From Selma to Mumbai, and Death in a Concentration Camp


Private, reflexive, ventilated rage is often justified today as a proper attack on “oppression”. The problem with that is that, once it has drawn attention to a grievance, it does not do much to change anything. Change, over the long haul, requires organization, patience, good humor, and the ability to negotiate and compromise; all of which may be energized by anger or killed by it. – Carol Tavris; Anger, the Misunderstood Emotion

selma

I used to be a very angry person. I went through a period in my life when everything seemed to go wrong. In the course of just a few years, I lost everything, my business, my house, the respect of my peers, my social circle, my pride and to large extent my sense of self. And it ticked me off to no end.

I realized I was headed for disaster one evening, after a particularly hard day when I opened my pantry and reached for the vodka bottle, not because I was thirsty, and not because I was particularly interested in enjoying the taste of an expertly mixed martini but because I wanted to relax and forget the failures of the day and the looming pressures of the coming week. I’m happy to say that I stopped myself from pouring that drink and have never attempted to use alcohol to self-medicate my depression since.

It was around that time, about 10 years ago now, that I started to research all the things that make up this blog and my personal journey from financial basket case to coach, author and trainer in personal finance and behavioral economics.

In looking at the world of macro-economics, against a backdrop of geopolitics one of the first thesis statements I coined was that “Peace without Justice is Oppression”. (Read the post I wrote about it way back in 2009 here) Lately, as I’ve been working through the implications of Anger and Self-Control (see my last two posts here – and here), I also had the opportunity to watch Selma, last year’s Academy Award Winning portrayal of the civil rights march from Selma Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery which took place in the summer of 1965.

If peace without justice is oppression, as I originally theorized in 2006, then oppression can and should be met with resistance but as Carol Tavris so aptly points out in her excellent exploration of the emotion of Anger, quoted above, it does little to create lasting change.  Change requires organization, and patience. Martin Luther King led a non-violent movement that demanded the attention of the political leaders of his day through organization, and patience. In the film portrayal of the events at Selma it is interesting to note that then President Lyndon Johnson was willing to work with King, meeting with him on several occasions both publicly and privately to negotiate a settlement. Johnson was willing to work with King as opposed to his contemporary Malcolm X because of his stance on non-violent protest. When the march in Selma turned violent, caught on film by the news media, it was clear that the police had initiated an attack on unarmed civilians. In that moment the Civil Rights movement became a movement of peaceful citizens, versus oppressive and violent government and although it still took some time, the  battle was won (or lost depending on how you look at it) the day police charged the marchers on horseback with tear gas and billy clubs.

The same thing happened in Mumbai and the surrounding Indian country side when Ghandi stood up to British rule during the 1930s and 40s. It happened again in Finkenwalde Germany when Dietrich Bonheoffer stood up to the Nazi control of the Lutheran Church.

All of these men have at least three things in common. First off, they were angry. They saw the injustice and the oppression and said, “This is not peace” and they couldn’t stand by while innocent people were oppressed. Second, they organized a non-violent movement to unsettle and unseat their oppressors. And thirdly, although they were all ultimately successful in their bids to rid the world of the oppressive practices that they were against they were all assassinated by those who sought to maintain the status quo.

Oppressive regimes are ultimately not interested in justice and they will seek to vilify and discredit anyone who points that out to them. In the end, they will fail, justice always wins in the end, but when your hold on power is built on violent oppression, the last gasp of the oppressor is always violent, it’s all you know. As the pacifist, non-violent movement gains power the oppressor becomes like a cornered animal and in a last ditch effort to regain control he will lash out with the only tool he knows how to use.   But by then it’s too late, the tide has turned and by killing the leader of the movement to unseat them they only confirm what everyone has already come to know.

Peace without Justice is Oppression and justice leads to equality, mercy, non-violence and grace. That is true peace, and that is what King, Ghandi and Bonheoffer all sought through their work.

Is anyone oppressing you in their quest for peace? How can you organize to non-violently oppose it? More uncomfortably, are you oppressing anyone in your own quest for peace?

Gut check time! Are you ready to march on your own private Selma?

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