The Beauty of Outrage


For years I've held this battle within myself in which two opposing forces threaten my peace of mind. I still catch myself some days, even now, wrestling with my emotions: I'll feel joyful, full of life, and then a part of me, the part of me that is still grieving my dog's loss, will pat me on the shoulder to remind me he's not here to share this joy, that I shouldn't be too happy, as if my unhappiness would somehow honour his death. Grief is strange.

I feel something similar when I see cows grazing in the farms that surround my town. I always get excited when I see animals; I love observing them. But then, inevitably, I'll remember the cruel, unnecessary death that awaits them. How can I stay happy when I'm faced with the dark side of the world? How can I stay happy when I look at the amount of plastic trash all around me? How can I stay happy when the Amazon burns and the earth dries up and wars are still happening? How can I stay happy when I know our political leaders are not doing enough to serve and protect the people they're supposed to serve and protect? 

How can I be happy when I'm so angry and hurt?

Well, the clue is in the interesting duality that grief and joy offer. I came across this video where Daniel Shmachtenberger ponders on how we can be outraged and appreciate the beauty of life at the same time. And I found his thoughts deeply moving. There is something both beautiful and powerful about ideas that hold simple truths, and this one hits home. Let me quote him for you:

"I remember when I was a kid there was this famous saying in activism —I don’t remember who it's attributed to originally— that says: 'If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention'. And it’s true: If you go to a factory farm, or you go to a sweatshop, or you go to an open-pit mine or a landfill, like, fuck, you’d be pretty outraged. And then it's like, 'How do you do your normal stuff in the face of that?' 

At the same time, I would read Kahlil Gibran or Hafiz, and the artist and the poet and the mystic would say: 'If you aren’t overwhelmed by the beauty of life, you aren't paying attention'.

And I was like, 'How to hold both of those at the same time?' Because it's only because life is beautiful that I’m outraged that it's not being respected. But if I'm only outraged, I'm not actually connected to what is deeper than the outrage, which is the love of life that that other emotion is in relationship to. So then it's like, okay, if I’m outraged all the time I'm actually not honouring the thing itself —and yet the outrage serves a function".

[In case you didn't click the link above, the video belongs to The Great Simplification Podcast, hosted by Nate Hagens].

There is much grief going around. Our own personal grief. Ecological grief. Grief for all the injustices happening in the world. We grieve for species that go extinct and people we never met. We grieve alone. We grieve collectively. We have every reason to be outraged. But we're doing life and ourselves a disservice when we only live from a place of anger and grief. So what to do with those feelings?

We use them as fuel. 

There is power in collective grief. When we all connect through our shared grief we can move mountains, fight a virus, rebuild cathedrals, reforest lands, protect other species, save the children of today and tomorrow. Perhaps we don't know how to do these things yet. Perhaps our efforts seem futile at times (I know mine do). Perhaps it all starts with a small act that transforms our pain into beauty. We all feel so alone and helpless but there is always a place we can turn our gaze to and remember our planet is still spinning, providing us with life and hope. And as long as we're breathing, there is something we can do.

There is power in personal grief too. My dog is gone. I feel the pain of his loss every day but I remind myself he no longer knows pain. I'm not honouring him with my sadness. The only way we can honour our dead is by living. That's what we're here for. To experience life for however long we're here and enjoy its overwhelming beauty. To preserve that beauty in every possible way, big or small. He might not be with me but the love I feel for him remains and all I can do with it is pour it somewhere else.

We're navigating dark times. Let's feel that pain. Let's welcome it and allow it to remind us what it is we truly value in this world. In our pain lies our passion for life. This is the beauty of outrage.

"Our lives will only ever always continue to be a balancing act that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty". —Shane Koyczan.

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