Below I share some ideas about anger and non-violence. Neither piece is written by me. I have scourging anger in my system, but I hope to be able to move into a more loving acceptance of life, reality and humanity. I don’t want to hate the people who hurt me.
When anger comes, remind yourself: “This is the enemy, this is the ultimate enemy, this is the true enemy.” An external enemy may, the next day, become a good friend. But anger, this inner enemy, is always the enemy. – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Harvard University, September 10, 1995
The mental patient liberation movement is now nearly 25 years old. The results of our advocacy can be seen everywhere, from better treatment of people in hospitals, to consumer-run programs in the community, to systems changes through offices of consumer affairs.
I am proud to have worked with many people, such as Howie the Harp and Gayle Bluebird, who have dedicated their lives to this work. I have seen how advocacy can not only help others, but also contribute to one’s own recovery. At the same time, despite the gains we have made, the consumer/survivor movement has never really gotten off the ground.
After years of struggle, where is the public recognition and political power that our cause merits? Why is it that people in this country listen to NAMI but have never even heard of us? Why is it that, even with the sympathy of many professionals, most of our peers (other mental health clients) avoid us like the plague?
Why — with all of our advocacy for treatment based on kindness and compassion — are our user-run organizations rife with anger, jealously, and conflict? After all these years, why are there still so few coherent programs, consumer-run or otherwise, that consistently produce real recovery from emotional and mental suffering?
The answer is clear to me.
The Dream Again Journal was founded a few months ago on the principle, as stated by founder Ed Cooper, that “we are more than mere mechanical beings and that spirituality is the basic pathway to healing from madness.”
Yet in both of the first issues of this Journal, I was troubled by the presence of the same kneejerk attitude that has characterized our movement from the beginning — words of hurt expressed with the rhetoric of anger. Over and over again, we excite ourselves into a polarization of roles such as poor victims (“us”) vs. cruel oppressors (“them”). When this kind of argument gets going, we find ourselves cast into a pitched battle that allows no solution short of extermination of “Them.” This is, to me, about as far from spirituality as you can get.
This negative attitude is illustrated by Ron Thompson’s article, “Seventy-five percent Twice” in the fall issue of the Journal. Here I recognized the rage that is all too prevalent in the consumer/survivor movement. This kind of anger is nurtured by rhetoric such as the proposal to cut out the jobs of most mental health professionals. “In other words,” the author states, “by statute fire 75% of them.”
To me, this is a “Gingrich approach” to reforming a system. The sweeping dismissal of most mental health workers (including c/s/x’s!) sounds no less arbitrary than the statement for which the author later condemns professionals: “Clients have a broken brain which will require psychiatric drugs for the rest of their lives.”
Even if intended tongue-in-cheek, the “seventy-five percent” proposal is hardly a call for respectful dialogue. It is not, as the author claims, a possible solution — it is the problem. Such an approach is destructive, for it just creates more of its own. It incites our anger, and it drives away our allies. If implemented, such a policy would damage clients and professionals alike, both of whom are human beings.
I sent an e-mail message to Ed, objecting to this kind of material. He answered:
“Since the Journal is both Spirituality and Madness, I am not sure I want to leave out all mention of problems and anger. I am not sure anger is all separate from spiritual growth. This is not the gospel, but it is where my head is now.”
Well, I respect Ed’s point of view. I know that many consumer/survivors accept, and even extol, anger as an appropriate tool for both spiritual and social change. I don’t reject all forms of anger. Anger that is briefly focused can sometimes be effective, when it is used with compassion. Anger can be personally cathartic when we allow ourselves to feel it, then learn to let it go — without hurting other people.
But I, for one, find confrontation to be a disturbing tactic. The polarizing effect of proposals such as the “75% solution” lead us down a dead end, and makes enemies of those we want to persuade. Such militancy stunts the growth of our movement. More than that, anger and its cohort, fear, prevent us from getting beyond madness and into true spirituality.
Nihilism never heals. As long as consumer/survivors remain entranced with their victimhood and negative in their expression of it, the c/s/x movement will get no further than the fragile and often temporary improvements we have seen thus far. Mental illness may not be a disease; but contempt is a poison.
I believe in a more radical approach, one that has been called ahimsa (or non-violence). This is a strategy based on the subtle power of “loving your enemy.” It produces more lasting social change, and is the only path to true recovery. I hope that, in the future, the pages of this Journal will express satyagraha (truth-force) rather than the force of vengeance and hate.
Let me point out that, although I may be using strong words here, I respect Ron Thompson and much of the work he has done. I do not intend my words as a personal attack. I simply think that bitterness and polarizing anger have no place in a publication about spirituality. I still hope that the Dream Again Journal will follow Ed Cooper’s statement of purpose: that it will present spirituality as a real force in healing and empowerment.
*** Sharewrite 1996 Sally Clay ***
Published in the Dream Again Journal,
Volume 2, Number 1, January-February 1996.
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Elements of Gandhi’s philosophy were rooted in the Indian religions of Jainism and Buddhism. Both of these advocate ahimsa (non-violence), which is “absence of the desire to kill or harm” (Chapple 10). The Acaranga Sutra, a Jainist text, describes the fundamental need for non-violence: “All beings are fond of life; they like pleasure and hate pain, shun destruction and like to live, they long to live. To all, life is dear” (Chapple 11). Ahimsa is a way of living and thinking which respects this deeply.
Gandhi was both religious (he was Hindu) and open-minded, and saw the different religions as paths to the same goal. He was inspired by the teachings of Jesus, in particular the emphasis on love for everyone, even one’s enemies, and the need to strive for justice. He also took from Hinduism the importance of action in one’s life, without concern for success; the Hindu text Bhagavad-Gita says, “On action alone be thy interest, / Never on its fruits / Abiding in discipline perform actions, / Abandoning attachment / Being indifferent to success or failure” (Wolpert 71).
For Gandhi, ahimsa was the expression of the deepest love for all humans, including one’s opponents; this non-violence therefore included not only a lack of physical harm to them, but also a lack of hatred or ill-will towards them. Gandhi rejected the traditional dichotomy between one’s own side and the “enemy;” he believed in the need to convince opponents of their injustice, not to punish them, and in this way one could win their friendship and one’s own freedom. If need be, one might need to suffer or die in order that they may be converted to love (Shepard 4).