Kailash Satyarthi: The Transformative Power Of Anger

17/04/2015 7:58 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Dave J Hogan via Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03: (SUN NEWSPAPER OUT. MANDATORY CREDIT PHOTO BY DAVE J. HOGAN GETTY IMAGES REQUIRED) Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi gives a speech as he attends the British Asian Trust dinner at Banqueting House on February 3, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

"So dear friends, sisters and brothers, again, as a Nobel Laureate, I am urging you to become angry. I am urging you to become angry. And the angriest among us is the one who can transform his anger into idea and action."

- Excerpt from Ted Talk by Kailash Satyarthi

Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is a man of few words. In the course of my work, I run into him several times a week in the corridors of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement). Here is a man of action, who has persevered at the cause that he had been pursuing for decades, convinced by the sheer necessity of fighting for children's rights and freeing those bonded in labour.

Fighting for the cause of the voiceless.

Each encounter leaves an indelible mark on me -- Satyarthi's quiet persona is calming, his smile infectious. He is a serious man but he speaks light-heartedly. It is impossible not to be won over by his slow, deliberate manner of speaking.

So I was surprised when Satyarthi chose to speak about anger at the TED conference last month in Vancouver.

He spoke simply, in his own distinctive way:

"... if we are confined in the narrow shells of egos, and the circles of selfishness, then the anger will turn out to be hatred, violence, revenge, destruction. But if we are able to break the circles, then the same anger could turn into a great power. We can break the circles by using our inherent compassion and connect with the world through compassion to make this world better. That same anger could be transformed into it."

It seemed counter-intuitive, to use anger to fight a cause. But he gave anecdotes from his own life:

"When I was 11, seeing some of my friends leaving the school because their parents could not afford textbooks made me angry. When I was 27, hearing the plight of a desperate slave father whose daughter was about to be sold to a brothel made me angry. At the age of 50, lying on the street, in a pool of blood, along with my own son, made me angry."

His words burn.

But more importantly, they have resonance.

"Anger is within each one of you."

Anger is within our reach.

child sad

I am working on the issue of child sexual abuse at Bachpan Bachao Andolan. For a survivor of child sexual abuse, anger is empowering, transformative.

A child being abused may not be aware of his/her right to anger. Rather than being angry with the abuser, the child may turn the anger inward, leading to depression and/or self-destructive behaviour.

Children may blame themselves for the abuse, choosing to numb their feelings. As they grow older, they may resort to alcohol or other forms of addiction to drown the self-critical voices in their heads.

But anger can be a powerful, healing force.

In my work, I've found survivors telling me what a release it was to be able to direct their anger at their abusers, finally. Not at their mothers, hapless bystanders. But unleashing their full anger at the perpetrators of the abuse, and to finally, find the courage within themselves to do something about healing.

Anger, for survivors of child sexual abuse, is a confusing thing. When you were abused as a child by someone you loved, with whom you shared good, happy memories, it can be difficult to admit the pain of anger. For the fear that it will remove the beauty of that relationship, all the positive aspects before the abuse took place.

But anger does not need to negate what was good in one's life. You can be angry -- and have the right to be angry -- about the abuse that happened, and still hold on to those cherished memories.

Anger is a vital part of healing.

Anger can also be channelled in positive ways, for instance by speaking out against child sexual abuse and the taboo surrounding it. And more importantly, it clears your mind and lets you learn to love and accept yourself again.

Get angry. Get involved. Get active.

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