Why we keep repeating our past
Charlottesville, Virginia 2017. A group of angry white men with burning torches opposes another group of angry men and women. The situation escalates, resulting in a casualty. The world is in shock, and reacts confused, “How could this have happened again?” I read the news articles and see the images and I’m equally appalled, but not so surprised.
We’ve seen these images before. In the late thirties, just before WW II in Europe, in the fifties and sixties, with the Civil Rights Movement in the US, and more recently, with the human rights movement and Black Lives Matter, and in my own country, with the ongoing discussions about our colonial history. Every time we see a group of people who are extremely angry and show how they feel. And then we see a group of people who feel criticized, who harshly judge and respond in an equally angry way, and the situation escalates in hate and violence.
Why does this keep happening to us? Why do we see these waves of hate and resentment return over and over again? Why don’t we understand that we are one? And why aren’t we capable to learn from what happened and change our society?
There’s nothing wrong with being angry. It is a healthy reaction that tells you that something happened in your life which touched you. Maybe a boundary was crossed. An expectation that was too high. An unbearable pain you feel. A grief too big to cope with. A strength you miss.
It goes wrong because we handle our anger in an unhealthy and unproductive way.
It goes wrong when we suppress our anger and pain, our shame and grief, and we aren’t willing or aren’t allowed to feel it. When we pretend that nothing’s wrong. When we hold on to these feelings or dwell in them, and we allow them to change into resentment and hate. When we start seeing ourselves as a victim, and draw our own conclusions and beliefs from that point of view.
We would be much better off when we give ourselves the chance to feel our anger and find out why we’re so angry. When we use these feelings to fuel our strength. When we talk to each other and find ways to improve things.
It goes wrong when we are raised by people (parents, grandparents, caretakers or anyone who communicates with us) who handled their anger in this unhealthy way. People who consciously or unconsciously infuse us with their anger, their hate and their beliefs because they’ve started to see this as their reality. It goes wrong when we’re never shown a different reality.
It goes wrong when we don’t want to see how hurt someone else is. When we don’t want to walk in someone else’s shoes and imagine how it must be for them. And whenever someone shares their pain and anger with us, we turn a deaf ear and walk way. It goes wrong when we think that our world is exactly the same as someone else’s.
These are the ways that hatred is formed.
Violence as an answer will never be the solution. Revenge will never be the solution. And hate is an utterly useless emotion. I don’t approve at all of hate and revenge. But I do understand.
I do understand what happens when you suppress your anger and pain. How powerless you feel when what happened to you doesn’t matter to others. How you can drown in your feelings, dwell in them, and create your own reality. How others with lesser intentions will feed these feelings. At some point the pressure will be too high, you will lose control, and the tension will find a way out. It isn’t good. It is logical.
Sometimes we need some darkness to really see the light.
Breaking old patterns
It is naive to think that what we see now in our society is something completely new. It is not. How well did we resolve our problems from the past (in my own country, in the US, in the world)? Did we do enough to heal the emotional wounds in our history? Did we personally do enough to heal the emotional wounds in our own lives? We are hurt. And we deserve to heal.
It is painful and frightening that we have to go through this now. But at least it is out in the open. You can’t change what you can’t see. Now we have the chance to make a conscious choice to act on it. So what do we choose?
As long as we keep reacting to each other with anger and hate, we will always be in a fight together. And there will always be one winner and one loser. One moment it will be one side, the next time it will be the other one. We ourselves keep this perpetual cycle alive. Then again… we are equally capable of breaking this cycle. And now is the time.
Do we keep giving our anger the chance to turn into hate? Or do we take time to examine our emotions, ask ourselves why we are this angry, take an honest look at our experiences and the beliefs we hold, and then use our anger to fuel our actions and consciously choose a better life?
A while ago I read these words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I’d like to change that into: “Someone who doesn’t heal their emotional wounds is doomed to encounter the same situations again.”
Time and time again. As a person, as an organization, and as a country.
Till we decide to do it differently. Together.
Please read: The King Philosophy by Martin Luther King