What’s an Angry Quaker to Do?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 5:00 am

What’s an Angry Quaker to Do?

Return to the most human, nothing less
Will nourish the torn spirit, the bewildered heart,
The angry mind: and from the ultimate duress,
Pierced with the breath of anguish, speak for love.

— May Sarton, “Santos: New Mexico” (excerpt)

I’m a Quaker. I stand in a religious tradition that asks me to live by such values as community, equality, simplicity, and non-violence. As a result, I frequently find myself in deep oatmeal — especially when it comes to politics, where I seem to have an anger management problem. Not long ago, a friend with whom I’d been having a heated political argument gave me a black t-shirt that says “One Mean Quaker.”

Does anger have a role to play in the life of someone who aspires to non-violence? For better or for worse, it’s a reality in mine. Exhibit A is the anger I feel toward our new president who, among others things, lies with astonishing abandon. The man has an amazing ability to deny having said things that were captured on videotape and, when the tape is played back, to call it “fake news.” As one journalist has said, lying has become “the defining feature” of his presidency.

To add injury to insult, his is not the garden-variety dissembling we often expect from politicians. He tells weaponized lies that can harm and even kill people. Those at risk include immigrant parents and children who now must worry about keeping their families intact; Muslims, Jews, people of color, and LGBTQ folks who find themselves in the crosshairs once again; people whose one-time jobs in coal mines and factories will not be resurrected; and, ultimately, democracy itself, which dies when we cannot trust our leaders or each other.

So, yes, I’m one angry Quaker when it comes to this president and his staff who keep insisting that the emperor has new clothes, then blame and ban journalists for not telling the world how good he looks in them.

Occasionally, I’m taken to task by people who regard anger as a spiritual flaw to be eliminated. But I beg to differ:

  • When something is morally wrong, it does more harm than good to put a spiritually positive spin on it. Whitewashing in the name of God doesn’t improve the world — it discredits religion as yet another source of delusion. If I weren’t angry about the lies so brazenly told by the President and his surrogates, I’d fear that I was as feckless and reckless as they are.
  • I’m all for forgiveness as an antidote for anger. I agree with those who say that forgiveness is key to carrying on, and I love Anne Lamott’s quip that, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” But forgiveness, I’ve discovered, is not always mine to give — especially in relation to someone who has a long history of malicious acts and remains unrepentant. Sometimes I have to pass the forgiveness baton to higher powers, as Iris Dement does in her tragicomic C&W song:

    “God may forgive you, but I won’t. Jesus may love you, but I don’t.”

  • I know that anger has the potential to harm the person who’s angry, and others in his or her orbit. But three deep dives into depression have taught me that anger buried under piosity poses more threats to my well being — and that of those around me — than anger expressed non-violently. Repressed anger is dangerous. Anger harnessed as an energy we can ride toward new life for all concerned is redemptive.

Before I’m condemned by the “spiritually correct” — whom I regard as more dangerous than their “politically correct” counterparts — please note that my anger is aimed at the president, not at those who voted for him. That’s a big change for me, brought about by inner work I’ve been doing since Election Day when I was angry at all of those voters and the horses they rode in on.

Setting aside those for whom I have no compassion — e.g., hardcore anti-Semites, white supremacists, and wealthy tax-evaders who don’t know the meaning of “enough” — I’ve come to understand that many who voted for this president did so for reasons connected to the challenges they face.

The words of the poet May Sarton helped me get started on this journey of empathy for my fellow citizens. The first verse of her poem, “Santos: New Mexico,” appears at the head of this column. Here’s the last verse, where she describes an alchemy that can transform anger from a death-dealing force into a power for new life:

Return to the most human, nothing less
Will teach the angry spirit, the bewildered heart,
The torn mind, to accept the whole of its duress,
And pierced with anguish, at last act for love.

What does it mean to “return to the most human” as we work to morph our anger into acts of love? For me, it means returning to my own story in order to reconnect with the stories of those who differ from me politically.

I’m a straight, white, upper-middle-class male who has benefited from all the perks this society automatically bestows on people like me. At age 78, I have few of the financial concerns that animated a lot of votes in the last election. The education I’ve been able to afford — along with the time and inclination I have to read a variety of news sources — has made me less likely to fall for fake news, “alternative facts,” and false reasoning. And for decades, my work has blessed me with a diverse band of colleagues and friends whom I love and respect, so the fear of “the other” that drove some votes is not a driver for me.

If I’m unable understand that my life story gives me good reason and a few tools to understand people whose lives and politics diverge from mine, then I’m as heartless and witless as I believe our leaders to be.

