266. Anger

It’s certainly no coincidence that I’m writing about anger right after I wrote about violence. Violence is a very common and unfortunate companion to anger, and I think it’s a major reason anger has such a bad name. Like sadness, it’s too often seen as something to get rid of quickly, or hide, rather than as a legitimate emotion from which to learn.
But anger has motivated many people to do many great things. When people are angry about something, and think clearly about their anger, they find ways
to express their anger, and when appropriate, act on it. Often, they get good things to happen, and their lives and others’ lives are better off.
As I tried to think of examples from history, of course violent examples came to mind first. Colonists got angry about taxation without representation, and dumped some tea into Boston Harbor – a relatively peaceful act – but their anger was more frequently expressed in acts of violence. Furthermore, as they dumped the tea, they were disguised as people who had other reasons for being angry. Not a very good example.
But as I taught children about Mohandas Gandhi or Rosa Parks, I stressed the fact that these two people were often angry. They were angry about injustice, hatred, and violence. While I didn’t know either one of them, and couldn’t tell children specifically how Gandhi and Parks had learned to express anger peacefully, I told them about the good effects of the words and actions that expressed the anger. India ceased to be an English colony, and buses in Montgomery were desegregated.
Anger really is okay. It took me years to learn that, and I almost wrote “Anger is good,” which isn’t quite what I mean. Emotions are morally neutral, but when they are handled well, they can inspire words and actions that have good effects. Most of us, I think, have experienced people’s anger in ways that make us want to stay away from it, and to make sure we don’t express anger.
For the most part, we’re still not doing a great job handling our own anger, and so, of course, we’re not teaching children effective ways to handle theirs. Children see how their models (both the real-life ones and the media models) get angry (“Don’t get mad; get even”). And that’s what they learn. They learn that “good” people don’t express anger, and they grow up with the same problems we grew up with.
This pattern makes me angry. What I do with that anger is write about it and teach. I hope that has the effect I want it to have. I’m sure violent acts wouldn’t.

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