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“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
~ Maya Angelou
“Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
“Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.”
~ Mohandas Gandhi
“The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.”
~ Bede Jarrett
Clearly, my topic is anger. Today, as is our practice, my wife and I ate breakfast watching a morning TV news show, and the broadcast was riddled with horrific stories featuring outrageous behavior. Not good for the digestive process, you say? Perhaps, but if you are not totally desensitized by the daily bombardment of social violence, physical and otherwise, the reports will serve to raise your blood pressure. What would cause that, you ask? Good old fashioned anger is my response.
Last week, in this forum, I posted a reflection, “What Price, Freedom?” where I quoted Barak Obama and challenged myself to work towards making humanity great again. Ever since I have thought deeply about what that would look like. I became more frustrated each day when I failed to come up with a satisfying plan. The only commonality within me on each of those intervening days was a feeling. It was anger.
This anger, what shall I do with it? I decided to elicit assistance from those I consider wiser than myself. The four quotes listed above are not the only statements I found about anger, but they are fairly representative. Interestingly enough some depict this emotion as a good thing, while others suggest otherwise.
The more I read, the more I came to believe that the word anger is almost as abused in its usage as the word love. Have you ever looked up the word indignation? The dictionary I consulted began, “anger or annoyance…” and I shook my head. This was after I read a psychological treatise about anger that declared it was the excessive affect of annoyance, indignation, etc. My point is that we seem to toss these words around carelessly as though they are interchangeable. I’m not sure they are.
I am sure that I have a problem with anger. I don’t always control it successfully. So, I am intimately acquainted with the concept and the experience. I believe that there are different degrees of anger and I tend to use the word annoyance for the mildest level and the word rage for the excessive quantity.
I must now address the question raised in the title, is anger a good thing? Maya Angelou and Bede Jarrett see some good in it, while Benjamin Franklin and Mohandas Gandhi may well argue otherwise. I would answer with a qualified ‘yes’. Or rather, it can be a good thing. If my anger is out of control and causes me to lash out violently by word or deed, I think that is not beneficial. I cannot imagine an out of control response accomplishing any good for myself or others.
However, if I feel no anger about what is wrong with humanity, how can I be motivated to act? I cannot “make humanity great again” if I do not act. The feeling of anger tells me that present circumstances are unacceptable, that behaviors by important persons in positions of authority which we witness daily are intolerable. That feeling, if controlled, is what I call righteous indignation. It is good because it protects my heart from becoming desensitized and it spurs me to remedial action.
Ultimately, we come down to this question, “what can I do about it?” The only thing I can do is to use the talents God gave me and the knowledge and skills I have acquired to devise appropriate actions. Each of us needs to assess our assets and decide. Anger will move me, motivate me to do something positive to make humanity great again. In this sense, anger is my ally and the fuel of my arsenal. It is my friend, and it is good.