A Revolution of Joy

And so I turned around and I spat on the kid.  

The look of shock on his face when I spat on him.

I went to a predominantly all-white school.  I’m not predominantly white. In Social Studies class we were learning about the “Indigenous People of the Americas”. 

A voice called out, “What tribe is Marc Cordon from?” Everyone in the class burst out laughing.  

Later, when the kid called me “Dog Eater,”  

I snapped.  I spun.  I spit.  Right in his face.  Both of us in shock until the teacher screamed at me, “Marc, demerit!  Detention!”

“You’re gonna give me a demerit when he called me a dog-eater?” I surprising yelled back at the teacher.

Our teacher did something that surprised me even more:  he removed my demerit and gave it to the other kid.

But here’s the thing:  In any culture, spitting on another person is abhorrent, demerit worthy. And in some countries, you go to jail.  Yet on that day, I got away with it.  

It was in that moment I learned:  to get what you want, indignation and anger could be used an effective manipulation tool.

And so that’s how I lived.  Feeding the anger, outrage, and manipulating with my “I’ve been constantly othered” experience to get what I wanted.  I wanted angry stories of Filipinos and Asian groups in America because they weren’t being told honestly and demanded an Asian-American studies program in college. Fueled by outrage, I brought together Asian Americans on this credo:

In collective anger, we gather in protest.

In collective anger, we threaten administrators with fear.

In collective anger, we effectively fight fire with fire.

Now, I’m a positive psychologist. 

It’s harmful to not acknowledge or experience anger.  While it might make me the most pissed off positive psychologist around, I’d rather be ‘good and pissed’ than propagating toxic positivity.  Rage, anger and sadness are indicators of boundaries being breeched, lines being crossed, and desire to change. But I went about it the wrong way.  In the long-run, it was ineffective, caused immense stress, and a breakdown not only of my PhD program, but my relationship and my identity.  

I used to believe to start a revolution, you had to raise your arms.

Now I know to lead a revolution you have to open your arms.  

Use joy as a contagion to lead movements for positive change.  

It was hard to bridge the gap for me.  Because I’d landed myself a position as the ever-warring, colleege adminstrator of multicultural affairs based on my “In collective anger” methodology.  Until my student Jaspal stopped by my office, “Marc, I just took the greatest class in my life and it’ll change the way we look at social justice.  It’s a class on Happiness.”  

He put the syllabus in front of me, I didn’t read it. 

I said, “Happiness is for the priviledged.  Not the havenots, dude.  We’re in the middle of a war. Take this happiness class, but remember ignorance is bliss.”

I eventually looked through the syllabus which led me to an article on the scientific effects of gratitude, which led to multiple studies on how anger and fear are contagious.  

If anger and fear are contagious…so is happiness.

Maybe I don’t have to do this “all angry, all the time” stance and feel like I’m burning out.

So, here’s what I discovered and use in my – or should I say – OUR Joy Revolution:

1 Start your journey internally, but know that personal growth is simply not enough…

Mahatma Gandhi said “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – 

Ghandi is talking about joy. But joy wasn’t enough as he used it to create social change. When Ghandi went to negotiate with the monarchy regarding India’s release he use the power of joy. And as Joseph Ranseth says, “a 90 pound Hindu ascetic with homespun cloethes and no shoes brought the largest empire to its knees?”

So you can self-actualize on the most desolate mountain top, but how will you use that joy to change our history for the better?

2 Controversy can be highly beneficial to everyone – BUT ONLY when it’s built upon the foundation of civility. From Jesus to Mother Theresa, these movement leaders all talked about the oneness of the shared human experience. Many unsuccessful movements have often times ignored the notion of oneness and used an “us vs them” mentality – which has led to the downfall of the movement and burnout leaders.

We live in a time where we can easily “UNFRIEND” someone on social media for having beliefs that differ from our own. Can you in curiosity and respect learn about that person? I dare you.

3  Joy and anger can exist simultaneously. They are NOT mutually exclusive. Think of a rosebud becoming a fully bloomed rose. If you look at a rosebud and dismiss it because it’s not fully bloomed, you’re missing the absolute beauty in its growth process. Yes, you have a vision of a fully bloomed rose in the future, but in the here and now, the rosebud is exactly where it needs to be. 

You can look at areas of our current society and feel dejected, hurt – like the rosebud, it is what it is where it needs to be for the time being. But you can also have a vision of a fully bloomed, flourishing society…and you can use joy to move towards it.

Joy AND anger.

You know our society is created on an invisible tapestry of unwritten values. So much we think that the status quo is rigid. But like me, you have a unique accumulation of ups and downs and a history that gives you the ability to spot injustice…and make the invisible, visible and apparent to everyone.

Choose whatever weapon you like, but consider this:

Instead of starting a revolution by raising your arms.

Lead the revolution by opening your arms.  

Use the joy revolution as a contagion to lead movements for positive change.