Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Anger, Humanity, and Compassion

Is anger a problem unique to the so-called "Angry Gay Mobs" or is anger a fundamental part of the human condition?

As absurd as it sounds to propose that anger is a problem unique to the LGBT community, that is precisely what some so-called marriage defenders have been suggesting with respect to the aftermath of Proposition 8.

Of the backlash in response to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, it is clear that many "marriage defenders" genuinely do not understand the anger that many gay men and lesbians are feeling and have been expressing since a majority vote took away their right to marry. I have compiled a relatively large archive regarding how "marriage defenders" have been exaggerating this anger, and thereby further vilifying the LGBT community. As I continue to track "marriage defense" responses to this so-called "sore loser" anger, these folks suggest that this anger is further proof that something is inherently wrong with gay people.

For instance, regarding one allegedly gay person's online threats of violence to those who supported Proposition 8, one "marriage defender" unfortunately opined
"Perhaps violence is a product of living a disordered lifestyle." I am disappointed that an alleged gay person made such threats. Yet, I am also disappointed that the "marriage defender's" response to these threats was violent in its own way. Another "marriage defender" went on to lament that "there is not enough attention these days to the fomenting violence within the GLBT." I'm not entirely sure what "the GLBT" is, but this and similar statements went unchallenged by this "marriage defense" crowd, no matter how off-the-wall paranoid their statements might be to outside observers. I read many insular blogs, and I do think that it is a self-evident truth among the "marriage defense" crowd that something is inherently wrong with gay people that "foments" a culture of violence.

Yet, I am also aware that LGBT blogs can be just as insular as non-gay blogs and that this insularity can lead to a warped one-sided understanding of those on the "other side." When I first started out blogging, I assumed that all people who opposed LGBT rights were raging bigots and haters. Over time, I learned that while some anti-gays certainly are raging haters, many others are not. I'm not justifying the injustice people perpetuate in the world, but sometimes people really do just think they're doing the right thing.

It is also apparent that many people on any side of an issue believe that anger is a problem of the Other and not of themselves. Oftentimes, people are wearing convenient blinders that do not let them see how they themselves or their allies foment their own cultures of anger and violence. Occasional Fannie's Room "marriage defender" commenter Chairm, for instance, has castigated those on my "side" for "inflammatory rhetoric" and an "incitement to violence" and has bemoaned a "very prominent pro-SSM blogger who declared open war on the Mormon Church." Yet, not only has he himself promoted egregiously dishonest and inflammatory anti-gay literature on his own blog by an identified hate group, but he frequents and promotes blogs which are a part of a new so-called "Digital Network Army," a group of "Traditional Family Values" blogs that have adopted the language of war in order to shed light and watch "the roaches scatter." Remarkably, this man who wags his finger at the "inflammatory rhetoric" of others nonetheless perceives his own promotion of anti-gay lies to be a "trivial" matter.

I don't perceive any act of violence to be a small, or "trivial," matter. Even the smallest acts of violence, hate, and anger can perpetuate a dangerous cycle. It worries me whenever anyone takes the attitude that some violence is the okay kind of violence. But especially, in light of the verbal (and sometimes physical) violence that so many "marriage defenders" engage in, it is amazing to me that some believe anger and, more specifically, violence to be some sort of fomenting "homosexual" problem. I am fully aware that those on "my" side feel anger and engage in violence of their own. Like I said, I read a lot of blogs. I am also fully aware that my writing has been angry at times.

All of this speaks to the fact that anger is a universal human problem. The seeds of anger live in all people. Thich Nach Hahn, a Buddhist monk and peace activist, has written extensively on the anger that is inherent in humanity and, knowing that we all have the capacity for anger and violence, he encourages us to take care of our anger, rather than to suppress it or act it out. So while it is legitimate to feel anger, in order to stop the cycle of violence we have to first recognize it, then understand it, and finally take care of it.

The upside is that while all humans have the capacity for anger, this also means that we have the capacity to understand the anger of the Other.

While Chairm has equated understanding the anger that other people feel with condoning acting that anger out, I could not disagree more. The conflation of understanding with condoning reflects what I believe to be one of the largest downfalls of the so-called Culture Wars. Understanding, and more specifically compassion, are traits that our paradoxically hyper-religious-yet-uncaring society doesn't really value right now.

I wonder why that is. Considering how so many of those involved in the Culture Wars have armed themselves with the Bible, I am surprised at how so many people have blatantly rejected the almost-universally-recognized virtue of compassion. Sure, "marriage defenders" have compassion for themselves and what-they-believe-to-be "real" families, and LGBT rights advocates have compassion for themselves and their own families. But rarely do we see a cross-contamination of compassion. Our political opponents deserve our compassion. And certainly, angry people deserve our compassion and understanding too. In fact, they/we probably need it the most. Violence is cyclical precisely because we all have the capacity for anger. It is a misunderstood karmic truth that violence creates further violence, not because violent people "deserve" what they get down the road, but because all of our actions and words have consequences. When we act out our anger, we should be aware that we are capable of igniting that spark of anger in others.

With respect to Proposition 8 and the so-called Rage of the "GLBT," "marriage defenders" have taken the attitude that all they did was defend marriage and protect society and that no real harm has been imposed on LGBT families. Unable to see things from the point of view of those who they supposedly defended marriage and society from, they do not at all understand the anger, sadness, and hurt that many gay people are experiencing. There is great capacity for understanding, but thus far it's not really being utilized.

I wonder when political opponents will move beyond condemning anger in the Other and begin to seek to understand it. On a daily basis, I see people who are firmly on one side or the other admit "I just don't understand why gay people want to get married and won't settle for civil unions" or "I just don't understand why anyone cares if gay people get married." We should not boast that we do not understand our political opponents. In doing so, we are basically admitting that we hold a really firm ego-centric belief about something without knowing or caring why the issue is important to the other side. If one doesn't understand why the issue is important to the other side, one cannot even begin to understand why a political loss would lead to anger.

I think it's time to stop pointing out instances of hate and anger in others and time to start looking at the ways that we all personally act out these emotions ourselves. Violence can be manifested verbally, spiritually, or physically and each of us probably experience some form of violence on a daily basis. Even the smallest acts of violence are capable of perpetuating a dangerous cycle. And, it’s a cycle that we all have a responsibility to end. We can all ask ourselves whether we want the cycle to end with us, or whether we want to perpetuate it.

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