“Does it seem to you that everybody is angry these days?” a friend from back home asked me on Snapchat.
“Yes, they are,” I said. But I told him I had learned that anger is a secondary emotion. It’s the more powerful and confident evil twin to sadness and fear. I try to remember that people may appear angry, but they are really afraid or hurt or grieving underneath. Who wants to feel those vulnerable emotions that make you feel helpless and hopeless? I’d much rather puff up my chest, scream at the world and stand in my power. Anger is self-righteous, protective and scary in itself. But it’s so much nicer for you to be afraid than for me to be cowering.
This morning I listened to Dolly Parton’s America, a podcast about Dolly’s ability to unite our country and even the world. The song Jolene was the topic this morning, and there was some interesting discussion about the song itself and the many different interpretations about what is or could be happening in the story. Toward the end of the podcast they interviewed a man who lived through Apartheid in South Africa. He was a Freedom Fighter imprisoned next to Nelson Mandela.
At one point they let Mandela play music over the loudspeaker. The music of choice was the sweet melodic sounds of Dolly Parton. And their favorite song was Jolene. But he explains it wasn’t the story of a mournful woman afraid of losing her man that intrigued both prisoners and guards alike. It was the sweet painful fear that bubbles up from the lyrics that made it relatable. Dolly is terrified that she will lose her man to Jolene. The prisoners in their cells were terrified of losing their freedom. And the prison guards were afraid of losing the world as they knew it. We may not all be afraid of losing our man, but we all are stricken at some level by fear.
My hometown friend was mourning the loss of a happier time. I have my own fear that we will never get past this as a country. Unfortunately, anger can be intoxicating. We are drunk with it. Our anger at each other is overshadowing the very thing that brings us together. We are all human. We are all afraid at some level but maybe at different things. Instead of our similarities stirring compassion for one another, our anger builds its own unscalable wall.
We could all take a listen to Jolene and let ourselves simmer with the fear of losing whatever is so important to us. In feeling it, we release its power. And when you ask “Why is everybody so angry?” shift the question to “Why is everybody so afraid?” Can we decide to lean into each other and make the world a safer place for our collective fear?