We can handle anger and confusion

We can handle anger and confusion

When people are angry they want two things – someone to blame and someone to put right the cause of their discontent. It is natural that they should turn to their politicians, the people who asked to be – and got – elected to run the order of the country. If the political system cannot redress injustice, they reason, nobody can. Politicians set the culture of a country, control the social order, handle the country’s financial needs. They are in the right place to make changes when they are needed. Can they really do so?

People are angry today about many things, job losses (happened or anticipated), financial instability, social order change, excessive technology advance. In sum, they add up to uncertainty, the greatest cause of anxiety for each of us. We are looking for reassurance that those “in charge” are capable of solving our problems. We want to have confidence in the future for ourselves and our children. At present we do not.

We are discovering that personal and political maturity go hand in hand. Politicians are not miracle-makers. Some, like Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Mahatma Gandhi in India, Deng Xiaoping in China, Churchill in Britain, put their country first. They had vision and gave service. They knew that freedom had to be earned with the right sort of discipline. They were powerful men who came on the scene when they could influence it.

Their issues were straightforward and their objectives, clear. Giants in the media of their times, they showed leadership that inspired us to try harder. We loved and hated them with equal passion. Times have changed. Geeks, robots, driverless cars, a currency that doesn’t even exist yet and the prospect of extending life perhaps indefinitely, present challenges we have not previously had to deal with. Not just one challenge, but a whole basket full of promise and threat. Our confusion understandably turns to anger.

Learning not to worry about things beyond your control is a life-long course. Along the way we think that we have little or no say in matters of national and international importance. We are wrong. We each contribute to the culture of our society. Every word we say, every action we take is part of the culture-creating process. Leaders, however good, can never substitute for what an individual must do to make society work.

John Steinbeck put it perfectly in The Grapes of Wrath: “This you may say of man — when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back. This you may say and know it and know it.”

These powerful words are part of our reassurance. The rest depends not on leaders but on ourselves. Our ability to stop and consider what is the purpose of life, why we are here, how we can get the best out of our 100 or so years on earth. As I get older and see many of my friends dying I ask myself how fulfilled were their lives? How much joy, how much laughter, how much learning, how much beauty and how much love did they have? Some had more, some, less. The answer is: How much did they contribute? Steinbeck says it for us again:

“And this you can know — fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.”