Behind Every Anger Is a Hurt - Politics & Spiritual Companionship
Editor's note: Here's a truth to ponder - not all spiritual companionship happens face-to-face or even by Skype or telephone. Sometimes our listening makes a difference, but the seeker being heard never even knows we are attending. Read this lovely story from a spiritual director who discovered the human frailty and grace that lies beneath political conflict.
Last year, just after the US presidential election, my husband and I drove down to the World Alliance of Interfaith Clergy conference in Marriottsville, MD. On the way, we found ourselves listening to a talk show which was inviting callers to share their feelings regarding the election of Donald Trump. I was struck at the level of anger on both sides. One caller, a strong Trump supporter, was particularly angry leveling venom at those who were now protesting his election. After a follow-up question, she suddenly launched into what could only be called a full-blown tirade.
I found myself becoming more and more irritated. I felt quite sure that had she been in my physical view I would have leveled back in defense. And then, somewhere, tucked in the middle of the tirade, I heard a short phrase (they usually are) that stopped me cold. She said, “My daughter died…” and a little later, “from a drug overdose.” Suddenly, I could hear all of her complaints about the lack of border control, illegal immigrants, health care challenges, financial strain, in a whole new light. And, most of all, I remembered: behind every anger is a hurt.
And then, Grace stepped in. When the caller finally stopped talking, one of the hosts, a woman, said simply and softly, “First of all, I just want to say how very sorry I am about your daughter. I just can’t imagine how painful that must have been for you. I can’t even imagine.” And, it was clear the host’s words were heartfelt. No more follow-up questions. No commentary. No slickly spun analysis. No defense. There was a slight pause of silence that could have been an eternity. When the caller finally spoke, her voice had changed completely. Quieter. Softer. And, soon, she politely ended the conversation.
Behind every anger is a hurt. On some level, the host knew this and simply provided a space for the caller to be heard. And, what did the caller most want heard? Not her political opinions or even her good reasons for voting one way or another. What she wanted heard was her grieving heart. But it took someone to hear beyond the accusatory rant, closed opinions and gritty insults – a someone who could respond, not react, from the depth of the human heart.
I am convinced that political opinions are much like religious opinions. We all have them and, though they can be similar, they are rarely identical to others. Why? Because we each have a unique life story that has helped shape our beliefs. Know the story and you understand the beliefs and consequential behaviors. For example, the caller had not been derailed by Trump’s rhetoric - which strikes me as egregious - because his message had been as a balm to her wounds. Did that suddenly make his rhetoric okay? Absolutely not. But it did help me to understand the caller better and, I suspect, others in a movement filled with those who have felt left behind, unacknowledged and unheard.
And, perhaps, it is here where our work resides. While it is our job to stand clear, strong and true in creating the world we would like to see, it is also equally important that we are able to listen deeply to those with whom we disagree. For, it is only in this way that we can find understanding in place of judgement, unity beyond uniformity with our sisters and brothers, and, as Grace allows, that love everlasting.
Months later, I still feel deeply connected with the caller though I no longer remember her name or where she lives. And, it no longer matters to me for whom she voted.
She touched my heart …and I am grateful.
Rev. Stephanie Rutt is an interfaith minister at and founder and presiding minister of the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple in Amherst, NH. She is also the author of many spiritually-minded books and interfaith curricula. This post is also published on Rev. Stephanie's blog.