Yes, I know better. But sometimes I make the mistake of watching the news. Though I swore off drinking 11+ years ago, each time I take a broadcast I get served a toxic cocktail—one-part Anger, one-part Hatred, two-parts Outrage and a splash of Victimhood. In no time, I am on an emotional bender.
Anger and hatred, the media tells me, is everywhere. My holier-than-Thou ego tells me I am justified in resenting those so filled with resentment. Fight fire with fire, right? I’m thinking not.
Obviously, there are people with hatred in their hearts. Probably a whole lot less than the media plays up for ratings, but from all accounts there always has been and always will be. I can’t control that. What I can control, however, is how I choose to respond. My journey in recovery has shown me a better way.
According to recovery literature, resentment is the number one offender. Like nothing else, it has the power to get me drunk and loaded if not addressed. Having grown accustomed to not waking up in a pool of my own urine or puking blood, I think I will heed that caution.
But what about all the ills of the world? Racism? Hate speech? Homophobia? Stigmatizing the mentally ill? (Ha, I had to play my own personal victim card there) … I could increase the list ad infinitum.
The Forgotten Way
Justifiable anger, according to recovery literature, is the “dubious luxury” of normal folk. It’s not for alcoholics and addicts. What’s more, according to heroes of successful resistance movements, it is a concept that is dubious, indeed, for all.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously remarked: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Love? Some acts and or thoughts are so horrific, some scream, they demand retaliation.
Retaliation? Perhaps, but what is the goal? I would argue that what the world needs is redemption not retaliation. As Mahatma Gandhi instructed his followers: “Retaliation is counter poison and poison breeds more poison. The nectar of Love alone can destroy the poison of hate.”
I’m not spouting some hippie dippy nonsense. I have seen it in action.
Consider the recently institutionalized who come into the rooms of recovery. Many have spent years being groomed for racism by our justice system.
When I went behind bars during a manic break a little shaved-head man made a beeline for me right as the guards escorted me in. The first question he asked was, “Are you a wood?” A wood? Was he asking if I was sporting wood? “Not so, my little glossy-domed man. Your appearance, though well-groomed, does not arouse me.”
“No,” he clarified, “I am asking if you are white.”
While the guards look the other way, each new entrant into a given cell block goes through this race-focused perversion of a Harry Potter-esque sorting ritual. Once properly categorized based on pigmentation levels, the new inmate then meets with some self-appointed God-all-things-related-to-one’s-race to get the rules on how to behave and how to interact with, in my case, non-woods.
Fortunately, my “hard time” was limited to seven weeks in county jail. I didn’t have to shave my head or submit to any prison ink. Not so with some I have encountered in the rooms of recovery. Some come into our meeting places steeped in racist rhetoric. Some are sporting ink that makes it painfully obvious theirs is the superior race. Do we throw bottles of urine at them and kick them to the ground? No, we love them. We take them through the steps and we teach the that resentments are spiritual poison. Time and again I have seen the attitudes soften, personalities transform and tats get lasered off or covered up.
Or consider 12-step recovery in the rural South. I spent years there on a project and heard first-hand accounts of African Americans with years of sobriety sponsoring former members of the Klu Klux Klan who, like their sponsors before them, had gotten sick and tired of being sick and tired. Love and tolerance, not justified anger, produced miracles of recovery and spiritual healing.
For every newscast of a riot or protest gone sideways, I can counter with an unheralded story of redemption. Such stories may not drive ratings, but they are reflective of powerfully transformed lives. When I see the images framed to stoke my outrage I am reminded of the bit of advice in that little anonymous pamphlet called Acceptance many find in the rooms of recovery. Speaking to one annoyed by the whirling dervishes (mystic dancers who gyrate wildly) he encountered, the advice is simple: “Let them whirl.” And I would add, once they have whirled themselves out, instead of reacting show them tolerance and love.
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