The roots of our anger lie within us, not outside.
“Anger is rooted in our lack of understanding of ourselves and of the causes, deep-seated as well as immediate, that brought about this unpleasant state of affairs. Anger is also rooted in desire, pride, agitation, and suspicion. The primary roots of our anger are in ourselves. Our environment and other people are only secondary. It is not difficult for us to accept the enormous damage brought about by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a flood. But when damage is caused by another person, we don’t have much patience. We know that earthquakes and floods have causes, and we should see that the person who has precipitated our anger also has reasons, deep-seated and immediate, for what he has done.”
Thich Nhat Hahn, ‘Peace is Every Step‘
Thich Nhat Hahn is a Buddhist spiritual teacher. He moved Martin Luther King, Jr, to once say: “I know of no one more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam.”
We are all angry now. Some of us are angry about stolen elections, others about organised massacres. Some fume at the displacement of hundreds of thousands, other rail at the continued presence of ‘outsiders’ in their midst. Some are mad about impunity, others about illegitimacy.
We should all read Thich Nhat Hahn’s words again: the primary roots of anger are in ourselves. It is very easy to get angry about the deeds of others; it is much harder to spend time thinking deeply about causes and effects.
Enlightened persons do not become angry, because they have found the answers. They have a clear mental balance and awareness of what causes things to happen in the world. They are acutely aware of their own deficiencies, and know that losing oneself in a cloud of anger is misguided and ignorant.
Does either side in Kenya’s current conflict spend any time analysing what makes the other do the things it does? Or do we all just reach for the panga and the AK-47, or the dramatic press conference and the indignant letter, like the jerking of the knee?
Our problems are caused by desire, pride and suspicion. Those feelings are present in all of us, and they are the ones that drive us to agitation and violence. We are allowing those feelings to fester and become rotten within us, instead of airing them and understanding them.
It is true that many people have behaved very badly throughout the past few weeks. But then, many people have behaved very badly throughout history. It is the human condition to be stuck in the shallows of existence and to fail to find the depths. So let us use this opportunity to find a deeper level of understanding. There are many, many causes of our problems, some old, some new. They require patience and insight to unravel.
Being outraged; swaggering with self-importance; issuing blanket threats; blaming foreigners and mediators for our ills: all these might make us feel a little better, but they are exercises in futility. If there are going to be any ‘winners’ coming out of this, they will be those who thought things through and emerged with deeper strategies than those currently on offer. But first, let us all have the humility to understand that we are all to blame.