I'm glad the November elections are over. What struck me about this recent exercise in democracy was how many of our fellow citizens were, and presumably still are, boiling mad.
It's possible that I'm dense — that possibility has been suggested to me on numerous occasions, in a variety of contexts — but no matter how much news I consumed, I never could get a clear sense of what all these folks are so angry about.
Somewhere along the way I read that the most intensely furious folks are white, middle-age, evangelical men.
But I'm a white, middle-age, evangelical man, and I'm not particularly mad.
The economy is a mess, but it took several administrations, Democratic and Republican, to get us into this present fix. It doesn't seem reasonable to think President Barack Obama or anybody else, Democrat or Republican, can dig us out in 15 minutes.
Our governmental leaders, including members of both parties, did keep us from plunging into the worldwide depression we were facing a couple of years ago.
I haven't starved. I have a roof over my head. For these mercies I'm grateful.
I don't agree with the religious or moral leanings of some who hold public office. But I never have agreed with all politicians; they don't even agree with one another.
Storm troopers haven't hauled me off to a gulag for voicing my opinions or worshiping as I choose. Life here isn't that bad, as far as I can tell.
All that free-floating ire appears way out of proportion to what's really wrong.
Which leads me to think that much of the anger we see — whether it manifests itself as screaming at political rallies or road rage on public highways or passive-aggressive plotting in workplaces — really isn't about the issues it claims to be about. It's not about health care reform or the driver going 50 mph in the passing lane or an unfair boss. Not really.
I suspect an awful lot of my fellow Americans mainly are mad at Mama or Daddy, or the kid who bullied them in the third grade, or the teenager who wouldn't go with them to the prom, or the spouse who left them, or God, or their own shortcomings. Or all of the above.
There's a world of unresolved, unattended, misdirected anger out there.
I'm not talking about your generic garden-variety anger. Every human gets ticked off about something from time to time. I'm talking about chronic, aimless, gnawing fury.
I'm no psychiatrist, but I'd suggest that if you're so wrought up against Obama or Glenn Beck or the guy who cut you off in traffic that you can't sleep at night, you're not actually mad at that person at all.
This kind of anger, as many people have correctly warned, is like a cancer. If you diagnose it and treat it, you have a good chance of overcoming it.
Ignore it and it'll eat your guts out. This variety of cancer also will eat up the people around you, your spouse, your children, your friends, civilization as we know it.
Let's forget politics for a moment.
Let's say your co-worker Suzy gets a promotion and a raise.
It's natural that you might simultaneously be pleased for Suzy and also feel a pang of hurt, jealousy or irritation. You might realize you've been on the job two years longer than she has, that you've worked just as hard.
After a few days, you shrug it off. Your life goes on. Your joy returns. You recognize that in the grand scheme, it's not so big a deal.
But let's say you can't move on.
You seethe with resentment. You can barely speak to Suzy. You're sure she thinks she's better than you. You make a mental list of all the assignments she flubbed and the ones you excelled at. You gossip about her. You send out résumés, looking for another job, any job. You slack off at work because, after all, the bosses don't appreciate anything you do.
I'd say Suzy's not your problem. Suzy's just the latest symptom of a far deeper issue. Until you face the real problem — your long-standing, burning anger and its origins — you're never going to be happy, and you're never going to let those around you be happy.
Ask yourself some questions.
Who are you really mad at? God, for letting your father die when you were 10? Your mother, for always being hypercritical of you? Yourself, for not achieving more?
What steps can you take that will help you deal with this? Should you find a counselor who can lead you to understand your complicated, scary feelings? Can you embark on a spiritual journey, asking God to teach you peace and forgiveness?
This kind of anger doesn't develop instantly, and it won't go away instantly.
However, with time, effort and divine grace, often it can be resolved. First we have to face it for what it is and quit indiscriminately spewing bile in every direction.