What does it mean, in the words of May Sarton, to “at last act for love”? The answer depends on one’s gifts and callings. For me, it means at least this: I want to redouble my efforts to help us renew our capacity for civic community and civil discourse. I want to ride the energy of anger toward work that brings citizens together in life-giving live encounters — knowing that if the reality of “We the People” continues to fade into mist and myth, we’ll lose our democracy.

One vehicle for this ride is StoryCorps, where I play a minor role as a thought partner for founder Dave Isay. Dave and his colleague Mike Garofalo are developing a new outreach to inspire Americans to talk and listen across our political divides. For a moving example of what they have in mind, check out this vulnerable and brave conversation between a conservative father and liberal daughter who’ve been at loggerheads — but who came together to seek a way forward and found grounds for hope.

StoryCorps is looking for folks to help them test this approach. Interested? Call 301-744-TALK, leave your name, where you are calling from, your contact information, and a few words about who you want to talk with and why.

I’m also an occasional thought partner with my friend Joan Blades, who co-founded Living Room Conversations (and also  MoveOn.org). Over the past five years, Joan and her colleagues have found simple, practical, and effective ways to help people with radically different political convictions find common ground. I highly recommend their work, including their programs with faith communities.

In addition, I’m continuing the work I launched in 2011 when I published Healing the Heart of Democracy. That work that has been greatly enhanced by my colleagues at a non-profit I founded, the Center for Courage & Renewal, who provide online resources to help folks find ways to reclaim the reality and power of “We the People.”

Finally, to keep myself honest, I want to continue to “live the question” I asked at the top of this column: “Does anger have a role to play in the life of someone who aspires to non-violence?”

As I do, I’ll take solace from Psalm 58, where an angry but certified holy man petitions God to “smash the teeth” of those who spread poisonous lies. The psalmist does not recommend direct action of this sort, and neither do I — radical oral surgery should be left to the Almighty.

But if the psalmist’s petition were to be granted today, I can imagine at least two positive outcomes. The lying would cease for a while since it would be too painful to talk (which seems only fair since it’s become so painful to listen). And we might get a healthcare plan with better dental coverage.

Spirituality and anger (and humor) are not necessarily at odds. Or so it seems to “One Mean Quaker” as I continue to stumble through life — well aware that, before too long, I’m likely to find myself in deep oatmeal again.

Author’s note: My first On Being column appeared on March 18, 2014. So this piece marks my fourth year of showing up weekly in this space, a run that, like all things, will someday come to end. I want to thank my friends Krista Tippett and Trent Gilliss for giving me this opportunity. Special thanks to Mariah Helgeson whose careful, insightful editing has helped me become a better writer, and Marie Sambilay whose skill at layout and design makes these pieces look better than they are. I also want to thank On Being’s readers for their informed, thoughtful, and generous responses to what appears on this site. If these sensibilities infused more online communication, the internet could play a bigger role in healing the heart of democracy and empowering “We the People.” I may be one mean Quaker, but I’m also one grateful man!

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

Share Your Reflection


  • Jenny Rake-Marona

    Thank you for inviting us in to this thoughtful meditation. It is a big help to me as I wrestle with anger, fear, overwhelm at the sheer velocity of the lies and chaos…….Your wisdom, born in practical action and faithful reflection is a gift. Much appreciated.

  • C Scott

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on anger. My anger is evolving from the time of the election results. It’s less about reactionary political actions and more about deliberately moving from a place of love which seeks commonality. Also healing.

    “Do what you do with another being but never put them out of your heart.” – Kabir <—-I often fail at this but I'm not giving up.

  • Leah

    Parker’s Palmer, thank you once again. Do you know First 100 Ways? Our goddaughter is one of those responsible for this tiny and hugely effective effort to harness anger and disappointment. Check it out on Facebook.

  • Lauren Small

    Parker, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful and important essay. You are not “one mean Quaker,” you are “one righteous Quaker” and therein lies all the difference. Anger is energy, and when directed towards righteousness, is both necessary and uplifting. “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue,” so teaches the Bible, words to live by, especially in these perilous times. The only heartening thing about this recent election is the coming together of folks across our country who are marching with their feet and raising their voices for our planet, for the truth, and for the protection of the vulnerable. Thank you as always for leading with your voice.

  • Needtospeakup

    Thank you so much for speaking from the heart Parker. You are expressing the feelings of so many. I understand the need to express these feelings, and agree that bottling them up is not healthy. Anger is energy which you are putting to good use. That is what I am doing as well. I really believe Trump is just “pulling back the veil” of what has been there for decades. I am trying to find the meaning and direction for me. Parker know you are being held up by so many, just as you have held others up.

