In My Own Words: Anger by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

There is an enormous amount of anger boiling across the United States. Some people are angry at what they see as restrictions on their rights to act, think or behave as they wish. Others are angry because they don’t believe they have the same protection under the law due to their skin color, ethnicity or sexual orientation. One side sees the other as trying to take away what they believe rightly belongs to them. The other side responds that they are only demanding their just share.

This anger is not new. Before the last election, I wrote about the large amount of anger in our country and how, no matter who won the election, we needed to find a positive way to deal with it so we could work together for the good of our country. Unfortunately, the past few years have brought greater distance and even more anger. 

I understand the anger because I feel it when I see people ignoring COVID-19 restrictions – spreading a deadly disease through thoughtless or careless behavior – sometimes hoping those people suffer from COVID before they spread it to someone else. But this is not the way I want to think or feel. I know whenever I have overwhelming sense of emotion, there is usually something else behind it – some other problem I’m trying to avoid thinking about. 

So what is really behind the anger sweeping across our country? Fear. Fear of an unknownable future and our place in it. We need to address people’s fears because we won’t be able to resolve other issues until we do. What are these fears? Below are just a few of them. (And believe me, this lists is far from all inclusive.)

  • People are afraid that they’re going to lose their jobs and livelihoods. They see gains by others as a loss to themselves. They may believe there is only so much – jobs, money, homes, luck, etc. – to go around and, if someone else has it, there won’t be enough for them.
  • People of color fear for their lives. They aren’t just protesting for equal rights – although that plays a large role – but because they fear they might be killed at a routine traffic stop or walking down the street because someone assumes that a person of color is automatically more dangerous than someone white.
  • Policemen’s families fear that their loved ones might not survive their latest shift and that a simple action – a traffic violation or stopping a fight – will lead to their loss and sorrow.
  • LGBTQ people want to be able to marry, hold a job and live safely. They don’t want to be killed because someone finds their existence offensive or believes what they do is against God’s laws.
  • People are afraid that they will no longer feel special if everyone is equal. After all, if everyone is equal, then how can they be better than someone else? And the need to feel better helps them when their lives aren’t perfect. They can look at someone else’s life and feel superior due to their religion, skin color, ethnicity, etc., even if they don’t have the same social or financial status.
  • People rage against wearing masks because they fear the government is taking over their lives – dictating how they should live, eat, etc. Safety is less important to them than their version of freedom.

How does this fear become anger? That’s simple: it’s so much easier to be angry and blame someone else than it is to stop and face your fears. But yelling at each other isn’t going to help. Demonizing the other – no matter how tempting it is – is not going to help. Trying to reach out and understand each other just might.

I know: It’s not that simple, especially if you are a member of a group that’s been oppressed. It’s not fair to make those American citizens wait one more minute to get their fair share of the promise this country makes to all its citizens. But realizing that the other side is acting as much of out fear as anger may make it possible for the two sides to meet. It gives them both something tangible to talk about. 

Is this a complete answer? I have no idea, but we need to do something because I am afraid for our country. I am afraid that the promise of the United States will be lost forever among these waves of anger. No one group owns this country. No one group is the only one with rights. No one group is greater or lesser than another. Coming together is the only way to survive.