In Defense of Anger
How often do you suppose that someone with a broad smile on his face is told that they need to learn to “control” their emotions? Do you think people who smile at everyone are ever told that the world is full of bad things happening to good people, and that a constant smile may be encroaching on those who are unhappy for a justifiable reason today? How many times have you encountered someone who started laughing to himself and thought, “if he can be laughing at nothing now, he is bound to laugh at me and my pain” ?
As with almost every human based scenario that can be imagined, this one has probably happened to someone, somewhere on the earth. Yet I will be bold enough to assume that most of you would find the situation described above as silly at best, ridiculous at worst.
Now let’s change things up a bit, while keeping the same premise in tact.
How often do you suppose that someone who yells out loud at something which bothers them is told that they need to “control” their emotions? Do you think people who scowl and seethe at everyone are ever told that the world is full of kind, wonderful things, and that their anger is likely encroaching on someone’s ability to maintain a positive outlook on their day? How many times have you encountered someone who in frustration kicked a piece of debris across the street, or maybe slammed his fist down onto a table and thought, “my god, if he can get angry enough to pound his fist onto furniture, he can certainly get angry enough to pound his fists into me” ?
You may or may not identify with the second scenario either. But I bet it sounds less “out there” to you. Not as contrived. More socially acceptable. And I imagine quite a bit of you would agree with the second set of statements, despite the fact that they are in most ways the same as the first set of statements. With one difference that should be obvious by now; in the first scenario, the subject is happy and in the second the subject is angry. In both cases, an emotion is involved, though according to most, only one needs to be “controlled”.
We live in a society which is conditioned to believe that anger is a negative emotion. That it serves no purpose, is destructive, and makes us want to be further away from the angered. We even threaten those that are angry with, “if you don’t stop being angry, I am going to leave”. We don’t tell people they are too happy to be worth our time. (Though in the interest of full disclosure, I have come close with a few people.)
It is ironic that in such an angry society we find it not only acceptable, but perhaps expected that we “fight” against anger. Flatten it. Avoid those who dare express the trait, and measure our maturity in terms of how often we get angry. As though the very definition of immaturity is to feel anger.
Over the years I have been the target over and over again of people who do not approve of my getting angry at something. I do not express or even feel anger now as much as I did ten years ago, but if you are to believe the sanctimonious among us, I still get angry way more often than I should by virtue of the fact that I ever do so to a degree that people are able to detect it.
Why do we do this? Years of hearing it have led me to a few conclusions, and probably all of them apply to a degree, though it depends on the person eschewing anger at any given moment. At any rate, three big ones come to mind.
The first is simple fear. Somebody is angry…are they gonna kill me?
Then I think anger is a buzz-kill to many people. Somehow they have over the course of their lives brainwashed themselves into thinking that life is so grand, there need never be a reason to express anger about anything. It’s either part of “God’s Plan”, or “That’s Life”. Either way, they have established a personal psychology which, like a house of cards can collapse in short order if they have to interact with someone who is angry, even if they are not the target of said anger. This to me is a better example of immaturity.
Then we have the “anger as destruction” crowd. To them, anger destroys the spirit. It lowers the level of energy in the room to darker levels. Brings bad karma, signifies attachment, or whatever term you wish to use. By not being angry, such people argue, you are pushing yourself towards an evolution of the spirit. This denial of baser reactions strengthens you for some kind of enlightenment. (This one tends to ignore the many examples of spiritual leaders becoming angry at some point over their life stories.) For such people anger is an excluding force that replaces all emotion or thought patterns within consciousness. Anger, even if it does not start out so, will, by necessity, grow into an all consuming fire that will suck the air out of the person and all of their relationships. As though one who is angry is incapable of also feeling love at the same time. As if anger and self-control are mutually exclusive.
To an extent all of these reasons for hating anger assume that the default state of our existence should be happiness. That anything which deviates from happiness and contentment in unnatural. And while it makes perfect sense to want to spend most of one’s time being content, does it make as much sense to conclude that the infinite experience of being human has one fixed point to which we all are to pin our existence? That there can be but one fulcrum for the pendulum of our lives, and that fulcrum is calm happiness?
Many have argued with me that it is not anger per se, but the manner in which people express anger that is unacceptable. That it is the yelling, the cursing, the throwing of objects that brands someone as “immature”, “out of control” or “dangerous”. And yes, if you go around beating people up when they make you angry, you need help. However, too often people leap to that conclusion with no evidence to support the charge. Such as the table pounding situation.
I know women who have broken up with men simply because they slap a table in anger. Because the next time, “it could be my head“. Really? Someone passionate who vents by banging a table, or tossing the blender that has broken down for the 15th time out into the backyard is de facto guilty of being a future abusive boyfriend? There is no difference at all between grabbing you during an argument, and grabbing, say, a pillow? You want to talk immaturity?
Yet anger remains an easy tool for instant indictment. Neighbors hear a man yelling in the next apartment, it has to be domestic abuse. Not that perhaps he is weary of being cheated on, or trying to get through to his wife that her drug problem is ruining their marriage. The voice was loud, he was angry, and so, it was the wrong thing to do. Just the very nature of being aware that someone was angry negates any and all justifications for actually being angry, because justified anger can only ever be quiet, hidden anger. Only when we bottle it up and keep it to ourselves are we even approaching the so called “correct” way to handle an emotion that ideally we shouldn’t be feeling at all.
It works in so many cases, because you can point directly to the things that the babies inside of us squirm about…loud noises, passion, the possibility that the world may not be fairy land, and that we may at some point have actually done something to hurt someone else. We assume the loudest and angriest is probably the guiltiest in any confrontation, because it takes extra work and depth to look into the actual details of a situation, and we don’t want to go there.
Even those who feel anger is destructive don’t go there. How often does someone like that ask, “why are you angry” instead of telling someone to not be angry? If you feel that anger is destroying someone, do you attempt to save them somehow, or do you say, “Dude, you harsh my mellow, I would really prefer we not hang out anymore.” Helpful.
Then there is the great hypocrisy among many “anti-angry” folks. Many have that one subject, or that one situation wherein not only will they allow themselves to get very angry, but actually pride themselves on it. As though they had the sole definition in the universe for “acceptable anger”. (Many mothers posses this quality; to them, anger pertaining to the treatment of their children is acceptable, and even commendable.)
A person can be too angry, too often, and express it in ways that are too extreme. But you know what? One can be too happy, too often as well. One can be calm to the point of extreme. The way people express their contentment with their lives can also be disruptive to other people, and destructive to themselves. Yet excess of those emotions carry a far smaller stigma than excess of the so called “negative” ones. And to be frank, that makes me a little angry.