Anger, while generally labeled a “negative” emotion, does have its place in our repertoire of emotional responses. But, how productive is it to use your anger against others, even if it is for a just cause?
Without delving into a mound of research on emotions and psychology, the basic purpose of anger seems to be to drive us to respond to situations that we perceive as unjust, cruel or harmful; perhaps also feeding our sense of self preservation.
It’s good to have this emotion give us a sense of moral outrage, drive us to react, press us to defend ourselves. On the flip side, it can cause us to lash out at people, say things without thinking, even lead to violence. Perhaps it is a good idea to think about the difference between acting because of anger and reacting in anger.
As a child, if you misbehaved and were shouted at in anger, you might have cried and even felt fear. You probably learned not to do the misbehavior again, but perhaps only because you were frightened and not necessarily because the interaction was positive and educational.
Angry shouting in the workplace creates tension and anxiety. Employees work hard out of fear of eliciting an angry reaction rather than because they love their work or because they simply want to do the best work they can.
Social injustices around the world, from slavery to women’s rights, to Apartheid and more, were positively affected by people who were angry about the cruelty and injustice. Were these problems solved because these angry people shouted in the streets, took shovels to the heads of the offenders, or otherwise reacted in anger to the situation? Some of this no doubt happened, but it is likely what eventually solved the problem.
It was the intelligent, thoughtful, angry person – who was spurred into positive action by their anger, that likely made the biggest difference. These people educated the masses, debated the laws and got involved on the grassroots level, rather than in defensive, reactive ways.
Shouting, bullying and berating, and certainly violence, do not win people over to your cause. It prevents them from interacting with you about it at all. They don’t hear what you are saying over your shouting. Perhaps they even avoid a cause they might have otherwise supported, simply because of a bad interaction with someone reacting in anger.
Whatever your political, religious, or social beliefs, whatever makes you angry; stop. Think first. Is this angry response really going to have the effect that you are hoping for? Or is just going to alienate your cause and drive away potential supporters? Or, worse, hurt someone?
Find positive ways to approach what makes you angry. Accept that there might be people that you simply cannot change, let them go and move on to the people you can. Publically flogging transgressors went out with the dark ages. Private (or calm public) discussions and negotiations are likely to be much more meaningful and effective. Treat them with respect and they will respect you, and your cause.
While it is by no means easy to always remember to stop and think before reacting in anger, it can help to keep the simple Serenity Prayer in mind (insert favorite deity as desired):
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.