As I write this column, this has been a challenging week for women in what has been a few years beset with outrage. I realize that I am an outlier in an otherwise conservative district, so I tread on hazardous terrain. However, as the saying goes, “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” and we are in a moment in our history that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.
Last year, as I entered a race that was by all accounts impossible, I was asked how I kept going day after day, and I said in my self-deprecating way, I was surviving on a steady diet of string cheese and focused rage. It was intended as a joke, but it was a moment of honesty that I revisit often.
We have been having a regular dialogue about mental illness, self-care, and suicide prevention, but I want to talk about the value of focused rage because it can be a powerful tool if wielded wisely.
There is a clear distinction between focused rage and outrage. Outrage is debilitating and can even be paralyzing; it muddies our thoughts, and makes us slow to act, it is reactive and makes us feel powerless or even hopeless. Outrage can lead to fatigue, and that fatigue and feeling of helplessness can lead to or exacerbate a mental health crisis.
However, focused rage, anger channeled with laser precision, can be not only productive but proactive. I learned this years ago in a time of crisis, where I felt as though I was hacking through an endless forest with no direction. Focused rage is like climbing into the treetops. It doesn’t reduce the size of the forest, but it gives a view to the edges so that you at least can see the forest has an end. Focused rage gives us each the opportunity to strategize, to feel empowered to act, to give ourselves a specific direction, and most importantly, to give ourselves an end goal.
In an era of 24-hour news cycles and a constant barrage of crises, each one seemingly more challenging than the last, focused rage can be a coping mechanism to keep us informed, engaged and harnessing our power, but like any power source, it has its limits and must be used sparingly.
It is challenging as a state representative at times knowing that I must limit my focus to the tasks before me, to protecting those most vulnerable within the scope of my office. However, one other advantage of focused rage is that it is also cumulative. Finding those who share your focus expands your reach and your power.
It’s important to find the opportunities to ground that rage so it doesn’t become toxic, to find outlets and activities that inspire and renew. I was always a fan of the analogy of geese. Geese fly in V-formation because the front goose breaks the wind and the other geese are carried by the tailwinds, but geese take turns leading and honk encouragement to the lead goose. Now, find your issue and focus that rage with the precision of an artist until the task is complete and then find your flock, build your V-formation and when you need it, take a break on the tailwind until you’re ready to lead again. Together we can soar.