Late last year, I had an encounter that ignited my rage to such an extent that I could not ignore it. I have to admit, I am not a person who works with rage as an energy or emotion a lot. Perhaps because I am a fire sign I find it better to work with other types of energies and emotions, rather than be consumed by rage.
My most recent encounter therefore led me to enquire why the situation evoked such deep rage in me, and to understand it better. To give some context, myself (with another collaborator) had been invited to hold space and support process for a social justice organisation, and a group of communities working on food security. Usually, when invited as a collaborator, I do so on the premise that I am a full partner and co-creator of both the process and outcomes, and with the understanding that the work of holding space and choreographing process is a deeply political act that calls for deep engaging, reflection and challenging. However, our experience preparing for this encounter was the opposite of this approach; we were given a fully developed programme; one that was content heavy, and not very participative.
We expressed our misgivings about what was transpiring – pointing out the ways in which their requirements opposed our own principles of how we imagine process and change. Being able to voice out what we felt was important, accompanied by our realisation that what we saw and experienced was, in fact, a power play between global North actors and local (global South?) communities. Our voicing and challenging did not result in any noticeable shifts regarding the ways that the global North partner was showing up and, at this point, we seriously considered just walking out of the process. However, ingrained ‘professional ethics’ (which could be attributed to white supremacy culture) meant we felt it would be irresponsible to abandon process and we were also concerned of the potential ramification on the communities being invited into the space if we were replaced by less aware facilitators.
So, we held our discomfort, aware of how triggering we found our own ‘participation’ in a dance that surfaced the systemic ways in which global North actors instrumentalise communities to legitimise their research and often also their interventions. We struggled with and named the ways in which diverse voices were not given space to express, to question or to contribute to the outcome of an important conversation. We did eventually walk out of the process, but only after our continued naming of power dynamics led to a multitude of corresponding reductions in our power, until eventually our role and contribution was reduced to being masters of ceremony instead of the skilled process weavers that we are.
I kept trying to understand the deep rage that, by the time I walked out, was burning in me like an inferno. Over time I realised that my rage was due to the fact that what I experienced was not an isolated encounter. Writing about and navigating these types of systemic micro-aggressions in many other situations illuminated why it is that I am so obsessed about deliberate inclusive process work. My reason for saying yes to this work, despite my reservations, was based on my own belief that robust dialogue and conversation are important approaches to transformation. However, from this experience I learnt that content without political intent and commitment results in empty rhetoric rather than deep change. My own rage was a powerful reminder that isolated voices are not enough to disrupt of shift power sustainably. My own privilege meant I was able to express what I saw and experienced, and was able to challenge it to some extent, in stark contrast to the many silenced, less privileged (and powerful) voice in the room. I was enraged that my naming of the process as exclusionary and depoliticised, was shrugged off by the organisers from the global North – dismissed as the gripes of an individual that is ‘emotional’, ‘problematic’ etc. Realising that even my naming, my various acts of subversion during the process and my pushing back against power did not even cause a minor tremor in the system deepened my rage.
The experience although deeply uncomfortable, affirmed to me why I seek out support through collective organising and disruptions of unequal power. The experience allowed me to recommit myself to holding space and facilitating process that is deeply transformative and allows for co-creation, reciprocal understanding, standpoint plurality and mutual accountability, trust and integrity.
So what did I learn from my most recent encounter with rage?
#1: Honouring your rage
I firmly believe that our anger and rage is loaded with information and energy. We might need to sit with the discomfort of our rage for a while before we come to a space where we can hold it, know it and own it. As articulated by Audre Lorde, “…we have had to learn to orchestrate those furies so that they do not tear us apart. We have had to learn to move through them and use them for strength and force and insight within our daily lives.” Anger breaks through passivity and apathy and drives us to act for justice. When used in a clear way anger can expand our access to resources while also cleaning the way to authenticity, intimacy, self-esteem, and joy.
#2: Name the true source of our anger/rage
Although our rage is a signal that something is wrong, unconscious venting can let off steam rather than allow us to use our anger/rage to challenge injustice and make changes strategically. Part of the process of naming is to remember our histories of both freedom and oppression, of good things that have been and of the powers that destroy it. Naming rage allows us to move beyond the presentation of rage, to tap into the capacity and power of it as a source of empowerment and transformation.
When listening to the message of anger/rage, figure out what it tells you about:
- Where we are experiencing oppressions, suppressions and violations, where our needs are not being met or that we are being hurt.
- where we are compromising our integrity and ethics.
#3: Figuring out what to do with rage/anger
When working with our rage/anger there are questions that may be helpful to ask ourselves:
- “What am I really angry about?” “What is the problem, and whose problem is it?”
- “How can I learn to express my anger in a way that will not leave me feeling helpless and powerless?”
- “What risks and losses might I face from my choice of strategy?
- “If getting angry is not working for me, what can I do differently that will leave me feeling empowered?”
- Who are the people who can help me navigate my rage, people who are prepared to have courageous conversations and committed to real change?