  • Shernaz Wadia

    I needed to read this very thoughtful piece because i too keep losing my temper at what is happening here politically. There is wisdom in everything you say and none of your essays that I have read have made me feel you are an angry or mean person. This is the first time I am commenting here but I want you to know that I seek out your writings because I find such wealth in them. Thank you very much.

  • Mark Frankel

    You say “I’m a straight, white, upper-middle-class male who has benefited from all the perks this society automatically bestows on people like me.” I’m very similar, a white middle-class Quaker with an anger-management problem, and I see your remark, and your essay generally, as an instance of damaging self-loathing which is a source of suffering. There is nothing “automatic” about your accomplishments and equally nothing “automatic” about your suffering. Take responsibility for yourself and forget about The Donald. He ain’t worth it. All you can do about him and the travails of the wider world is to act as a responsible citizen, which means voting in elections, paying your taxes, supporting worthy causes and acting sustainably as best you realistically can. Your primary responsibility is to your own spiritual and mental welfare and that of your Friends and family. Be the peace, not the anger.

  • cc

    Parker, GREAT STUFF thank you. McLaren’s work helped me with getting right with ANGER: The Honorable Sentry

    GIFTS: Honor ~ Conviction ~ Self-awareness ~ Healthy self esteem ~ Proper boundaries ~ Healthy detachment ~ Protection of yourself and others

    ACTION REQUIRED: Anger arises to address challenges to your standpoint, your position, your interpersonal boundaries, or your self image. Your task is to restore your sense of self and your interpersonal boundaries without violating the boundaries of others. Your anger will also step in when others are being challenged or devalued, and your task is to address the offense and restore the boundaries of all parties. This is the sacred practice for anger, which I very intentionally call The Honorable Sentry.

    THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS: What must be protected? What must be restored?


    • Lori Leyba

      This was my exact thought – so grateful you shared it. When we honor our anger we engage our brains and that’s always a good thing. Anger is something that happens at a gut level. When we use Karla’s practice of honoring our emotions it brings our thinking center in and allows us to make sense of the message of our anger so we can act appropriately. It’s challenging work in this day and age.

  • Jessy Carlson

    Thank you. I’m arriving at the realization that I may need to let most of my current friends go – since they insist on avoiding any constructive discussions that require acknowledgement of justified anger, or of the need for justice (if you want to talk peace, you must first be able to talk about justice, right?). I’m really struggling with this, because I love my friends. But I’m starving for honest conversations about where we are in history, and what our role must be if we truly do value harmony, happiness for all, “love and peace”. Shutting down conversations about injustice and anger, action and resistance, makes me feel, terribly frustrated, condescended to. It feels like a violent attempt to shut ME down. (not to mention those who have been saying this for decades!) Walking away from that sort of treatment is really heartbreaking but necessary.Thank you again for standing up for anger and action. Without them, we will never see peace.

  • NK

    Thanks for this piece, which in many ways is both a balm and a guidepost. But I wish that, in addition to acknowledging your privilege, you had also reflected more deeply on how it gives you the space and the allowance to be publicly angry without facing dismissal, disgust, or worse, danger. It’s too bad that you’ve forgotten that, for many women and people of color, public anger is not possible without retribution – that too many of us are labeled “nasty women” and “angry black women,” etc., etc. when we dare to speak our minds and voice our very justifiable anger. And do note that getting angry on our behalf is different than creating the space for us to be angry ourselves. Thanks.

    • Gabby

      NK, perhaps you would consider submitting an article for sharing on On Being? While I am interested in the writing of On Being’s regulars, I would love to see more regular writing here too that is not by very privileged people describing their angst and how they deal with it or their best understandings of the sufferings of those without comparable privilege, the safe and privileged writing for those like them.
      This space is one that can be more if we make it more. I think On Being is open to that.

  • seanymph

    Thank you, from a Unitarian Universalist, for your thoughts. When reading them I realized that I too during the campaign and election thought of people who would and did vote for Trump as stupid, as well as all the perjoratives for Trump – misogenist, racist, homophobic, etc. But I realized as I read your thoughts that I have begun to think differently of many of the people who voted for Trump. They did so, not out of all the bad things, but because of miseries in their lives that our system hasn’t fixed. I am still angry, but at Trump, his surrogates, and those he picked for important positions that will hurt our country immesurably.

  • Gabby

    You raise an extremely important issue here, that there is righteousness in not standing by calmly in the face of deliberate actions to hurt people. Bless you for putting this position forward here.
    Arthur Brooks writing in the New York Times last week took the opposite position. He argued that if you are unhappy with politics or governance but it doesn’t affect you directly, just “let it go.” It is the practical equivalent of advising people to rest safely with their own people, in peaceful contemplation- and letting others do the working and worrying- if they feel like it – for those whose lives are on the line.
    That sort of peaceful retreat, while popular in some circles, is, I think, quite heartless, consistent only with a very narrow interpretation of brotherhood or social responsibility.

