Justice, Anger, and Pain

“So, what’s the big thing going on in the news these days?”

Ok, just kidding. What’s been on everyone’s mind (and social media & media outlet) is the non-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. I think that’s a no-brainer; it’s an important event in our country that raises important issues we need to deal with.

However, I haven’t been paying much attention to it. I’m a bit sorry to admit it, but I haven’t really cared – not when this past week and over the weekend, one of my dearest friends, mentors, and father-figures suffered a major heart attack, was taken off life-support by his family, and passed away.

It has been a long 8 months for me: Jim’s death is just one of many I’ve mourned in the past 8 months or so. People like Jim – close to me, who have had a major impact on my life – have passed away, and suddenly.

And I find myself getting angry and frustrated as I read posts in my social media circles, read commentaries and news articles, and listen to people I converse with face to face. “How can you go on and on about your opinions and agendas when all over the world, you ignore and lose the fact that REAL people – people who are important to others – are dying tragically?” Notions and calls for justice and peace – they just seem so…unjust and unsettling. Inhumane. Trivial. Disconnected. Angry.

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent & Lead. In a thought about weakness and vulnerability, she writes,

With the exception of anger (which is a secondary emotion, one that only serves as a socially acceptable mask for many of the more difficult underlying emotions we feel)…

As I consider how I’m feeling these days, is it possible those feelings like my anger, and my attitudes, thoughts, and words in response, are telling me I’m simply over-saturated with pain?

And as I think about this further, “What does that mean in terms of how I feel, respond, and act towards others?”

Brown’s work is focused on understanding the human need for connection, and the role that certain psychological and emotional factors play into how we feel and express ourselves to each other. And I think she hits on something here. The fact is, right now, people’s words and actions – in what is justice or injustice; right or wrong – are over-saturated with pain. As Brown asserts, the anger and indifference people are expressing right now in their responses is a mask for what we’re all feeling or sensing – pain. It’s why some are focusing so heavily on one side or the other on this issue, and why some like me haven’t. Because of pain – whether we choose engage it or avoid it.

I wonder, if we took the time to acknowledge that, to understand that pain is behind cries of justice/injustice, and even the cry of indifference….would that help us understand each other more? Would that create some empathy for the other – while also understanding a thoughtful discussion about justice cannot happen at this moment, at least until our pain or indifference to it, has subsided?

It’s a thin line….because movements of justice are always predicated by an emotional reaction, born of what we value and believe in. Justice isn’t a completely “neutrally rational” concept or process. But I wonder, if for right now, we simply need to see responses for what they are, pain-based rather than thoughtful reflection on justice. I wonder if that would give us the means to connect rather than disconnect, so that later we CAN have the discussion we need to, and a movement towards justice CAN happen.

I don’t know about you, but it helps me put my indifference in perspective.

My pain is barring my sense of understanding the other, and I need to wrestle and come to terms with that.

And for those that aren’t feeling any sense of pain, or can’t find empathy for others in their pain, perhaps that needs to be wrestled and come to terms with as well.


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Filed under Culture & Social Issues/Ethics

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