As the holiday season ends and we pack away the warmth and peace that tends to accompany time spent on faith, family and giving, we can feel the collision of re-entry into the world of angry post-holiday headlines and arguments. But is this shocking relapse absolutely necessary? Do we have more power over anger than we realize?
According to Karlyn Bowman, “anger was a popular subject during 2018.” In a Forbes article she chronicles a year wherein “America had descended into a ‘politics of rage.’” She goes on to explore a topic that is relatively new to pollsters — anger. The levels of anger we see today — and the way we track those levels — are something new.
In 1997, Pew Research began asking people about their feelings toward the government for the first time. That year, 12 percent reported they were angry. By 2017, that number had doubled. Not surprisingly, Pew cites “consistent partisan differences. … (D)uring Bush’s presidency, Democrats were angrier. During Obama’s, Republicans were.”
Bottom line — many Americans are angry. But should we be? Must we be? As we conclude the season of peace, is a return to anger our only option? Is there no choice but to mount the not-so-merry-go-round and tolerate another 12-month trip around the new center of the universe — divisive politics?
Here are four ways a weary and struggling nation can find its way back to peace.
First, read a history book. Partisan differences of opinion are as old as America. There has always been — and will always be — a conservative and a progressive tension around government and every decision made therein. Some ideology is, or has been, truly evil; the accommodation of slavery comes to mind. But most ideas are simply different — unless we make them otherwise.
When we drive the partisan wedge deep enough into a natural divide, we succeed at only one thing: even greater ideological extremes. In many times and places around the globe, such extremes have resulted in truly vile manifestations of what began as something more benign. There is much at stake in angry political argument that pushes sides ever further apart. As Charles Krauthammer warned, “You can have the most advanced and efflorescent cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933.”
Second, define truth based on reason and principle rather than agitated argument. But be advised — in this new post-modern world, it seems there are no lies. Perhaps this is one reason that anger is now such a valid metric. Victor Davis Hanson describes it this way: “Without notions of objective truth there can never be lies, just competing narratives and discourses. Stories that supposedly serve the noble majority are true; those that supposedly don’t, become lies — the facts are irrelevant.”
This odd new construct should concern all of us. It is far more than an inconvenience that makes honest debate more difficult. It is the beginning of the end of truth — and we must refuse to engage it. The truth matters. Seek it. Act on it.
Third, listen. Even — and perhaps especially — to the other side. Watch a news outlet you disagree with — not to fuel rage, but to understand the language informing those with whom you disagree. You may be surprised to learn what the arguments really are. You have nothing to lose: It will either serve to inform your own position, or you will gain some understanding of the views of others.
Fourth and finally, lower your voice. Tone can be the enemy of truth. Otherwise enlightening comments lose all impact when shouted with condescension and venom. The National Alliance on Mental Illness tells us, “Being frequently yelled at changes the mind, brain and body in a multitude of ways. Being frequently yelled at as children changes how we think and feel about ourselves even after we become adults.”
If understanding, compromise or even principled disagreement is the objective, yelling is not a strategy. It does not work in raising children. It does not work in finding solutions among adults. Consider your principles and lower your voice.2 comments on this story
One last point: For all the anger chronicled by pollsters today, Gallup reports, “since 1979, Americans have been highly satisfied with the way things are going in their personal lives. In January 2017, 87 percent were satisfied. …”
It’s OK to acknowledge satisfaction in our homes, families and communities. It is also right to feel grateful for our freedoms. These are the sources of peace. We should be wary of any political person or class that tells us there is nothing to feel peaceful about.