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Is South Africa "Really an Angry Nation"?

26 March 2013, 09:01
Taken from an article that was published in The Times on the 7th of March 2013: ‘ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has described the death of a Daveyton taxi driver, allegedly at the hands of police, as a barbaric act, it was reported on Thursday. "What is happening is worrying... It is a sign that we are a very angry nation and calls for something to be done. We need to look at what is the problem we as a society are facing. Are we traumatised?" he asked.’

Of course South Africa is an angry nation. We come from a long history of one group of people wanting to dominate and even destroy others. For more than 360 years, on one level or another, we have all been on the giving and/or receiving end of segregation, slavery, lack of tolerance and even hatred towards another. This does not only refer to the racial issues between black and white. It applies across a spectrum of (former) Europeans, Africans, (former) Asians and Afrikaners; who have all been victims of their own prejudice against the others. And it still applies right up to these days of the Rainbow Nation, while we are still trying to muddle through the absolute mess that Apartheid left us with and are trying to find a solution for it.

South Africans indeed have much cause for being fundamentally dissatisfied with circumstances, and much fuel for anger - with what is going on in our homes, neighbourhoods, cities, provinces and nation. I absolutely agree with Mr Mantashe. The fact that we are an angry nation can however be a good thing. But first we need to understand anger; what it is, where it comes from and what it is currently serving.

Anger is the most natural, relevant and required reaction to a set of circumstances around us that threaten us in any way. It is our way of ensuring our survival and ability to overcome those circumstances. It is a life force energy that gives us the drive and resource to rise above those circumstances. 

The problem with anger is that it is much maligned and misunderstood. We all know it as those nuclear outbursts that damage, hurt and even destroy. It is celebrated in the media and in Hollywood as wrath, aggression and loss of control.

We even experience it much closer to home as being something unwanted and requiring management because it is negative, causes pain and is the source of heartache and trauma. This is absolutely real and true and more so because when we experience anger, we allow it to control, rule and own us.  It wears us as tool for its purpose and that purpose usually serves our ego in wanting to dominate another. It also shows up in daily events such as a child throwing a tantrum in a shopping centre and the parent either spanking the child or supressing the anger for fear of being labelled a bad parent. 

As a result, we are taught from a very early age to either deny or suppress anger because it is seen as a problem and a part of us that needs to change or go away. This is all because we are never shown that anger energy can be used for something greater, positive and even constructive.

Mr Mantashe makes an astute observation when he asks the question “Are we traumatised?” My answer is ‘absolutely yes.’ Not only are we deeply rooted in anger energy wanting to overcome the legacy of apartheid, poverty, violence, segregation and domination, but we don’t know what to do with this anger. So we turn to one of two options; we fight back (allow our anger to use us), or we freeze (suppress) it. The suppression of it is exactly where the trauma really sits and festers and causes immense suffering. It is where “ticking time bombs” flourish and resentment and suffering bloom. Fighting back just perpetuates the problem, and like what happened with Israel and Palestine, it results in tit-for-tat unending hostility. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” – Mahatma Ghandi. 

This is inherent in the global psyche. It’s what we are conditioned to do in the way we are raised and conditioned by all our learning and experiences. It is our reaction to circumstances; it is us operating without a conscious choice. Whichever route we take, it is serving a superficial part of us that is our ego. It serves an instant gratification purpose and one of no thought of creating a different or new alternative. Simply put, it serves no higher purpose. 

All of the above paints a picture of South Africans suffering circumstances, in reaction to conditions and being victims of this anger. Having said all of the above, (I/we) ask the question: “What possibilities could lie in using all of this anger towards a constructive purpose?” Imagine what we could create if we were not victims of the past or the present, but were in fact as a nation, focussed on rising above all of these circumstances – through something different and new. 

It starts with us understanding that this anger should not be something that we shy away from, try to deny or even be rid of. Anger is energy – nothing more, nothing less. It is an energy that, exactly like nuclear energy, can be used for destruction or to power an entire city. It is just a question of what we choose it to serve. 

First, we have to see that we have that choice. Anger energy has been using us for so long that at first glance it may seem that it is impossible to pause, to harness the energy and then do something different with it. That is not the actual truth though. We know that we do in fact have the ability to stop and breathe. Whether it is when we read a new headline about rape/ corruption, have a bad experience in the traffic, and feel prejudiced or even worse experience a crime first-hand... We do have a small gap that occurs between the event and when we choose our next steps; in spite of deep and powerful emotions that accompany the experience. 

When we are serving our ego though and we are trying to preserve our identity, we usually default into the fight/flight scenario that I described earlier. Or we could choose to serve something different. We could choose a higher purpose that is good for us and good for others, even if it doesn’t feel as good or as comfortable, or as justified, or as gratifying as the default. One of the least celebrated, ignored or even forgotten gifts that we have as human beings … is choice. It is something that we have in all places, under all circumstances and without exception, even when the options don’t look appealing.

What if we could choose to commit to a higher purpose and then channel all of that dissatisfaction, discontent, anger and rage – all of that energy, into something that serves, rather than takes? A higher purpose could be something like having compassion (getting where another person is at, and supporting them to be their best). It could be living a life free of judgement, using our skills to uplift another, being courteous in the traffic instead of trying to beat the guy in the BMW to the gap. It could be committing to not paying a Metro cop a bribe, not playing the race card but looking at how to contribute to unity, not making other people out to be wrong for their choices. It could be that angry parent in the shopping centre choosing to channel his/her anger energy for a child’s behaviour into the higher purpose of patience and open communication with an open heart, rather than beating the child or supressing the anger and living a frustrated life. 

Of course our ego doesn’t always find such choices that attractive, but deep down we know that it is right for us and would alter the way anger energy is employed. So when that tiny gap occurs between the trigger for our anger, and our acting – do you choose to react in service of your ego, or do you choose to respond by using that energy towards a self-chosen higher purpose? 

Not for one second would I suggest that this is simple or even easy. It requires absolute commitment and practice; but this energy could be the fuel that propels you to a life that is even fuller, richer, more powerful and definitely greater than ever before.

Just imagine for a second a world where we are not hiding from our potential, where we are not suppressing anger, where we are not depressed or reacting in anger because of what is happening to us. Imagine a world where you are fuelled by your anger energy to achieve things that you couldn’t have dreamed possible not in spite of your circumstances, but thanks to your circumstances. That is the use of anger energy in a way that we are not accustomed to. Like a new pair of shoes, will require wearing-in. But imagine the possibilities, where you are not triggered by and reacting to circumstances around you but energised and alive, sparkling and sparking with anger energy that you are channelling into something that you are passionate about, that makes a fundamental difference.

- Rienzo Colpo. Director at Beyond Coaching.

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