  • valencia

    ​Conquer the angry man by love.
    Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness.
    Conquer the miser with generosity.​​ ​
    C​onquer the liar with truth.​ The Dhammapada
    This was a quote I found when researching the Tibetean Endless Knot… like the mission of Gandhi and then MLK and the Beloved Community. There is righteous indignation, because your ability to SEE and feel is more than just yourself, it is also for the other and the country you call home. Likewise, the heritage/ legacy so what we can continue to tolerate and permit? How to act, how to react, how to not be overcome and slip into depression or disgusting diatribes? For many of my like-minded friends The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (written pre election) has helped immensely- it will raise you up to know the path of joy and hope does prevail. Check it out if you feel similar to Parker, may you find kindred spirits . Like concentric circles we can reach out and diffuse the whirlwind cyclone from controling of our hearts and will. As a parent we raised our kids to tell the truth, be kind and courageous, to do their homework, save the planet, and see the child of God in ALL. You refer to the emperor’s new clothes..I think of it along the snarky manner of “The emperor has no hair” if we could cut of the hair, maybe it would set him free.

    • My approach, over and over, is the truth, but we are at a time and place where it is losing ground and that is both discouraging and frustrating.

  • Lisa G

    Parker, I love you and your transparent inner dialogue! My whole family grapples with anger at the state of the world and at those who claim to know what they are doing. My mom and her friends belong to the Raging Grannies for good reason. I’m currently on a self-study program about activism and anger with a great reading list including James Hoggan’s “I’m Right and You’re An Idiot: The Toxic State of Public-Discourse and How to Clean it Up” and Martha Nussbaum’s “Anger and forgiveness: resentment, generosity, justice.” I would appreciate additional reading recommendations from those in this discussion.

  • I find myself angry at Parker Palmer, the towering Quaker, who is angry at Trump (an easy target) but not at capitalism that enriched Parker (and Trump), at a system stacked in his favor, at Parker whose words won’t be read by my friends in the hood, at Parker who won’t be read by the undocumented living in daily fear. I am angry that this feels so self serving, so like, well, the pain of the many finally got to Parker because Trump is an honest and transparent liar whereas the drone killer Obama did not make Parker so angry. I am angry at Parker, he who has been my muse, he who, as I become one with the wretched, no longer speaks for me as a Quaker.

    • Gabby

      How is this anger now propelling you in a direction that will support better the people who need your energy? Particularly for those of us who are not Quakers, it is instructive to hear how you or your community are taking loving action now. [I do not mean to pry. I just want to learn].

      • Gabby, I no longer listen to most persons with privilege tell the poor how to be spiritual. I organize with and in the working class. I am a Wobbly Quaker. The Quakers have better process than the Industrial Workers of the World, including our General Defense Committee. The IWW has much better social analysis. Good analysis and good process makes for good praxis. Remove either and t the praxis is weak. Parker’s analysis is weak, a dresses the discomfort of the upper middle class. Would that he was still young, relatively poor, and in organizing meetings. He has left the field and kept the process, just like many Quakers have done today, giving up their history making roles in abolitionism, suffrage, LGBTQIA rights, anti-war stance, etc. The quietism works when you have enough, when you leave those without enough behind, only the beneficiaries of your handouts instead of shoulder to shoulder solidarity. Gabby, I organize every day.

        • Gabby

          I appreciate your taking the time to reply to me, Brad. I have the same serious concern you have about what you call “quietism,” what I have sometimes called keeping a calming distance or resting in ones safety. Elie Wiesel in his Nobel lecture supports your position- that silence (he might have chosen “quiet”) helps only the tormentor, not the tormented. I too am hands-on most days of the week.
          Still, I do not place Parker Palmer in this category of quiet. He is often urging us to work rather than keeping still, not to meditate peacefully in lieu of worry and action, nor to spend our time communing safely within our tight-knit communities while making quick forays outside.
          I appreciate what you are doing and hope to continue myself to have the health to sustain my work with the ever-marginalized.

        • gideonse@midmaine.com

          Oh, dear. Seems like you’re pretty angry, too. But you don’t seem to be working through it as well as Parker. Don’t confuse your aggressiveness with an intent to assert. This is more hurtful, less forgiving than it might be.

  • DrNeuville

    Friend Parker speaks my mind in ways that I have not yet envisioned. thanks.

