I try to read a newspaper or a magazine every day. I do that in order to keep somewhat current about the events that surround us and to pick up threads about what some of the best minds in the world are thinking. I also have an opportunity — as I read articles from all over the world — to survey the attitudes of people from around the globe. I have observed that the level of anger in the world is steadily increasing and has reached alarming proportions. We riot in the streets, we go to war with each other, we scream at each other in our relationships — marriage, dating, parent-child, workplace, and others — we shoot guns at each other, and on and on. The ways we manage to be offended by each other — and to offend each other — seem to be endless.
Those who write newspaper and magazine editorials use the word offended — and variations on it — a great deal. They talk at great length about conditions in society, or about events that have happened to them specifically, and they state emphatically how offended they are, or how angry they are, or how appalled they are, and they strive vigorously to enlist everyone else to be offended, angry, and appalled with them.
Of course, the people who are angry and offended almost always offer a great many justifications for their feelings. Invariably they have been sorely mistreated by a person or by a group of people or by an entire society. They may complain of social inequities or judicial injustice or racism or the personal insensitivity of a partner or any of a broad variety of seemingly unrelated violations, but all of these crimes can uniformly be distilled into a single complaint: These people are angry because they believe that someone didn’t care enough about them.
I cannot remember the last time I heard the complaint of an angry person when it couldn’t be summarized by this statement: “I didn’t get the love I wanted or expected.” It is one of the great ironies of life that angry people consistently demand love in an unloving way, which usually makes it very difficult — if not impossible — for the people around them to give them the love they want and need. How horrifyingly and unintentionally counter-productive it is that we almost always create for ourselves the greatest obstacle to our search for the love we sorely need.
In our defense, our unproductive behavior is quite understandable. When we feel unloved, empty, and afraid, it’s natural that we become desperate, and in that condition we tend to become demanding toward the people around us, insisting that they supply us with the love we need. Regrettably, the behaviors we use to demand love almost always provoke in other people their least loving behaviors, and then we don’t get the love we want.
In short, when we are afraid, the reactions that come naturally rarely produce the results we really want, and this is true in many situations outside the arena of finding love. In the forest, for example, if you come across a wild grizzly bear, the natural reaction is to become afraid and to run like the wind, but wildlife experts agree that this is exactly the wrong thing to do. We can’t know what a bear is thinking when we turn and run, but we do know that when people run, the bear usually chases them down and injures them. If we want to survive a bear encounter, therefore, we must learn a more productive behavior, one that does not come naturally. Experts tell us that if a bear comes toward us, we must stand as tall as we can, not look the bear in the eye, and make loud noises by clapping our hands, shouting or banging anything metal, such as pots and pans.
The value of this kind of preparation — learning a more productive behavior to replace a natural, harmful one — can be additionally illustrated by the story of Rick Rescorla, who was the chief of security for Morgan Stanley, an investment banking firm and the largest tenant of the twin towers of the World Trade Center at the time of the terrorist bombings on September 11, 2001. For years prior to the attacks, Rick had been preparing all the Morgan Stanley employees for just such an attack by running them through repeated and time-consuming evacuation drills. He did this despite many other people disagreeing with his assessment of the likelihood of such an event occurring.
When the first plane slammed into Tower 1, the employees in Rick’s firm in Tower 2 could see the building burning, and a Port Authority official — representing the owners of the buildings — came over the P.A. system and urged people to stay at their desks. But Rescorla quickly asserted his authority and began pushing Morgan Stanley people out of the building. When Tower 2 finally collapsed, only 13 Morgan Stanley employees — including Rescorla and four of his security officers, who were continuing to find and help their people — were inside. The other 2,687 employees were safe.
When the planes hit the twin towers, many people died instantly, and many others were located in offices where escape was impossible, but many others had a real choice about living or dying. Some chose to stay at their desks and do nothing. Others chose to go up the stairs toward the roof, hoping for a helicopter rescue. Others calmly and immediately made the choice to walk down the stairs to freedom of the street — like the employees trained by Rick Rescorla — rather than stay in the buildings, which collapsed, killing everyone still inside.
I suggest that in our personal lives we live with emotional Twin Towers that are perpetually at the edge of collapse, and the consequences are more serious world-wide than the consequences of the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001. When people are unkind toward us — or cause us inconvenience or injustice — they slam their aircraft into our first emotional tower, which is labeled, Offended, or what some people call Hurt. Once that building catches fire, the second tower, which stands immediately adjacent, invariably goes up in flames also. It goes by the name Angry.
Once these buildings are ablaze, of course, we make quite a show of the affair. We call the fire department, the television stations, and everyone we know. We point fingers at everyone we believe responsible for the fire, and, if possible, we set fire to their buildings in return. After all, they deserve to burn for what they have done to us.
In all of our crying and complaining, however, we invariably fail to realize that we are living in the Twin Towers, and no matter how much we complain, the end result of each round of complaints is that the towers fall, and we are crushed under their collapse. Why do we forget the consequences of our actions? Because we get so much from our complaining. It’s all a great show played out on the Field of Death, where people are using Imitation Love and Getting and Protecting Behaviors, and where they all die — emotionally, spiritually, and often physically. People on the Field of Death act offended and act miserable, but in truth, it’s just that — an act. They actually love to be offended, because it gives them an opportunity to get attention and sympathy and power. But from all this they never feel genuinely loved, so they end up alone and miserable, doomed to act offended once again.
It is most fortunate that we can learn to get out of the Twin Towers of Offended and Angry, and we can even learn to avoid them altogether, much as Rich Rescorla trained his people to save their lives on September 11. We can learn to understand the behavior of other people, so that we can see them with insight and compassion, at which point we will not be offended by them nor be angry at them. We can learn to find sufficient Real Love in our own lives that we don’t demand Real Love from individuals and groups around us, and then we are not offended when these individuals and groups don’t give us what we need.
As we train ourselves in this way, the world around us literally becomes a different place. We discover that we are no longer trapped by situations that we once found impossible. We can easily avoid the burning Twin Towers, for example, and can help others do the same. Our marriages become safe havens rather than endless sources of conflict. Our children come to us for love and guidance instead of avoiding us and becoming offended by us. We become a source of comfort and calm to individuals and families all around us, literally saving emotional and spiritual lives, in much the same way that Mr. Rescorla saved physical lives on September 11. The value of our preparation — to ourselves and to others — is incalculable. It is in this way that we will bring peace to the earth, not with armies and navies, not even with treaties and agreements.
Replace your anger & confusion with peace and happiness.
READ OR LISTEN TO: