overly invest in your own point of view, in your version of the story as the only possible right version, even though age and acquired wisdom inevitably tells you that everyone’s got a point of view and everyone got their version of the story.

Anger was not an especially useful emotion to deploy in the communications profession, either. Yes, you could galvanize people to understand and care about terrible problems with scary content (e.g., “People will die if we don’t do something about this,” although nowadays, Republicans have developed a special immunity to this message.) But anger can only take you so far in your messaging, and a lot of people are turned off by it—because working in the social sector is often a marathon, not a sprint, and people are better engaged over the long run with hope, optimism, and the promise of solutions.

I don’t mean to say that anger doesn’t have its place. There are times when the white-hot energy that drives anger can rouse someone from apathy, from inertia, from unwittingly submitting to unjust circumstances. During these times, anger can help a person find the strength to do something, even if it just means walking away. Anger can help fuel the fire of activism, and help cement the joining together of individuals in solidarity, for great and important causes.

But while I fully acknowledge that anger has its useful moments, the thing that always worries me about anger is, the getting past it. This is why I think it’s important we think about the “after” of the Trump presidency, now. Because the “after” has to do with moving past the anger and the rage that I and many others feel towards Trump and his enablers and re-building the country into the place we want it to be–the place we need it to be.

Learning how to move past anger was one of the most valuable things I learned when ascending the career ladder. The higher one goes on the management ladder, the less one can afford to have tantrums. (Note: this rule is VERY unequally applied to men versus women. See: Brett Kavanaugh.) If I felt angry towards co-workers—for not doing their jobs, for being a pain in the ass to work with, for spreading shitty untrue rumors about me or my team members—I couldn’t just haul off and express that anger however I wanted.

But you know, I still felt the anger. So I sought help for how to deal with the cascade of frustration and irritation into rage, and most of the advice I got from very good leadership coaches was about working towards mindset shifts. My own mindset shifts, that is, because one of the fundamentals of coaching is that you have the most control over your own behaviors, and much less control over others. And my own mindset shifts involved viewing everyone—including myself—with compassion and understanding, rather than a, “WTF, why you gotta be this way?”

Many of the lessons and skills I learned about mindset shifts have come in handy during these difficult past few years. I’ll admit it: I’ve spent time some time in trying to understand where the Trump supporter is coming from; trying to understand the herd mentality of those who are following the Trump regime to their ultimate doom, like lemmings. I try to understand because blind rage does no one any good—especially, me. To dwell in the rage and hatred I feel towards others is to dwell in dark places, when I’d so much rather be in the sunny spots.

But let me tell you, I am struggling. I am struggling to move past my anger towards Trump and McConnell and Barr and Mnuchin and countless others. While I would never actually kick an elected official in the balls, or spit in a Trump sycophant’s face, I occasionally fantasize about it. Finding respite from anger, these days, feels more like seeking infrequent moments of sweet forgetfulness than it does about moving through anger to what lies beyond.

Many, many individuals in America have used their anger at Trump and his enablers to good effect. Anger has loosened the voices of millions of people who never thought they would have to fight for equality, for democracy, for science, and yet here we are. Anger has opened channels of donations and increased the cadres of volunteers which culminated in a record number of women elected to Congress in 2018.

But I ask you, if our individual and collective anger leads us to victory in November 2020—as I believe it must, because I must believe—then, what next? I think that for anyone in the business of social change for good, anyone in the business of finding and sharing stories of inspiration, hope, and optimism, it feels like we have to double-down on what we were doing before. I just hope and pray that we’ll have figured out how to move past the anger and despair we’re feeling now so those stories can actually be shared and believed.