  • Amor Fati

    It is so easy to get swept up in anger and feelings of helplessness. I think the best we can do is be the best we can be. Peace Pilgrim said it perfectly and I cling to her words at this time in history:
    “We need not reach out to tear down that which is evil, because nothing which is contrary to God’s laws can endure. All not good things in the world are transient, containing within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. We can help them to fade away more quickly only insofar as we remain in obedience to God’s laws, that evil must be overcome with good.”
    And here some wise words from I Ching:
    “The struggle with evil must not be carried on directly by force. If we do it the favor of fighting against it blow by blow, we lose in the end because thus we ourselves get entangled in hatred….The best way to fight evil is to make energetic progress in the good.”

  • Drew Foster

    Hi Parker. … saw you at FGC Gathering 2015 … I note William Penn felt his experiment in creating an enlightened political system in Philadelphia ended in failure as the hordes self seekers flocked to his colony and overwhelmed Quaker leadership and hope of a just society — I’m guessing he felt disappointed & depressed … 100+ years later his principles of government became bedrock in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights … Trump is narcissistic and pathological and will deliver a lesson to the legions of those in pain whom he charmed with his lies … and who will find themselves swindled by him … I see promise for us who seek a more decent and just politics and culture — we will have our opportunity yet as Trump & his fellow greed seekers self destruct and demonstrate the mean spirited right wing for what it is.

  • Drew Foster

    William Penn felt his experiment in creating an enlightened political system in Philadelphia ended in failure as the hordes self seekers flocked to his colony and overwhelmed Quaker leadership and hope of a just society … 100+ years later his principles of government became bedrock in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights … Trump is narcissistic and pathological and will deliver a lesson to the legions of those in pain whom he charmed with his lies … and who will find themselves swindled by him … We who seek a more decent and just politics and culture will have our opportunity as he self destructs and damages the mean spirited right wing politically.

  • Drew Foster

    Oh, yes. Parker — I boil 3 bags of Celestial in 2.5 cups of water, remove the bags then add the oatmeal to cook … in the last minute or two I add dried cherries or other fruit choices for sweetening … makes killer blueberry oatmeal !!

    • Dodie Jacobi

      Yummmmm. One more good thing from reading a post about the alchemy of anger!

  • Dodie Jacobi

    This is the first of your work I’m reading, and I will be sharing liberally, puns always intended. I have come to understand anger, as sacred as every emotion, is an informant for what is and is not acceptable in my midst. Unused, it is a waste of dissipating energy. Channeled, it improves my existience, so I might improve that of those around me. The current administration extends invitation upon invitation to go deeper into my life’s calling, to be more than ever the most I am. In this brief and also infinite year, anger has cleared my throat, forced me to laser focus my output, and provided stark contrast to make its opposite, acceptance, more evident. Anger is the hand squeezing a tube of toothpaste from the bottom, moving all inside forward and out to good use.

  • Helen Holleman

    Thank you for making sense of the energy of anger. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the absolute necessity of diversity in all forms (including biodiversity), and where there is diversity, there’s the energy of conflict. The challenge is to find a non-violent way to use that energy – not to quash it, deny it, or deride it. You’ve given me that guidance. Trust me, our President leaves yours looking quite sane.

  • Sharon Gunther

    Thank you for this, from another Angry Quaker in Philadelphia. Happily, I have learned that the A for Angry is also the A for Arrow pointing out that things need to be changed. I attempt to be as innocent as a dove, as wise as a serpent, sometimes with success, but it takes time! What helped me to understand the many folks who voted for Trump, was knowing that poor folks (like me) when signing up for TV cable, GET FOX news at the bottom basic tier, FREE! I struggled, but paid the next tier to get fuller news. Turns out that FOX news has been operating at a loss for years; what a bargain! The Presidency! Love is the first motion.

    • valencia

      fascinating point about FOX news, is this specific to one provider or runs the gamut. I am not a cable subscriber but know of certain names like Comcast and UVerse

  • Carinda

    “Anger harnessed as an energy we can ride toward new life for all concerned is redemptive.” This indeed is the purpose of anger. Those who repress, demonize anger, or those who use it as an excuse to do violence, verbally or physically, lose the strength and focus anger is meant to provide. It is rocket fuel to get us out of danger into new life.

  • Hank Fay

    All our paths are different, even if (as Francis has helpfully noted) they all end up in the same place.

    Mine begins (after a long journey 🙂 ) with “tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner” — I am led to compassion through deep connection and, conversely, lack compassion where I am not connected. That’s what gets me past what would otherwise be my obsessing on those who seem driven to do harm to those with the least. Connecting with such is distasteful and difficult for me to maintain and, more importantly, instructive as to what not to bother attempting in terms of effecting change.

