Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

is it my anger, or their fear?

gate mechanism

A friend recently said something about my anger, of which I have plenty, and made a giant assumption that it is anger fueling my activism.

I thought about it. My first reaction was pissedoffness. Anger, really?

The implication is that I’m vegan because I’m angry. That anger is a negative emotion, one that should be controlled. She thinks that activism is a good outlet for my anger; after all, activism is constructive, isn’t it?

I thought about it more. I thought about how it felt to watch Earthlings. There were several points in that documentary where I would have furiously committed the same atrocities on those humans perpetuating the abuse if they had been standing in front of me. That wasn’t really anger though, that was an outrageous grief.

I thought about how I feel when I think about the fur farmers, raising animals in cages where they go insane before they are anally electrocuted and potentially skinned alive for a “fashion statement”. I thought about how I feel when I remember the confusion and pain of the cows being trucked to be slaughtered for the skin on their backs. I thought about how I feel to think of the 10 million companion animals killed every year for being homeless, about the millions (unknown number) of lab animals killed in pointless experiments ever year, about the Bolivian people dying from unclean water as we buy our little bottles of spring water trucked in who knows how many miles in environmentally polluting plastic, and don’t even recognize our privilege.

I thought about how I feel when I think about all that and more. And yes, there is anger. And no, I don’t think that anger, warranted as it is in these situations, is a negative thing. I don’t think I’m going too far when I say that anyone who doesn’t feel anger when faced with the human-perpetuated atrocities looks sociopathic to me.

But it is not anger that fuels my activism. It is a driving sense that I can make a difference, no matter how small. That people I touch can make a difference, and change ripples through the world in that way. It is the conviction that being angry about atrocities is healthy, doing nothing about it is hypocritical.

She thinks it is anger. And that made me realize just how right ani is:

I am not an angry girl
but it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled
every time I say something they find hard to hear
they chalk it up to my anger
and never to their own fear
and imagine you’re a girl
just trying to finally come clean
knowing full well they’d prefer you
were dirty and smiling

pig in the mud pps


15 responses to “is it my anger, or their fear?

  1. SoCalMuchacha June 21, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    Very well said post…kudos! 🙂

  2. Neva June 22, 2007 at 11:31 am

    I love that song.

    I also think that our culture is in some kind of collective massive misunderstanding regarding negative emotions.

    I don’t know how to explain this, except in regard to a totally different area which is recovery after abuse or attack.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in groups because talking with people who’ve had similar experiences is incredibly helpful to me. I’ve also had an opportunity to watch how people deal with totally justified anger, grief, hatred, mourning, depression and so on.

    There are always a few people in every group who have such a fear of strong emotions that they encourage others to bury their emotions. They think of anger as being somehow evil and say we need to get over being angry and learn to forgive. But they actually discourage the hard work of going through the negative emotion and coming out the other side–they seem to think it’s just like shutting a door. Ok, I forgive, all better now.

    Anyway, after much soul searching I came to this conclusion that emotions aren’t the problem, it’s what we do with them.

    Let’s see if I can explain. If I have a really good reason to be angry, and I just am angry, that’s fine, that’s normal. It’s even an evolutionary response that gives me the energy to help someone else in trouble or get myself out of a bad situation. Same thing with fear. There are situations where the only sane response is anger or fear.

    But just because I feel the emotion doesn’t mean I have the right to use it to hurt someone else. And when I’m angry over the mistreatment of animals, it’s important for me to find ways to keep my message on focus and temper it with compassion so that I’m not just spewing anger everywhere. Because that could damage my message. But if I’m angry, it’s for a good reason, and I have every right to feel that way for as long as I need to. Though for me personally too much anger is exhausting, so personally I do try to find ways to handle it, make peace with it and let it go.

    But because we live in a culture that makes emotions evil and denies them to such an extent it enables really dysfunctional harmful behavior. This can come out in cases where we suppress our anger so much that we either explode or it comes out in passive aggressive ways, or we direct our anger toward “safe targets” rather than whatever/whomever we’re angry at/about.

    But since people want to believe that anger isn’t a part of who they are, then they project and they reassign blame. By projecting, I mean someone who can’t express their anger but seems to be a flashpoint in the world, they accuse others of the anger they’re feeling, or they find ways to provoke others into displaying the anger they can’t display. Then there are the blamers–these are people who say “you made me so mad” or “I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t…” The stereotype of this is the abusive husband who makes his wife responsible for her own abuse.

