The Anger Bug

Have you noticed how dramatically race relations have improved in this country since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem a few weeks ago?

Kaepernick protested to spotlight the continued oppression of people of color–and specifically police wrongly shooting blacks. And as a result of his action have you noticed how good feelings and empathy have welled up in us all? And have you noticed since then the thousands of acts of kindness toward minorities?  Yes, and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has practically become our new national anthem. And yes finally brotherhood reigns!

No, no you haven’t. You haven’t noticed brotherhood breaking out all over this once great land because of what Kaepernick’s action was really about. Some other athletes have shown solidarity by kneeling for the anthem or raising their fists in the old “black power” salute made famous during the 1968 Olympics. But the most evident result of Kaepernick’s choice is the anger it has sparkedand the outrage in people of all colors. Whether he realizes it or not, his unconscious motive was to spread his anger like a virus. It was a discharge, a pure and simple dump of anger, and anger is communicated like a virulent disease. It is an example of the unconscious paradigm: “I’ll get rid of my anger by giving it to you.” Predictably, both those supporting him and those against him have picked up the anger bug.

Many Americans are upset because hundreds of thousands of lives have been given for the flag, and the country it represents, so people like Kaepernick could have the freedom to protest. Even many African-Americans are pissed by Kaepernick’s choice. They note that he is rich and privileged. He’s mixed race and was adopted by a white couple. He’s athletically gifted in a nation that worships sports. He led the 49ers to the Super Bowl a few years back. He lives in a mansion and makes something like 19-million a year. He dates a celebrity.

I have read that Kaepernick is a Christian. His various tattoos advertise his faith, and I have read that he is donating a chunk of his salary to worthy causes. That’s all well and good. However, I’m wondering if in his heart of hearts he really understands how much rancor he has created, and if he does I hope he would be appalled. He should repent. He should express nothing but gratitude to God for the many blessings he’s received–and one of them is being born in the USA.

Rendering to Caesar

Would Jesus have sat during the national anthem? He said His kingdom was not of this world, and to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s. Given those statements I think He would have shown Caesar respect—deserved or not. And I think Dr. Martin Luther King would have found a way to peacefully protest without angering half the country by dishonoring its flag.

The Need for Significance

Dennis Prager made a brilliant observation. He said that our greatest need is the need for significance—to believe that our lives have meaning–and then Prager noted that Kaepernick longs for attention and significance because he is no longer in the spotlight as the 49ers starting quarterback. He’s riding the bench. A nobody named Blaine Gabbert starts ahead of him and Prager thinks that his protest is all about trying to add significance back into his life. It could well be.

Projective Identification

From Psych 101 most folks recall that the defense mechanism of projection is actively attributing to someone else feelings or thoughts that are inside of us. These are thoughts and feelings that are generally unacceptable to the way we like to see ourselves. If I’m confused or angry I will say that you’re the one who is confused or angry. If I’m feeling paranoid I’ll see you as being the one who’s acting suspiciously, etc.

However, beyond the mere projection of thoughts and feelings there’s a phenomena termed projective identification— and that is actively creating those feelings in another. The feelings can be positive or negative: joy, well-being, confusion, anger or sadness can all be “projected” into another person. It happens instantaneously and it is largely unconscious. If I’m feeling angry I will say or do something to make you resonate with my anger. If I’m feeling joyful I’ll smile, give you a compliment or tell a funny story, etc.

We tend to create the feeling we are experiencing in those closest to us like family, friends and coworkers, but we also often discharge those feelings to the greater world. If someone cuts me off in traffic and I’m enraged I might give them the middle finger salute. Then they’re pissed. This is what happens in road rage. Almost every day somebody gets shot because they had the anger virus and then spread it. But what if I’m having an unusually bright day, full of good feelings, and the traffic scenario happens and I smile and give the other driver a thumbs up? Good feelings are spread too. That’s what the random acts of kindness and paying it forward initiatives are about–but those tend to be intentional instead of unconscious.

Projective Identification is emotion-based and it is a primitive, usually unconscious, pre-verbal type of communication, and understanding it is the key to unraveling the hidden motives at the root of human interactions.

Biblical Advice

As for anger, trying to rid ourselves of it by giving it to others (like Kaepernick) is an exercise in futility. The Bible says: “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26).  In other words its okay to have anger, just don’t sin by giving it to another. Deal with it today. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out the danger in toxic anger and He advises us to repent by dialoging with those with whom we have differences (Matthew 5:22-24).

The Media’s Role

Since Kaepernick’s protest, anger has run amok in the media. He has his supporters and they’re pissed too–but there has been an even greater outpouring of anger directed at him. Mostly they are a variation on “if you don’t like this country then leave.”  Or various directives to the NFL and other teams to bench the players who refuse to stand for the national anthem. And of course there have been the extreme tweets and death threats made. Should anybody be surprised? Far more than any vestigial racism, our country is consumed by anger. It’s what the current presidential race is mostly about. I see it every day on Facebook. Somebody is pissed and they discharge by posting ugly memes about the candidate they’re not supporting.

As a student of history I understand that politics has never been a sport for the faint of heart. In 1800-1804, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, men who had once been friends and allies, were out for each others blood. It was as ugly as Donald versus Hillary. But it unfolded in slow motion. Today, because of social media and 24/7 TV news the rancor is spread instantaneously.

So why is everybody so angry?  There are more people living well in this country than ever before. In my opinion it’s because there has been no vaccine for the anger bug to date—well, except the forgiveness and regeneration found in Jesus–and few are buying that anymore. Even most “Christians” have the anger bug.

God help us.


About diospsytrek

I am a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I am also the author of four books. The books have to do with coping with depression and other mood disorders, and the nexus of psychological problems and spiritual warfare.
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