A man in the audience of a recent speech I gave asked me for advice to help him deal with his anger at all the injustice he sees in his community and in the world. I was so touched by this man’s courage to talk about his anger publicly, an emotion that is seen so negatively in society that we would rather suppress any discussion of it than address it in public.
There are many definitions of anger. One of them, from Webster’s English Dictionary, defines anger as: “excited by an injury offered to a relation, friend or party to which one is attached; and some degrees of it may be excited by cruelty, injustice or oppression offered to those with whom one has no immediate connection, or even to the community of which one is a member.” I understand that definition as I feel it every time I see injustice in front me, be it in my own surroundings or in world at large. As a matter of fact, my anger at injustice has been a major driving force in my life. It has helped me maintain my determination to serve those who have been marginalized, and impacted by injustice, in some of the hardest parts of the world.
Anger at injustice may be the spark that serves as an impetus for actions but angershould never manifest in the action itself. In other words, I believe that when we see injustice we need to do something about it—but that doing has to be with love, kindness, respect, and generosity of spirit. Otherwise, if we allow anger to dictate our actions, we end up becoming the very thing that we are trying to fight against to start with. To make real and healthy transformation from injustice to justice we need to utilize compassion rather than anger, and understanding rather than ignorance.
Recently, however, I had to question all these notions when I was faced with an act of manipulation and violation on a very personal level. In a moment of pain, I reached out to the person where the violation happened in her place for perspective and counsel. To my surprise, she answered saying “concepts of right-doing and wrongdoing always cause suffering so I can’t deal with it.” She continued and explained that she feels everyone is ultimately “innocence seeking peace.” That includes, in her description, fathers who raped their children, husbands who cheated on their wives, and definitely my own encounter with injustice.
Well, her answer left me perplexed and even disoriented for a while. It didn’t make sense to me. The world I live in has right-doings and wrongdoings. The acts of rapists are simply wrong and the raped victims have faced injustice. The act of stealing, lying, killing, manipulating—just to mention a few—are fundamentally wrong. To equate all wrongdoings and right doings as the same, and brushing everything together as “innocence meeting peace” felt cruel. And that “cruelty” was covered in the name of “love,” which makes it even harder to accept, as it represents the betrayal of love itself.
Love is not stupid and it is not blind to injustice. Love, as I see it, is clear and truthful. Through love we can address wrongdoings and do something about it. But to brush off injustice in the name of love is an insult to love itself. In other words, when we see something wrong, we have to confront it. Seeing and acknowledging wrongdoing is part of the healing process for the victim and the aggressor alike. And doing that with compassion is what leads to true healing.
I didn’t think my anger could transcend into compassion towards those who have committed injustice until I met a certain 16-year-old young Iraqi woman. She told me how she appealed to her rapist moments before the rape by looking at him in the eyes and saying: “Please, please don’t rape me. Don’t you have a heart?” At that moment, he looked her in the eye and said, “My heart died long time ago,” and then he proceededto rape her.
When I heard that story from the girl herself, I had tears in my eyes and a painful ache in my heart. But the emotion of hurt wasn’t only for her–it was for her rapist, as well. You see, her soul is intact even though she was violated. It is he who has experienced “soul death” and that is the saddest thing in life. So today, I cry for him, as well. But that does not mean I think he is “innocence trying to meet peace,” and thus should do nothing despite him committing such violation. What peace is that? As much compassion as I have for him, I also think he needs to face justice, go ontrial, and serve whatever service necessary to allow understanding,
That woman I reached out to is a very spiritual person and that is why I reached out to her. And, in truth, “love for all” and “all is good” are concepts that I hear often from people in the spiritual Western world. Allow me to clarify something: being ungrounded in values reflects being out of touch with the reality of this world and irritates the heck out of people who suffer real injustice in the world. If I tell all the people that I have encountered in my life who have faced more horrible stories than my pen can write about that all is “innocence seeking peace,” I will lose any connection to them, to their real pain, and to their real stories. And I will definitely lose all respect! Spirituality is beautiful but only when grounded in this earth and this reality. For when it is not, it leads to more disconnection than connection between not only individuals but cultures and nations as well. So for those who are out there, please come home to this earth. The world needs you to show up and be fully present in this reality.
Back to the man who had the courage to talk about his anger–thank you for seeing and hearing those who are suffering. And make sure that when you act against injustice, you do it with clarity, justice, and most importantly love and compassion. That is the only way we can make a difference in the world. And for me, What I experienced recently was great pain indeed. But that pain is no longer there and I am left with lessons that helped me grow and scars that will always remind me that life is ultimately beautiful and love is indeed bigger than all.