A lot of anger has erupted on the streets of America. Do you have the feeling we’ve been here before? I was too young to pay much attention to the Watts riots of 1965 in Los Angeles or the campus demonstrations of 1968, but between last year’s Occupy movement and the mayhem spurred by events in Ferguson, MO, it does seem that we’re replaying old history. That suggests that the billions of dollars for ‘programs’ and the gallons of ink spent on writing legislation has been useless. Perhaps, in some ways it has even caused more harm than good. Surely, that is a reason for well-intentioned people to pause.
Maimonides, a great rabbi, physician and philosopher of the 12th century, wrote an examination of character traits. He states that we should search for the golden mean, recognizing that each trait taken to an extreme is harmful. For example, he sees stinginess and generosity as two sides of a spectrum. Being too stingy is clearly undesirable, but being too generous is equally harmful. That tends to lead people to ignore their own needs and those of their families while worrying excessively about others, or even to mistakenly think that they can be generous with other people’s money. According to Maimonides, we should aim for moderation in all traits, recognizing the tug of the extremes and delicately balancing between them.
Maimonides exempts one character trait from his advice. Anger. He insists that while we sometimes need to seem angry, such as a parent admonishing a child, we should never be angry. Being angry causes us to lose control and traps us in an emotional maelstrom. Anger destroys us and works against our achieving our goals. Does tearing down neighborhood stores (as in Ferguson, MO) or forcing the closure of ambulance service in a community (as happened in NYC last night) really help anyone? Actually, it does. It helps demagogues and those whose power and income increase when Americans hate and distrust each other. It helps media personalities who need something passionate and visual with which to fill airtime. Violence is ever so much more colorful than peace. However, it certainly doesn’t help most people – those of all colors, races and genders who seek to provide for and raise families in peace and dignity.
Goading people to anger is easy, especially when facts are expendable. When anger takes center stage, true issues are ignored. If we take away the cloud of rage (outrageously encouraged by this administration) and courageously but calmly look for truth, what will we find?