    You’re right about the magnitude of grief for all that animals go through. It’s unthinkable and so, so huge. No wonder lots of people choose to pretend it isn’t going on.

    We can only do what we can do, and keep working at it. We do our best and spread the word. But remember, even though it feels like it sometimes, none of us are in this alone.

    If you need to be angry, then get good and angry, but don’t get angry at yourself… Our minds invented negative emotions to guide and help us. We just have to be careful that it doesn’t get so overwhelming that it takes away our ability to act. Sometimes it’s important to visit the sanctuary and see the beautiful and hopeful side of things too.

  3. Mary Martin, Ph.D. June 24, 2007 at 9:00 am

    I love my anger. I embrace it. I’m as grateful for it as I am for my compassion. It fuels me just like compassion fuels me. It’s only negative if you decide to view it that way. And if someone else does, that tells you more about them than it does about you. You should be angry; you have plenty of legitimate reasons to be enraged. But anger doesn’t make you an activist. Wanting to change things makes you an activist. Outrage, however, is often the precursor to activism. You want to change things because you’re so infuriated at the way they are now. No social change could have been possible without some kind of moral outrage. With that said, it doesn’t mean that manifesting your anger to the world is always the best way to affect change. When all that others see is the anger, their eyes and ears stay shut. Why open them just to be assaulted, even by “the truth”? In my experience, allowing the world to see just how furious you are can, in some instances, be detrimental to your overall goal. And in other cases, it can be perfectly appropriate and effective. It’s the activist’s mission to figure out when, why, and how to demonstrate her anger.

  4. Deb June 24, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks SoCalMuchacha!

    Neva – thanks so much for your thoughts. I’ve always had people tell me to “calm down,” and something that I could never understand is that they’d tell me this if I was excited about something, as well as if I was pissed at something. In my mind, it was bad enough being told to “calm down” (a sure fire way to rile me up!), but it just made no sense if I was happy about something to be told that. A disconnect, because I thought or assumed that people would only want you to suppress non-joyful emotions. But it makes sense, if it was simply that they were threatened, somehow, by my strong emotions, regardless of whether those were positive or “negative”. I’ve been told by very close friends that I’m “too intense”, “the most intense person they know”.

    And thanks for reminding me that sometimes we need to visit our sanctuaries. I spent this morning at Poplar Spring, and it helped. 🙂

    Mary – as usual, you have a very healthy outlook on life and people. Figuring out the why, when, and how regarding demonstrating anger doesn’t seem easy – I know I tend to not express much anger at all, to the general “people.” It is only to close friends that I will express anything more than superficial emotions, and I’d say I get slapped down about half the time for it. I have a few excellent friends who embrace me for who I am – intense as I may be.

    For all I know it leaks out anyway. Or maybe people see “intense” and assume “angry.”

    Thanks for your thoughts – definitely something we need to keep in mind as we do our best to figure out how to reach people.

  5. leindiemeister June 25, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Every time I need a real kick-start motivation to do something right, to do something real, or even to write, I come to your blog, because you always pack your posts with power and a ton of subtle adrenaline.

    I’m normally a passive-aggressive person. I don’t like to upset other people or bombard them with most of my feelings. But strangely enough, the one emotion I can look back on and find I had the most fun with is always anger. You can do things with anger and with fear that you can’t with your regular positive emotions. Like when we had a gay rights debate in history class, I spoke up and put down my ten cents and I felt good about it, even though a good ninety percent of the kids laughed at me, because the world is changing and I’m right (or I’d like to think that I am). Or whenever someone says that they couldn’t give up meat because it’s “too good,” I get riled up and I find myself spilling the truth on their laps, something that my mother gets angry when I do when it comes to animal rights, but they really, really asked for it because of ignorance, and I like to educate. Or when someone calls a friend who’s clearly beautiful ugly or fat, I get angry because that’s who I look to in order to mold myself into the person I want to be, and the other person is probably angry because of some fiery jealousy, maybe. You can’t do any of that smiling and happy. It takes so-called negativity to change the world, which I guess is basically what Neva and Mary Martin, Ph.D. said.

