A popular revolution in Egypt has captivated the world this week, showing us what healthy anger looks like. Today, ordinary people have forced their president to resign, and won a fresh start for their country. They have gathered for 18 days and nights in the public squares, chanting and sharing food, certain of very little but their own yearnings. The moment was convened on Facebook.
The people did not need anger management; they needed to find a strong voice.
Anger is a frightening emotion, because it can degenerate into malice, bitterness, and violence. We have seen relatively little of that among protestors for democracy in Cairo, in these past weeks. Not that the emotion captured on video wasn’t intense; but this was anger focused like a laser, on a benign social goal. Surprisingly little name calling, or seeking external blame for their nation’s troubles: instead, the chants and signs were about Egypt, and calling – loudly and often – for the president to just leave. Focused, benign, carefully aimed anger is a powerful tool for change, at the scale of governments and at the scale of our own lives. This is a day for celebration, and not just because the outcome of the protests fulfills the hopes of Egyptian people, but because it shows the world that we humans can be angry without leaving wounds; we can choose to use our anger well.
Mindfulness is the mindset of careful attention to the moment, and to the people with whom we share it. It trumped impulsive, menacing anger, this week. The moment began with a post on Facebook by a serious looking young professional working for Google named Wael Ghonim, calling people to rally in Tahrir Square on January 25. He was detained by his government 12 days for his troubles, but the genie was already out of the bottle. When he was released and interviewed, he shed public tears for those who had died in this struggle, atypical for men of an earlier era, in a conservative culture. The public was galvanized. When asked about who inspired him in his actions, he named Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and Ghandi, spiritual leader of India whose career embodied nonviolent revolution. The other charismatic individual in the midst of the revolution was Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei. Mindfulness means awareness of danger, and bearing witness, even when doing so is dangerous. Anger made it necessary. Facebook made it possible. This is already being called the “internet revolution” by websites like integralthinkers.com. It suggests that the use of Facebook shaped this drama because the medium itself embodies the form of leadership most needed in Cairo this week, empowering ordinary people with shared goals but very little power, to combine and change the world for the better.
When the celebration is over, the uncertain journey of creating something new in Egypt will begin. When the adrenalin rush of our anger abates, and the clear focus of anger is gone, life gets messy. May the habit of mindfulness stick, and with it, the image of gentle anger, well spent.