Ever since last Friday when my friend George Phenix blogged about last week’s CPAC “hate fest” in Washington DC, I have been thinking off and on about the anger that seems to have infected the whole US like an epidemic. Hell, I even contributed to it this weekend by writing about endemic injustice and brutality towards children in that state we love to hate, Florida.
And then today an article by Linton Weeks appeared on NPR’s website, called “America Is Angry, Very Angry. Why That’s Not All Bad”—a very unsatisfactory piece from my perspective.
The turn-off for me was when Weeks gave prominence to comments by an American history professor at the University of New Orleans, who said that ushering the country through angry, divisive periods has traditionally required a couple things: namely, some crisis or diversionary event “that took the collective attention away from the source of anger,” and “a great deal of forgetting.”
“That forgetting—which is not to say forgiving—depended, in part, on the telling of new stories about the recent past,” she said… in other words, historical revisionism. Though this historian did say the creation of a new historical memory, one that is at odds with the historical record (i.e. the way the Old South is portrayed in movies such as Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind “as a ‘lost civilization’ where all slaves were happy and all hell broke loose with emancipation”), “generally came at a great cost,” Weeks seems to conclude that such self-deception is the only way through the anger.
I disagree. The only honest and healthy way through the anger is forgiveness.
This is not to say that we should ever swallow our outrage and roll over and accept injustices and cruelty in the world—there are many who believe that anger is a necessary catalyst for change. They say the world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough. But there are many others who say that anger is a wind that blows out the lamp of the mind. “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret,” Ambrose Bierce said.
This weekend while the weather was so awful, I lost myself in several films including Red Cliff (2008), an epic war movie by John Woo based on events during the end of the Han Dynasty (208-209 AD) immediately prior to the Three Kingdoms period in ancient China. The characters I most admired were Zhuge Liang, a strategist and ambassador, and Sun Quan, the ruler of China’s southern provinces, because no setback or provocation ever rattled them or disrupted their clear thinking. Between the two of them, the character I most loved was Sun Quan, because at the end of the film he forgave and released his vanquished foe, the villain chancellor Cao Cao, who had embarked on his campaign of aggression with motives of personal greed and ambition.
“The weak can never forgive,” said the Mahatma Gandhi. “Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Sun Quan modeled strength and wisdom through forgiveness, by letting go of the past. His character seemed to understand that forgiveness does not change the past, but enlarges the future… or, as Desmond Tutu said, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.”
Before forgiveness, however, Sun Quan had to decisively defeat his foe, just as we must defeat ours.
Reconciliation and forgiveness must be our ultimate objectives, but the decisive defeat of those who would subvert justice and victimize kids must come first. We must summon the wisdom and grace to move beyond our anger and ultimately forgive but never forget. As a nation we must become forgiving or we will keep reliving our mistakes.
Groove of the Day