Jummah Reflection: What is Anger Good For?
Jummah Mubarak, Shabbat Shalom & TGIF.
I’m still reflecting on the words my friend posted yesterday on Facebook. “Meeting anger with love is an uncertain peace. But meeting anger with anger is a certain war.”
Of course this is not a popular view, even for those of us who claim we want peace, justice and truth to prevail. People love their anger. Anger feels good and righteous and numbs pain. Anger is both defensive and offensive at the same time, and masks vulnerability. It makes you feel stronger. It is a crutch for those who have often run out of energy or have depleted their ability to tolerate the pressures of their work.
I’ve often criticized anger as an obstruction to progress, and when I do I’m always amused at how many people rush to justify anger as a ‘good thing’.
Anger is only good when it is used as a catalyst for setting things in motion. Which is important for overcoming apathy, particularly when there are injustices that need to be addressed. But anger has a truly limited function, and it can immediately become destructive if it’s not controlled, contained and channeled with wisdom.
Many of us who consider ourselves activists want to use anger for our entire Modus Operendi, and then we wonder why people turn off and stop listening after a while. Or why our valiant causes are met with obstinate resistance and deflection.
I know, from my own lifelong experience, that controlling anger is hard. It takes an enormous amount of effort. I also know that years of hard work, or strong relationships can be destroyed in a moment of anger. I know that anger inhibits clear communication because clear communication is always based on empathy–even for those you may consider an enemy. Especially for those, actually.
It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. That’s the first rule of communication, and in a world where communication has become democratized, we would all do well to keep it in mind.
Self-control isn’t just important for our outward behavior – it matters for our internal processes, emotional responses, and thought patterns, too. And yes, it’s very hard. But no, there’s no other way to facilitate real progress.