    Fast-forwarding (a lot) on my path, I see a need to evolve democracy to a governance based on hearts united, as in Quaker Process united. So long as politics are win-lose, regardless of who wins we will remain a nation divided. So long as politics are win-lose, lies and other disconnected forms of relationship will be used to gain power. It’s that Maslow thing again.

    Changing the nature of politics begins in the neighborhood. Of that I’m certain (anything else is less connected). The rest is evolving.

    Thanks for starting the conversation,


  • Doug Barr

    I don’t get angry but I do laugh a lot. I don’t laugh because I’m amused. There is nothing funny about the current state of human affairs. Mine are “you’ve got to be kidding” laughs. For instance I laughed at your first sentence. You portray yourself as a man who wishes to bring humanity together yet you put yourself in a group that helps divide us. “Healing the heart of democracy” always makes me laugh uncontrollably. Democracy was given birth and is sustained by the divisions of humanity. Maintaining it in effect continues the divides that are destroying us. One of the signs of healing humanity will be a dying democracy.

    Lately I’ve been getting a lot of laughs from our sanctimonious obsession with lies, fake news and post truth. Almost our entire existence is based on make-believe. Take Quakerism for example. Prior to 1652 it didn’t exist. That was the year George Fox made up what you now believe. It was based on “his extensive biblical knowledge” that people started to make up less than 2000 years ago. Indeed, the “good news” is fake as are the “Republicanism” and “Democraticism” that are tearing America apart, and every other political philosophy ever made up. In fact, make-believe can be traced back to ‘Adam’.

    As noted, there is some real life left in our existence. If there wasn’t we’d all be dead for some real life is essential to survive. However, there’s obviously not much and if we don’t all soon get real we’ll completely self-destruct. You can help heal the heart of humanity. Just don’t make me laugh anymore.

    • Elizabeth Summers Sroka

      so what’s your replacement for this laughable democracy?

      • Doug Barr

        Either I forgot to leave a link that would have answered your question or the moderator deleted it. If we discard the beliefs that divide us we think need to have represented by democracy, it will simply fade away in the emerging unity. https://thelastwhy.ca/

    • forrestcuro

      Once when they were wheeling me out of an operating room I had to beg the orderly not to make me laugh; it made things hurt too much! I hope it’s not that bad for you!

      Probably it hurts to feel contemptuous of people. I mean, some of my best friends are human, but it’s not always fun having to admit my current species membership. And I have to. I’m one of these critters, I screw up. For every blind spot they’ve got, I’ve got some of my own. Give us all some slack, because you need it too!

    • trang nguyen

      As tears sometimes accompany moments of happiness & joy, so laughter may be the face of bitterness and pain. Our emotions, our experiences, our wounds, they are an integral part of what it means to be human. They form our shared humanity, but they also shape the broken lens through which each perceives the world, so that it is hard to imagine the possibility of any single uniform world view.

      So where can we go from here? Perhaps we should “return to the most human.” For me it means an interior journey that requires me to acknowledge and accept my anger and any other aspect of myself that I’d rather forget, suppress, or deny. It is a humbling process, and we are in great need of any and all humbling processes.

      • Doug Barr

        I suggest we have “broken [the] lens” and can therefore repair it and through it see the “single uniform world view”. But we’ll have to hurry. At the rate we continue to break the lens into smaller and smaller pieces it will soon be a pile of sand. https://thelastwhy.ca/

  • broschultz

    The anger problem could (not saying is) be something to do with a perspective that puts an emphasis on the importance of the here and now when compared to the hereafter. See Mathew 16:26. I think this is the accepted Quaker perspective which feeds the strong “social justice” strength of the Society. However the serenity prayer is popular for a reason..
    As you have already discovered denying the presence of anger just because it’s not the right thing doesn’t work. When I was going through a difficult time with my first marriage I did a lot of arguing with God and spent a lot of time soaking in a hot bath, normally both at once. Eventually I managed to hear God through the anguish and understand my problem at which point the anger was easily dealt with when it raised its head. An important thing in dealing with the anger is not to dwell on the reason for it. The more you obsess over the “unfairness”, “injustice” or whatever, the more you feed the fire.
    And if you want to be fair to your fellow Quakers don’t raise your concerns as part of “Vocal” Ministry.

    • forrestcuro

      Yeah, we don’t need no stinkin excuses! That’s another difficulty with anger, one I hadn’t thought of, though it’s important:

      all the effort people put into trying to ‘justify’ ourselves for a feeling that just happens. Not bad of us or good of us, not good for us (though people do sometimes like the spurious feeling of power it gives them.) Not an excuse for doing harm to anyone, or toting up points against him. Just another pain to add to the ones we already have, yes?

