The Balance of Rage and Tenderness

By Aimee Georgeson

I went to sleep thinking about righteous anger towards systems that are destroying Mother Earth. This anger is different from the toxic hatred that I have witnessed in recent years. I woke up from a dream with absolute clarity and a message: “There is a tenderness in letting go that will hold us in our strength while we resist.”

Social Workers without Borders (SWWB) runs on volunteers, who coordinate independent human rights and best interest assessments, usually for children whose parents are seeking asylum or the right to remain in a country. The reports we produce for the legal system follow a Home Office decision to remove people from the UK. Implementation of this legal process is an aspect of a culture, rooted in colonialism, I despise. Often the things I hear or read during assessments are distressing, particularly in the context of forced removal from a country. To manage, I focus my mind on how I can best promote emotional resilience in the aftermath of human rights abuses, war, loss, destruction, inequality or persecution. I focus on the task, on clear communication rather than allowing hatred or distress to hold my focus. Of course, I remain angry with this culture of hostility. I am indignant towards decisions to send people to a country where they may have watched the murder, torture or rape of family members. The systemic lack of compassion and injustice is corrosive. My anger towards this system is not – it fuels my activism.

Those of us who resist inhumane systems run the risk of losing our compassion. We risk being overrun with hatred towards these systems and becoming so bitter that all we have left is the fight. Letting go of fear and hatred frees up space in our heads. It allows us to connect to our strength rather than become corroded by injustice. So, I write assessments and reviews for courts, for an anonymous judge to read. I focus on the lives of the children and parents, framing the systemic injustices as inhumane. I demonstrate the resilience created by love and support of current social networks. I do not always know the Court’s decision but I hope the child gets to keep their father. I hope the mother does not have to return to a culture that enslaved her. It is this hope that sustains me.

I watched ‘For Sama’, by Waas al-Kateab. It is a harrowing documentary filmed over two years in Syria, mainly in a hospital. No one should watch children die from sustained bombing while adults work day after day to save lives, stitching injuries while buildings shake. The people resisting those brutal onslaughts were compassionate beyond measure. Wrapping small bodies in sheets as they let their siblings kiss tiny faces goodbye. The next moment supporting the delivery of a new baby. This is the definition of resistance; turning from one thing to another, letting go of grief, not allowing hope to become broken. Not giving up.

Resistance is crucial but it is not solely a fight. Resistance is not hatred, hostility or silencing voices different from yours. It is not name-calling or violent threats. Resistance is not defining other humans as less valuable because they are poor, black, female, hail from a different country or hold different beliefs from you. Calling for blood does not lend strength to those of us resisting the systems that are destroying the earth and our humanity with it. It separates us into smaller groups when we could be stronger together. These behaviours are unhealthy and rooted in the very system we resist.

I choose to be on the side of nature. I choose to stand against the destruction of our wild spaces. I have zero tolerance for the sort of activism which blames or shames. I am sure, when Ruby Montoya and Jessica Reznicek, damaged the pipeline they felt anger; but they did not allow bitterness to detract from their goal – to stop the slow destruction of mother earth. Anger is good when it staves off apathy but not when it encourages hostility and colludes with a destructive mindset.

I’m sure Rojavan women felt bitterness as they watched their comrades die defending their solid belief that without equality for women, there could be no justice in society. Their bitterness however is not corrosive or destructive. It is full-on, connected warrior. I have always called this feeling in myself ‘the eye of the storm’. When I am in this space I have absolute clarity, connected warrior energy and a perfect balance of rage and tenderness.

The same systems that are destroying Mother Earth are instrumental in corroding our compassion. We need to find our connection to wild spaces, to other people, to gardens, schools and babies (human and nonhuman). If we continue to fight amongst ourselves, we allow more time to ruin our precious wild world. I strive to keep focus on this. Resistance is solidarity, it is being kind, listening, talking things through. Fighting back is feeding wildlife, planting tress and bee-friendly flowers. It is building trust over years, building relationships, helping out. It’s hours spent writing assessments about circumstances you never want to know about and hoping it is enough. Resistance is letting go of bitterness and holding on to compassion. It is cultivating our connection to self, to others, caring for the land and trusting it is enough. If not for us then for the babies, the trees, the winged, hoofed or furry beings who need us to persist and resist.

One thought on “The Balance of Rage and Tenderness”

  1. Righteous anger and hatred are the result of seeing what one loves being destroyed. If you love the Earth and all that lives here, you hate the people and systems that destroy the natural world and kill its land, air, water, sky, plants, and animals. But that said, hate and anger are emotions to be evolved beyond, because they are destructive and harmful feelings. It’s very difficult and takes a lot of time and effort, but it can be done.

    One possible disagreement I might have with this essay: You have to be careful not to push too far in the direction of eliminating hate & anger. The ultimate result of going too far in that direction is the Hindu/Indian attitude that, “hey, it’s all just the game of life, don’t bother fighting for anything and just love everyone regardless of how much death & destruction they’re causing.” (The so-called Hindus attacking Muslims in India clearly don’t understand their own religion or the Bhagavad Gita.) While we need to all evolve beyond hate & anger, we also need to be willing to do whatever it takes to defend the natural world, and that might include violence.

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