  6. Deb June 25, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    leindiemeister, that’s one of the coolest things anyone has said about my writing. Many thanks!

    I think that one of the reasons anger can be cathartic as well as dangerous-feeling is that it tends to be so damn honest. Good and (sometimes) scary all at the same time. I know it is that way for me – there are things I can only say or do when I’m angry.

    And yes, there would be no change if we didn’t get angry about the injustices. We are angry because we care, because it matters. Not that we should be angry all the time, or express anger as our our default emotion. Which goes back to Mary’s point. Getting angry at the injustices in the world is good; forgetting to not dwell on the anger is not so good.

    Thanks leindiemeister!

  7. Mary Martin, Ph.D. June 26, 2007 at 8:44 am

    20 years ago, when people told me they liked meat, I’d say something like: “Exactly what is it about the dead, decaying flesh of a tortured animal is so yummy to you?” And when I was 15 I plastered my house with photos of veal in crates (back then it was news). I thrived on shocking people. And there’s definitely a time and place for that, but I employ it less and less these days. And not because it’s somehow better or more moral or whatever, but because it doesn’t feel as good anymore. I now experience my ability to shock people as my ability to alienate them–like really quickly. And at 40, I am choosing to befriend and coax–even my “enemies”–rather than alienate them. Then, at least I have a long-term chance at educating them, and maybe someday they’ll do something with that education: like align their actions with it.

  8. Neva June 26, 2007 at 1:13 pm


    Just to clarify here. You call yourself passive-aggressive, but that actually means something very specific, being aggressive in a seemingly passive way. It doesn’t mean not wanting to burden people with your emotions, at all.

    Look here for more info:

    The reason this is bad is that person does make others responsible for their emotions, but by doing it covertly they build in deniability.

    Deb, I think another lesson here is that we’re all allowed to feel things strongly and to be ourselves. It actually probably says something about the person’s upbringing or something that they would need to try to put a lid on your behavior. Very strange.

  9. Mary Martin, Ph.D. June 27, 2007 at 9:58 am

    my therapist friends often call me “aggressive passive.” they’ll say, “she verbalizes exactly how angry she is, but in a really nice, reasonable way.”


  10. Colleen June 28, 2007 at 10:21 am

    that is my favorite ani difranco song, specifically because of that line “everytime i say something they find hard to hear, they chalk it up to my anger, and never to their own fear.” i feel that should be the theme slogan for the entire vegan movement!

  11. Deb June 28, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    Neva, I think it is a lesson I have needed to learn, for sure!

    Mary, aggressive passive sounds pretty healthy! Maybe that will be my goal!

    Colleen, it is funny, because that has long been one of my favorite ani songs, but for the longest time it was part about “what if there are no damsels in distress. what if I knew that and I called your bluff. don’t you think every kitten figures out how to get down, whether or not you ever show up” was what really drew me. It is only since getting into activism that the part I quoted in my post really resonated!

  12. Pingback: Confessions of a (former) breeder « Invisible Voices

  13. GIna July 6, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    People avoid others anger because the truth hurts and they can’t deal with it!

  14. Bea Elliott December 14, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    I’m often accused of being too angry in my veganism… too loud… too uncomfortable for people to connect with – and as I’m finding most people perceive the squeaky wheel (the one that gets the grease) is often attached to a rusty barrow – And so I’ve “toned down” my anger… redirecting it when I can to more positive energies – Becoming a “shining example of the Joyful Vegan”. Of course this attempt in light of all the animal suffering makes this effort extremely exhausting… So then, what I’m left with is just a lot of sadness for never truly changing much of anything. The process is draining – I’m learning through reading your posts and posts by other vegans the one common thread: We’re all impatience at the world of apathy.

    Thanks for your post and for all you do for the animals.

  15. Deb December 16, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Bea, I often feel that whether I portray joy or anger, I am nevertheless representing many things that people don’t want to face, and so their essential reaction to me is the same. It is hard when we know so much, and have a visceral understanding of just what is at stake and how much needs to be done, and how impossible it seems.

    I find I feel better if I focus on some small changes, or impacts that I’ve had. If I recognize the changes I’ve made in my own life (like the bike commuting) that were hugely influenced by other people, I can see that maybe I’m making that kind of difference for others.

    It is hard to be anything other than impatient, regardless.

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