Last year, I read the book, “The Gift of Anger and other lessons from my grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi.” It’s by Mahatma Gandhi’s fifth grandson, Arun Gandhi.
Arun asked his grandfather why he didn’t get angry. Mahatma Ghandi answered, “it is not that I don’t get angry. I have learned to use my anger for good. Anger to people is like gas to the automobile — it fuels you to move forward and get to a better place. Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to a challenge. It is an energy that compels us to define what is just and unjust.”
Last year I needed to learn to give up anger in my water advocacy work. It was a profound challenge for me, not only because of the decimation of Sacramento River salmon runs and near-extinction of Delta smelt, but also because of past trauma. When I was in graduate school, I reported a former student who was posting Columbine killer style fantasies on the campus electronic discussion forums. I lived for years with threats to my life and that of my family, until the FBI finally arrested him and seized 75 WW II and assault rifles and 40,000 rounds of ammunition.
Living with the chronic existential threats made me a warrior, which I channeled into fierce advocacy. But last year, we needed to step in and advocate to save the Delta Independent Science Board. Suddenly I wasn’t advocating for fish or birds or Delta legacy communities, but for ten human scientists, caught in a bureaucratic nightmare. Their distress was evident, but so was their patience and quiet strength in dealing with the situation.
While I was furious at how they were being treated, I realized I could make things worse if I acted out of that fury. So I had to learn to let go of my anger. And although it was terribly hard, I found that it has made me a stronger advocate. Mahatma Ghandi wrote:
Satyagraha….has been conceived as a weapon of the strongest, and excludes the use of violence in any shape or form…Satyagraha has therefore been described as a coin, on whose face you read love and on the reverse you read truth…A satyagrahi does not know what defeat is…
The choice between rage and fear, angry protest and complicity, is a false one. One can simply choose to speak truth, clearly and powerfully. And I keep finding that approach to be surprisingly powerful.