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P r o t e s t
Dear world, I can offer
An intelligent explanation
For our suffering
But I hope it really makes sense
To no one here
And come morning
You are again at Godís door
with ax and pickets
Eloquent petitions and complaints
          --Hafiz
(from His Winter Crop)

Hafiz, poet and wise man, taps into something important in his poem. Sometimes we need to protest what we donít like, donít want, or donít have. Of course itís not that simple. We need to protest in a way that harms no one and leaves us (and maybe others) feeling empowered. How do we do that?

This little girl does a good job. Notice that at the end of the video, sheís smiling, almost laughing at herself. Notice that her parents do a pretty good job of honoring her protest which makes it possible for her to move through her anger to that smile.

In a study about venting, Brad Bushman from Iowa State University found that subjects who were made angry by getting (faux) negative comments on essays they wrote became even angrier when following instructions to pound pillows afterward. (If you want more details, hereí's the study .) In a different study by the same researcher, subjects who were made angry and told to think about how angry they were stayed angrier than those who were distracted from their anger. The implication is that expressing your anger or ruminating on it keeps you stuck in your anger.

But anger is a built in emotion designed to help us protect our boundaries and protest injustice. Distraction is healthy in many instances. But when something needs to be addressed, distraction over time becomes suppression. What the studies mentioned above donít look at is the benefit of expressing your anger safely (ideally with a compassionate witness) and moving through it to a place of compassion and empowerment. Sometimes it might help to hit a pillow. Sometimes it might help to curse at an empty chair. Sometimes it might help to design imaginary punishments.

Some people have no problem protesting, though they may need help staying out of the role of victim (poor me) or persecutor (Iíll ruin you) or entitled person (the world owes me what I want). Other people grew up in families where protesting was not okay. Maybe it was punished, maybe ridiculed, maybe dismissed. These people usually need help finding their protest and then finding empowering ways to express it.

A counselor can help you monitor your physiology while youíre feeling and expressing your anger so you donít get stuck and your feelings can move through to completion. Once you have moved through anger, spontaneous action arises. Some people write poems or blogs or letters they may or may not send. Some people join a cause.. Some people decide to speak directly to the people who provoked their anger. From the place of compassion and empowerment, they are able to speak ďforĒ their anger rather than ďfromĒ it. Apologies and strengthened bonds sometimes result, but even when they donít, speaking your mind clearly and compassionately feels empowering.

In this YouTube video, you can see that itís not just humans who protest injustice. Protest is wired deeper into our mammalian brains.
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