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Weeds: Tired of all the anger

Back in my running-around days, there would sometimes be a guy at the bar who was mad about something. Mad at the bartender, mad at a girl, mad at another guy, mad at the world. I remember telling friends that I don’t understand Angry People. Drinking beer is supposed to be a happy thing.

Now we have a whole nation of Angry People. And we can’t even blame alcohol.

A set of concurrent stresses has us on edge. Some tension is to be expected as we work through a pandemic, race issues, natural disasters, etc. As a nation, we’ve been through a lot in 244 years. But it seems like 2020 is guilty of piling on.

We can’t be blamed for feeling under some pressure. But, oh, the anger.

People at rallies, people at protests, commenters on-line, someone at a store in town. Everyone has an opinion and a lot of them want to hit you over the head with it. Passion can be a good thing, propelling us to necessary change. But when passion becomes clothed in hatred, sometimes with tints of violence, “good” becomes a victim along with civility and decency.

It is dispiriting to behold and wears one down. I find myself increasingly sad — sad for me, sad for us. So many things make me cringe. If you aren’t worried about the state of the country we’re turning over to our children, you have more optimism than I can muster. The loudest voices are getting more attention than they deserve. That is always true but, man, are they loud.

Anger is all around. Thankfully, most of us live lives that are separate from our political selves. I am lucky to be able to have a home and job where I can escape the constant negativity. But not all of us do. Arguments are turning up in the workplace and within families. For some, there is no relief.

Here we are in the richest country on Earth, blessed with resources and wealth that would be unimaginable in most times and places in history. One might expect the anger boiling over would be coming from the poorest, those struggling to pay rent and feed their children. But most of this daily rage comes from people who have it better than most people who have ever lived. That doesn’t even make sense.

Earlier in the summer I read about little Appleton, Minnesota. Every Thursday at 4:30, a group called the Appleton Community Diversity Coalition planted American flags near City Hall. Then they would hold a small rally for “Our America” to support inclusion and oppose racism.

Another group began showing up at the same time and setting up nearby. Under a giant “Trump 2020” banner, they held their own rally protesting the protesters. This went on for weeks. For a regularly scheduled hour a few dozen otherwise normal human beings got together to yell at each other. How depressing it that?

On a larger and scarier scale, my son is currently working a security job in Portland, Oregon. For months, large gatherings of groups sympathetic to Black Lives Matter have held marches. Groups of right-wing nationalists began coming to hold their own marches. It sounds like it was the same thing as Appleton only with a threat of violence hanging over. The right-wing guys really like carrying guns. It’s a frightening brew of volatile ingredients. Do we worry about our son near that? Yes.

We know social media plays a sizeable part in escalating the anger. Fewer and fewer people read a newspaper. In a newspaper, professional, committed journalists are vetted and edited by other professionals and transparently separated from the opinion section. Instead, people want to believe something they saw on Facebook that came from who knows where?

I have a couple friends who I wouldn’t have considered especially partisan before. Now they send me memes and video clips. They are getting regular doses of things that emanate from the direction of Fox News and sources righter and weirder than that. These messages share a notion that the “other side” is not only wrong, but stupid and immoral.

Certainly, the current state of vitriol and constant temper has blame on all sides. But it can’t help that for four years the White House has been occupied by a man whose primary skills are being angry and attacking others. The Office of the Presidency should be teaching young people dignity and honor. George Will wrote, “Most Donald Trump utterances resemble turbid creeks that are silty at their sources and trickle away into mud.”

That last paragraph means that on The Journal website, this column will be met with disapproval by Jimmy Joe. Jimmy is a regular commenter there. In the past, if I have written anything mildly critical of the President, Jimmy would assert that I am wrong with some link to a far-right group to prove it.

Jimmy Joe posts from an anonymous Facebook account. Anonymity is common in the e-world. Apparently, he is not committed enough to his beliefs to use his real identity. Hey, Jimmy Joe, there’s my name at the top of this. What’s yours?

When I started school, we received a grade for “deportment.” That was the teacher’s way to let parents know how their child was behaving and whether they were acting decently to others. Right now, our nation grades a D at best in deportment.

We know is that there are countries that are more than glad to see us act this way. Russian and Chinese bots amplify ugly messages on all sides and propel them farther and wider. Bad intentioned people in distant places aren’t even interested in taking a side. They just want to see us continue to tear our country apart. That’s proof right there that there are no winners in our ongoing squabbles.

I am not claiming innocence here. I got into a heated debate with a buddy over a topic we both feel strongly about. At some point, it crossed over from debate to good old-fashioned argument. The next day I called my friend to offer an olive branch. I said that once we raised our voices, neither of us was listening. It became a total waste of our time.

I want to close with saying we can do better. So many of the issues we are facing demand good, reasoned discussion among people of good will, sharing a goal of making this a better place. But I’m not sure we can do better. As we face the election and the winter, I’m not feeling hopeful.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, we are told, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments. You know they cause quarrels. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel. Instead, he must be kind to everyone.”

That’s two thousand years old. Still sounds about right.

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