Anger: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

Many of us were taught to not to be angry. That's ridiculous!

Emotions are what they are. We cannot judge them nor try to suppress how we feel. Anger is a real emotion every bit as human as love. (In fact, in many cases it is the antithesis of love and our no rage is as powerful as the rage we feel toward a loved one.) 

Feeling Versus Acting on Anger

We need to be mindful, however, of the line we cross between feeling our anger and acting on. Feeling angry is normal and a healthy normal reaction to hurts and injustices. There's the quick, brief anger we all feel when cut-off while driving. Then there is the deeper, more long-lasting anger we may harbor when we are deeply hurt, the way only a loved one can hurt us.

Controlling or managing anger is important so that we do not commit acts of violence while angry, or simply do or say things we will regret. While driving anger is common, taking it to the point of road rage is not.

The first step is to distinguish warranted, deserving anger from unwarranted. When it clear that you have truly been unjustly wronged, anger is logical reaction. Many situations deserve nothing less than our vilest contempt and it would be unhealthy not to get in touch with our anger for abuse, for instance.

A major pitfall, however, is anger – often as a result of feeling disenfranchised - that leads one to join up with others who feel the same but who focus their anger at a mistaken adversary. Young men and women from inner cities who join gangs, for instance. Today, it is seen in White Supremacy and those who join up with terrorist groups.

Christian Picciolini a former skin-head, white supremacist now speaks out about what drew him into the movement and the moment he saw an "enemy" as a human being. He now works to counter the hate mongering. It's a poignant story about gang mentality, the lure of being one of the "gang", and of the effects of dehumanizing the "other" that underlies all hate, wars, racism, sexism, and genocides. And it starts with dehumanizing language/name-calling.

On a less criminally dangerous level, we need to be careful, however, not to get STUCK in anger that festers. It is said that anger is like a boomerang and only hurts the one who is angry.  

We need to be aware that anger can get focused inward and become depression or self-loathing, and thus be very destructive.

Anger and Activism

Anger can be useful. It can be very productive and motivational!

Your anger can be a wild bucking bronco or it can be tamed into a gentle horse that you could ride to a destination.

EVERY activist - political, environmental, LGBT rights - becomes an activist because they are angry with a perceived WRONG that they seek to change. Their anger, their justifiable rage, is what DRIVES them!

Perhaps the greatest example is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was driven to change racial and economic injustices. His speeches are powerful and filled with fierce indignation, and yet tempered wih compassion and modulated with love.

John Paplovitz, author of A Bigger Table, understands well the anger of activism. He writes that he is equally angry with the “opposiiton” as those who are apathetic and indifferent to the struggles, and he says that:

. . . love will often look a lot like rage, as it fiercely fights on behalf of those who are being attacked.
So yes, angry is not all that I am, but I am rightly angry.

Ordinary people, too have used the power of anger at an unjust loss to power them to greatness.

  • Candy Lightner founded MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).
  • Gloria Yurkovitch founded Child Find
  • Donna Norris got the national Amber Alert System enacted to help find abducted children.

Each of these enormous contributions was triggered by the grief and anger of MOTHERS who lost children yet who made it their goal to focus that anger in a positive way as motivation to prevent future mother suffering similar pain.

Each became committed as a result of personal loss and turned their righteous fury into meaningful change. These are examples of channeling anger to create good out of misery and despair.

Without a strong focus, anger can eat us up from the inside out or come out sideways and hurt those around us, even (or perhaps especially) those trying to help us. Most every social movement from civil rights to feminism has had its schisms and in-fighting. This can be productive when it is kept to respectful discussion of issues and philisophical differences. When it deteriorates to (or starts as) toxic peersonal insults, it’s non-productive. It’s important to keep an eye on the goal and the real foe which is seldom our fellow activists!

Anger can also get projected and become generalized such as becoming a man or woman hater after getting hurt by one lover. Marching across the The Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 shoulder to shoulder, were Blacks and their White allies! Had march organizers been unable to discern and focus on institutional racism, but instead misdirected their anger at all White people, they would have alienated supporters and been far less effective. Effective activism needs to be mindful of this pitfall.

When we witness another's anger, we often tend to react in kind, especially if their anger is directed at us specifically or as a member of a group they are hating.  No one enjoys being the recipient of anger or hatred. Our knee-jerk reaction is often to defend or argue back. "What are you so pissed off about?" we may shout. Additionally, telling an angry person to “calm down” can feel dismissive and is thus likely to have the reverse reaction.  It’s important, however, to be aware that feeling denied or silenced only exacerbates one’s anger. Try to listen with compassion unless listening is itself abusive.

The task for those who are angry is to recognize and deal with the underlying issues, the most coomon of which is hurt or loss (even the “illogical hurt of a loved one dying). Most of us are well aware that anger is considered a normal, healhty reaction to death, but also a “stage” that one should ideally work through and get beyond. Sometimes such loss or hurt leads to anger that remains but moves to a back burner, albeit to be triggered by anniversaries or other memories.

Fear can also underlie anger as in fear of a person of unknown or uncommon origins. Some we see as “different” or someone we have been taught is totally unlike us. In the extreme, this fear/anger of the “other” sees them as inhuman. All hate has fear at its base but we puff ourselves up with anger to not show our fear, even to ourselves.

The hardest thing, is to move from anger to forgiveness because of a misunderstanding of what forgiveness is and isn’t. Forgiveness is not forggetting. One does not have to ever see the person who wronged you again. Nor is forgiveness absolving the other or saying that what they did was OK. Rather forgiveness is a way of letting go and freeing oneself. Forgiving can thus be useful in personal angers that cannot be resolved with social action.

The task of those of us confronted with - or the target of - another's anger is to recognize the hurt that underlies it. All bullies, emotional and phhysical abusers are deeply insecure people who need someone to pick on, taunt, humiliate, demean or dehumanize in order to feel good about themselves. While maintaining a safe physical and emotional boundary from anyone who tries to mistreat you, try to feel compassion for that person, sending wishes of peace from afar, while maybe working with others on an anti-bullying campaign or volunteering at an abused woman’s shelter.

Recognize your anger and use it wisely. Don’t let it consume - and thus “use” - you. Be very careful to align yourself with the right groups and not getting caught up in mob mentality. Focus your anger on the right target, one that is truly working for good not evil; for positive change of a social condition.

Be kind to yourself and to others, but be FIERCE!!

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