      [Good to see you here!]

  • Garry Coulter

    As an outsider to the political chaos that has ensnared the United States I cling to the thought of a world view in which there can be another way. I have watched as refugees have risked their lives to come to Canada overland this winter, to be helped by the Mounties ( our national police force) as refugees to be processed by our laws. We don’t have any answers, predudice is alive and well here, but we are a nation of immigrants who have tried a different path toward nation building that can only be sustained by a shared vision. The USA has been a beacon for former generations and Mr Trump hopefully does not represent my neighbor to the south. Fear and hate must be faced by all members of the one and only human race and together we must, if only, reach out to the other who when we pull aside the veil, the face staring outward is all too recognizable as ourselves with red rimed eyes, chanting the opera of the mob.

  • kl

    I hear you! I have found myself angry at the voters (my mother!!) and then at the Church. I’m having a harder time reconciling my feelings about the Church, as it seems so clear to me that the man in office should have been denounced for his actions long before he became a consideration of the post–and certainly not promoted as a Christian that would save this country. Maybe in some ways the anger is easier to direct at a mass of unknowns that I can ascribe whatever personality defects I’d like. And that makes me very much like the man in office whose policies I so loathe. So I continue to breathe and try to be mindful of my feelings, to realize that thoughts aren’t always truthful, and to interact with others in the kindest and most open ways I know how. But it does get exhausting sometimes. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  • Victoria Pendragon

    For this alone – “Before I’m condemned by the “spiritually correct” — whom I regard as
    more dangerous than their “politically correct” counterparts” – I would thank you.

    This was a timely piece for me having only recently integrated that angry aspect of myself into what I like to refer to as the wholeness of my being via painting an image that came to me while I was in shared shamanic process with a trusted healer/friend.

    I call it The Sacred Hurt. I it is appropriate to share with you here.


    Blessings on sharing your truth… and truth in general.

  • Eric

    Im a 70 yr old Buddhist and have a lot of sympathy for what you say. You seem to be transforming anger into creative outlets. As you probably know, Buddhism sees hatred, greed and delusion as the ‘three poisons’ which we need to convert with much compassionate inner work. Inner work should go along with action in the wider world – but a lot of self-knowledge is a requirment if we wish to help rather than hinder. Would you say your working out of anger by engaging in the community has helped prevent the negative effects of anger on yourself? Incidentally I went to a Quaker school in England as my parents became Quakers in their 40s!

    • Third_stone

      I also 70, have a lot of reverence for Buddhism. The Dali Llama is one of the great men of our time.

  • Third_stone

    There is no human who does not deserve at least empathy with their humanity. Even a hard core anti semite is likely driven by his own ignorance. Personally I would not wear the Mean Quaker tee shirt. I think the statement is a non-sequitur. We are not mean. Yes we have a problem with treacherous men who have taken our country and are screwing it up. People all over the world are dying in our name. It is a grim time in America, but where is the anger correctly placed? The problem has been building at least since Reagan’s time, small acts by greedy men each pursuing their own goal, with gerrymandered districts and voter ID laws and steadily reducing the quality of education so Trump could ride a wave of “low information voters”. I don’t know where anger would be correctly placed. What we have today we have built. It is a horrible spectacle, but we need to stay focused on breaking the pattern. I offer the example of the women’s and black peoples vote, we fought battles to enable, how many showed up to vote against trump? An embarrassingly small percentage. We could be angry about this. I will not allow anger to overtake me. I try to stay focused on the repair job, of finding a way to change the pattern.

  • Sue Johnson

    Parker, thought you would get a kick out of a Christmas card that I gave a Christian colleague and friend years ago…he was a Christian in his head, but not his heart, as he was extremely homophobic and racist…the front of the card had a depiction of Jesus holding out his hand in a benevolent gesture, along with the caption, “Jesus loves you…,” then you open the card and it simply states, “But everyone else thinks you’re an asshole.” To this day, it is the funniest card I have ever given anyone, and even he appreciated the humor!
    Love and appreciate your columns, Parker…and know that we are all in deep oatmeal all the time, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, so let’s join hands and celebrate being human! 🙂 SueJ

  • forrestcuro

    You have the right to become angry.

    If you become angry, you may say or do something unwise. If you do, it will probably be held against you by someone.

    If you remain angry, you’re likely to have unpleasant second thoughts about that nice self-righteous high you may have been enjoying a moment ago. You might spring inconvenient leaks, suffer impaired functioning, or otherwise feel shame, embarrassment or pain.

