Growing up black in the 1950s and 1960s had deeply scarred Doc. His hurt and anger had led him to participate in the Civil Rights Movement, but truth be told, he was better suited for the Black Power Movement. He never accepted Dr. King's belief that all men were brothers; moreover, he thought that Dr. King's belief about "hating evil not evil-doers" was silliness born of Christian naivete. Ironically, the gains won by the civil rights workers increased Doc's frustration. With each court victory came greater expectations, and when those expectations were not met - or met too slowly - Doc's conviction that the "whole system is corrupt" was, in his mind, validated. "No black man," he said, "could ever get a fair shake in this country." He argued that every major societal institution including government, education, religion, criminal justice, and mass media, were all set up to benefit whites, and that this would never change. And he added, "Any black man who doesn't see this is a token and a fool."
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"The Beauty and Nobility of Live" has several related themes. On the one hand, it critiques many aspects of contemporary life that attempt to extinguish that radiant "Gleam of Light" we all possess and turn us into powerless servants of the status quo: mindless conformity, excessive consumerism, disrespect for ourselves and others, disrespect for Nature, and narrow-minded, fall-in-line thinking. In response to this, the book focuses on the Sanctity of the Individual, the Magnificence of Life, Unity with each other and with Nature, and the Oneness of Creation. In a time of so much anger, divisiveness and hate, it emphasizes Love, Compassion, Creativity, Learning to Think for Oneself, Standing up to Power, and Intuiting Higher Levels of Life beyond what can be seen, heard, or touched, in order to Transcend our Limitations, and discover our true place in this Marvelous Universe.
Funneling anger is risky business. Anger is a powerful fuel and one could certainly argue that much social change has resulted, in no small part, because of angry voices. However, in my half century of living, I have seen too many activists become frustrated and worn out - made callous by failed attempts to effect change, what with their idealistic passion devolving into seething anger, or worse, thick hatred; this brings me to my second story.
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I share this story because I believe that there are times in life when anger is a logical and reasonable response. There was a matter-of-fact anger in many of the workers that seemed to me to be both sane and inevitable. The system was oppressive and de-humanizing; men begged for the opportunity to do back-breaking, mind-numbing work. As soon as a foreman left the stage the men cussed like, well, longshoremen. Being treated as inferiors made the men angry, but they lacked the resources and opportunities to channel their anger into constructive social action. They were angry and their anger, like dirty water, had to drain somewhere. Poor, uneducated men rarely raise their fists against systems; more likely, they drink cheap wine and hit one another.
The advice, then, that I have to offer you is not especially profound, and surely you will get contradictory (and better) counsel from others. I will begin with a quote from Saint Augustine, "Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are." Believe that change is possible. Understand the past but don't live there. Cultivate a passion for social justice. Do not confuse whining with activism. Do something.
Work for social justice, not because it gives you status or a sense of importance, but because the work will make the world better for others. I don't care that these words sound naive and mawkish. Activism done only to promote oneself is, at best, a cathartic exercise. Work for others. Ground your activism in a spiritual or philosophical framework that stresses social justice. Have I said social justice enough times? Let social justice be your fuel. There will, undoubtedly, be times when you are justly angered. How can anyone look at the infant mortality rates of poor people in the United States and not get angry? That is justified, righteous anger - and so is the anger directed against the patterns of sexual assault in this country. Direct your anger against systems and patterns of injustice, not against individuals. That is hard, I know. Whenever possible, try to replace anger with focused passion and a zeal to address injustice. And, finally, as much as is possible within you, avoid the anger that simmers, paralyzes, and morphs into hatred.