When I get angry, I tend to demonize other people. What should I do?

(Photo above by Hazel Aksoy / Unsplash)

We feel you. Just to have an awareness of this tendency is already a huge win.

This November has shown us again that we live in a deeply divided society. A recent Gallup poll showed that nearly 70% of Americans “feared what would happen if their candidate didn’t win,” a huge increase from 35% in 1996 or 55% in 2012.

A 2019 survey on “Anxiety and Politics” reveals that many people agreed with the statements, “politics has led me to hate some people” and “exposure to media outlets promoting views contrary to mine can drive me crazy.”

How can we humanize and move forward with those who we see as on the “other side”?

Buddhism encourages us to have a big heart so that we can see ourselves in other people, no matter where they are from or what values they hold. It also inspires us to share what’s in our hearts with them and to stay engaged no matter what.

Buddhism encourages us to have a big heart so that we can see ourselves in other people, no matter where they are from or what values they hold.

One important concept in Buddhism that reinforces this idea is dependent origination.” This means that, at the deepest level, everything and everyone is interconnected and inseparable.

The Buddhist reformer Nichiren Daishonin even went so far as to say, 

If you stop to consider, you will realize that, at one time or another in the past, all men have been your father and all women, your mother.

The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 637

Woah. How does this play out in our livesIt means that when we’re unable to grasp or appreciate our connections with others that we feel isolated and mistrustful of other people, or even worse, hostile and apatheticThis lack of awareness of our interconnection makes our society a collection of fragile human relationships.

Since the essence of Buddhism is to view people who think differently than us not as the “other,” but as an extension of our family, how can we not demonize them when our views are so far apart?

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a practice for bringing out our big heart. We can even think of people we dislike as we chant.

Funnily enough, even if we continue to see what we dislike about them, through chanting, we can also learn to see their strengths and even to deeply respect them as human beings. Though we may “disagree” with others, finding something we respect about them is crucial part of strengthening our own humanity.

four young people on a mountain at sunset

Photo by Helena Lopes / Pexels

Falcon Sang shares here what this looks like in his own family. As he grew older, he began to develop different political and social views from his parents. Following the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, Falcon felt deep sadness and wanted to share with his family his views on social justice.

However, these conversations often would turn into fights. After he found Buddhism through a friend in 2016, he began to see beyond his family’s differences and started to respect their humanity.

He began to call his mom once a week. Things got heated at firstBut, he decided to use what he’d learned from his Buddhist practice: 

Before, I would have responded with anger, which would have driven us further apart. But, for the first time I realized that she didn’t want to be judged for her opinions in the same way that I didn’t want to be judged for mine, and I was able to feel compassion in my heart. With the Buddha’s voice, I melted the icy walls of defensiveness that have stood between us for so long. Her attitude immediately changed. Since then, I’ve spoken with my mom once every week. All of the words that I’ve wanted to say to her are no longer burning arrows of rage in my heart.

Before, I would have responded with anger, which would have driven us further apart. But, for the first time I realized that she didn’t want to be judged for her opinions in the same way that I didn’t want to be judged for mine.

As Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda shares: 

Compassion in Buddhism does not involve the forcible suppression of our natural emotions, our likes and dislikes. Rather, it is to realize that even those we dislike have qualities that can contribute to our lives, and can afford us the opportunity to grow in our own humanity.

To have a big heart, to have the courage to dialogue with those we disagree withthese are ways we can move beyond our tendency to demonize those who think differently from us. We don’t have to passively “agree to disagree,” but through dialogue, we can stay engaged and move forward together.

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