The other day I was listening to a campaign speech by Bernie Sanders. The one thing that struck me was the authenticity of his anger. Most politicians, at least to me, sound like politicians expressing anger in a glossed-over sound-bite kind of way. But with Sanders, I actually believed his anger. I could feel it, the way it would catch in his throat. It was the kind of anger that drives people to action.
It reminded me of a quote from Rick Jarow (of the truly fantastic “Ultimate Anti-Career Guide”) who said that sometimes people don’t make changes in their own lives until they get angry enough.
The other day I went on a rant on Facebook. I was feeling angry. In the past, I’ve not been much of a ranter. I’ve been more of a mediator, an empathetic ear, someone who consciously practiced uplift in the world. Ranting is too easy, especially on social media. Ranting makes you feel like you’re doing something, but really, you’re not. At most you’ll get self-righteous affirmations from other ranters.
When my anger still hadn’t cleared by the next morning, I starting designing a 2nd rant. Half-way through it I realized I was just going to trigger other people with it. But I still wanted to do something, so I turned my post into something more like a call for help and a call to action. I asked people to share ways they were consciously making changes in their lives to lower their carbon footprint so they could inspire others who were too overwhelmed to take a step. And the conversation started. And I learned some new things and got inspired.
I think anger is useful, but a lot of the time we don’t utilize it. Anger in the form of rants into the void (i.e. social media) usually just end up in name-calling and raising hackles and no one changing their views on anything. Anger in the form of self-righteousness is just as useless, because that creates not just a me vs. you mentality, but an “I’m better than you” mentality. Not productive. And believe me, I’ve danced in the self-righteous zone many times.
I think the cure for self-righteous anger is empathy, and that one way to turn anger into action is to tap into that empathy. Empathy is not inactive. It is not wimpy. It is not the same thing as condoning (anyone who’s read Amanda Palmer‘s book The Art of Asking has seen how many people often mistake empathy for condoning behaviour). It is just recognizing everyone as a human being. It is thinking in terms of uplifting all of us, so that none get left behind. We are created by our circumstances and our surroundings. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we are often scared by what we don’t know. We are not born hating, judging, mocking, condemning, etc, etc, etc. We learn that stuff.
YOUR WRITING WORKOUT
In your story, what fuels your protagonist’s anger? And where in your story does his/her self-righteous anger transition into an anger that finally calls him/her to action?
Set your timer for 5 -10 minutes per start line
When timer starts: write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.
(just do it!)*
1) The anger that burns inside my protagonist looks like . . .
2) The fallout from my protagonist’s anger destroys his/her . . .
3) When my protagonist can’t take it any more he/she . . .
Now write your next scene . . . 🙂
*If you want to try various ways of writing try short sentences, long sentence release (no punctuation, just connect everything by conjunctions), or listing.
Kate Johnston says
This is great, Danika. Not just for writing, but as you said, life too. I am equally angry about the environmental damage we are doing to the planet, all the wildlife that’s being poached, and the wild places we’re destroying. Who do we think we are?
I post about this stuff on my 4amWriter blog — even though that is technically a resource spot for writers. I had to voice my thoughts (and anger!) somewhere. And I probably don’t merely post. I’m sure I’m ranting a bit!
I love your idea about using the anger in a productive way for our characters. MY MC is very angry. His father keeps him down, overprotects him, and all MC wants to do is be a kid. Your exercise will come in handy!
Hey, Kate – I’ve been on such a rampage about climate change lately my FB friends are probably sick of it. But I don’t care. This is the cause to beat all causes, and I’m not going to sit back and be quiet about it. But, I’m also taking a really good look at how I live my own life, so I that am walking my talk.
I”m glad my writing exercise helps, too. If just one person says it works for them, I’m happy! 🙂