    There is truly no one worth being angry at except God. If you’re angry at God, God is likely to thank you for your concern, while showing you, one way or another, why things just needed to be this way. But as long as things do need to be this way, you might as well resign yourself to that, just do what you can to mitigate the situation.

  • Richard Grossman

    This is an important discussion, I feel. Thank you, Parker Palmer, for looking inward and also looking outward to examine your way of dealing with anger. There is pressure in our religion to not be angry, and if one IS angry, to not express that anger. Unfortunately, that can be destructive, and a waste of emotional energy!

  • Judy Montel

    Thank you for your open soul- and heart-searching. It is a powerful example that invites company.
    One phrase you mention has been much on my mind recently. It is: ” the garden-variety dissembling we often expect from politicians”. I think that this “garden variety dissembling” may be more of a problem than we realize. The lies we can live with. The lies we thought we could live with. Or even not lies – the communication that lacks true respect and integrity – surely such things are nearly impossible to measure, but so easy to feel! Have we tolerated what seemed like minor or liveable-with ills that have grown into monsters? Certainly, Parker, your sense of the pulse of the United States was that something was off quite a while ago. You must have started writing “Healing the Heart of Democracy” quite a few years ago – before it was published – and that was way back in 2011!!
    When you think about that, while it may not be much comfort, it makes me think that the current president and the last elections are symptoms of much older and larger ills. And indeed, these small steps may be the best evidence that the nation is healing, one person at a time, much as our bodies heal, one cell at a time.

  • Contessa Miller

    Count me in, also, as an angry Quaker. Last year, I even dared to use the “angry” emoticon when replying to Facebook posts. I’m still doing that because iit occurred to me that if I felt anger, consternation, disgust, etc., it was my responsibility to express my authentic se!f at that moment.

  • Carrie Colladay Stell

    I am a latecomer to the On Being bandwagon, but I have loved what I have read here, and most especially what you have written, Parker. I have shared your “Five Stories About Otherness and Me” in my Adult Ed GED classes, and I have taken it on the road to a Literacy Texas Conference. So, please keep on showing up weekly!

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  • BCZ

    Dear Parker. I am a big fan of your work. I strongly recommend reading Nussbaum’s new work on Anger and Forgiveness. I think it bears heavily on what you write here and may alter some of the nuances of your thinking on the issue.

    Not least of which, there are ways to deal with anger rather than suppressing. Transforming it, for instance into other emotions through the use of reason and practice. Personally, I transmute anger into affection, forgiveness, understanding, and duty using a combination of stoic and Christian approaches. This preserves the drive, while eliminating the helpless and futile parts that also cause anger.

    I am, in general, less sanguine on anger than you (which surprises me), and would caution anyone who writes that which may be seen as a ‘blank check’ on anger.

  • Rainer Moeller

    The author comes over as too sure of himself and rather paternalistic in his attitude too the “less gifted” whites – but if he seriously tries to debate with citizens of a different political conviction, he may perhaps overcome his deficiencies.

  • Patricia Dallmann

    Anger is the one of the Seven Deadlies that is thrown in my path more frequently than any of the others, and yesterday when Trump withdrew our country from the Paris Climate Change Accord, it appeared again. George Fox wrote of how to get past anger and other temptations in the following passage from the Journal. Anger is an expression of felt weakness. In refusing to look at it and the provocation and waiting patiently upon the Lord, when He appears, we are given His strength, His guidance, His wisdom into acting in His name. The weakness that anger manifests is thus genuinely gone, and consequently the anger genuinely disappears. It is difficult to transfer our attention from the threat to a defenseless waiting for the power of the Lord; that’s the struggle. But persevering is rewarded. When we act in the name of the Lord, rather than our own best ideas and values and testimonies and principles, then we act with calm assurance and effective witness. As George Fox said: The power of the Lord is over all. Here’s the passage from Fox’s Journal:

    In the power of the everlasting God which comprehends the power of darkness and all temptations, and that which comes out of it, in this power of God dwell. This will bring and keep you to the word in the beginning; it will keep you up to the life, to feed thereupon, in which you are over the power of darkness, and in which you will feel dominion and life. And that will let you see before the tempter was and over him, into which the tempter cannot come; for the power and truth he is out of. Therefore in that life dwell, in which you will know dominion. Let your faith be in the power over the weakness and temptations; look not at them; but in the light and power of God, look at the Lord’s strength, which will be made perfect in your weakest state. So in all temptations look at the grace of God to bring your salvation, which is your teacher to teach you; for when you look or hearken to the temptations, you go from your teacher, the grace of God; and so are darkened in going from that teacher which should bring your salvation, the grace of God, which is sufficient in all temptations to lead out of them and to keep over them. (I. 239)

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