The Seeker of Peace

Righteous Anger
October 16, 2008, 7:44 am
Filed under: Forgiveness, Suffering | Tags: , , ,

The end goal of all non-dualistic practices is to destroy (or at least overcome) the ego in order to end the suffering of separation. I see myself as far from reaching that goal. At least I can see areas where I’ve stopped creating so much suffering for myself. Seeing others’ reactions to the financial crisis has given me one clear example.

The crisis seems to have brought declamations of righteous anger. I’m no stranger to righteous anger myself. One particularly petty personal case will illustrate the point.

Several years ago, my long-distance phone company started offering local phone service. I tried three times to accept their offer. Each time, they failed to transfer my service, canceled my old billing account, and set me up with a new long-distance account at (very high) basic rates. After finally sorting out all of the mess, one of the accounts contained a credit balance of $5.

I tried repeatedly over the course of months to get them to give me back my $5. I spent literally 10 hours on the phone, plus many more hours brooding with anger. After all their mistakes, they owed that $5 to me! I diverted time I could have been spending with my baby or my wife, doing productive work, or just relaxing to haranguing the phone company. I at least took smug satisfaction that it was costing them much more than $5 to handle my calls. The righteous anger I experienced felt good to my ego. I knew I was in the right. In the end, though, I received neither satisfaction nor the $5. Even had a received the $5, it wouldn’t have come close to being worth the emotional distress I heaped on myself, nor the time I wasted.

Clearly, my righteous anger didn’t serve me well. Now, I hear people, ranging from neighbors to politicians to columnists, dishing up righteous anger about the financial crisis. I’ve actually heard people say that it’s better to let Wall Street firms fail, even if that would hurt everyone else, because “those bastards deserve it.” Others make similar comments about measures to help struggling homeowners, because it’s not right to help those who made bad decisions when most of us have to meet our obligations. Again, they’ll often say that it’s worth “teaching them a lesson” even if that deepens or prolongs the crisis.

What amazes me is that, a mere couple of years ago, I would have been among those getting upset and calling for blood. Now, such attitudes seem like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. These ideas, just like my pursuit of $5, are predicated on a dangerously fallacious idea: it’s worth hurting myself in order to hurt someone else in the name of righteousness.

I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve responded to a situation by laying blame. And for what? The irony is that, like all endeavors of the ego, it accomplishes nothing. Only forgiveness allows for improvement.

The financial crisis has put this issue into such sharp relief because it’s the first time in my life that I’ve seen so much vitriol couched in explicitly self-destructive terms. Now I see that it’s self-destructive even when it’s not made explicit. I hope the clarity will help me eliminate righteous anger from my life.


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