“People resist change, and can become angry and hostile when faced with the need for it.” These words by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks have given me reason to pause and reflect.
I’ve learned that the anger often stems from loss. Change means something different is happening, which in turn has the potential to eliminate a sense of comfort or a practice of the past. While this loss may be necessary for a system or organization to survive and even thrive, it’s usually not wanted.
Sacks opened my mind to a new understanding—the very need to change. But I had to read his words several times to let them sink in. As you ponder his words, do they offer you any insight into the connection between anger and change?
Let me name an example: creation care. Scientists are continually raising our awareness of the dangers to all that lives on this planet if greater efforts are not made to care for creation. Extinction rates will explode, upsetting the balance of ecosystems that depend on equilibrium of species. Ocean levels will increase, inundating populated shorelines and causing mass displacement of people. Weather-related catastrophes will increase in number and intensity, disrupting lives and causing significant economic loss.
The need to change is real, meaning that it’s necessary to adjust the way we live. These modifications may increase the cost of living and require us to learn new ways of doing things. This is not comfortable.
Anger arises when we are required to think beyond our own sphere of existence to the much broader sphere of the whole human race, toward a more expansive scope of concern. This turns individualism upside down: If I can’t have what I want, well, I’ll detach and sulk and throw a tantrum.
I get this. I enjoy comfort just as much as anyone, and certainly anger is sometimes what I exhibit when I’m forced to change.
Is there an alternative to anger? Yes. We can adapt. Consider gas prices, for example, which have increased dramatically this year. Price increases and fossil fuel concerns cause us to adapt to new methods of energy consumption. We give up some things to have a sustainable future for all.
At an Annual Conference a few years ago, a business item on creation care and the need to reduce fossil fuel consumption turned bitter. Some of the anger came from those whose livelihood was generated from the oil industry. The loss of jobs would be catastrophic, hurting families and the ability to earn a living. The emotion in some of the speeches was palpable.
These concerns are understandable. But where might the conversation have gone if the direction had not been motivated by anger? Could new ideas have emerged? Could there have been discussion of ways to adapt to alternative sources of energy? Could there have been ideas for employees to transition to alternative systems? What new systems might be imagined to accommodate the needs of families in a way that would be more sustainable for the planet and future generations?
Anger comes easily. I find I need to temper my anger by stepping back to reflect more deeply about the change that is needed, to consider alternative ways and thoughts that can help any system I’m a part of to thrive. Then it can be sustainable well into the future, not only for my benefit but for the welfare and advancement of all.
Kevin Kessler is pastor of Canton (Illinois) Church of the Brethren.