A Dream Deferred

The recent discusssions of anger at Burningbird and Pagecount inspired me to dig out an old Langston Hughes’ poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Hughes seems right on in suggesting that resentment when held too long, depending on the person’s personality and societal conditions, either results in depression or uncontrolled rage that manifests itself in violence.

When resentment is turned inward, it often turns into a sense of helplessness and despair. When people feel as if their life is meaningless and there is nothing they can do to solve the problems, they naturally have a tendency to become depressed. At its most dramatic, such resentment is expressed in forms of suicide.

When the same resentment, become hatred, is turned outward, it is expressed as violence towards those who appear to cause the problem. This is precisely the kind of resentment that we most have to fear in Palestine. When people are suppressed too long, an explosion is inevitable, no matter what the cost. At its worst, it combines the self-destruction of inward despair with the explosion of outward violence that attempts to destroy "the enemy."

The real question, then, is how do we avoid this kind of build up of anger that ultimately is destructive to both the individual and the society. Democracies, at least when they’re functioning correctly, and that’s certainly not a given, have proven to be successful precisely because they provide outlets to express dissatisfaction and to eliminate the causes of the problem.

When anger is used as motivation to change a situation, it is a positive force. Getting angry at company CEO’s who lie about profits, manipulate the market, and generally reward themselves at the cost of stockholders is, to me, a good thing. Getting angry at companies that pollute our air and water is an even better thing. Only by acting can we rid ourselves of this kind of anger and keep it from becoming destructive.

When anger is not used to solve a problem, though, it is ultimately destructive to everyone who comes in contact with it. People who are perpetually angry at life-in-general, people who are incapable of finding the joy that lies at the heart of life, are probably incapable of finding happiness for themselves or bringing happiness to others.