Earlier this week I overheard a man telling his colleague that he had punched the dashboard of his car enroute to work after hearing President Trump’s voice on NPR. His colleague, rather than responding with concern (as I would have), replied that she, too, has experienced similar outbursts of anger while listening to the news and often feels a strong sense of rage when she considers certain issues.
It was somewhat shocking to hear, but also, not surprising at the same time. In a sense, the reactions this man and woman described are nothing more than outward manifestations of the current cultural climate we’re living in.
You see, as a nation, it seems we’ve given up the practice of civil, dignified debate and disagreement in favor of name-calling, shouting, and personal attacks.
There is a sense of urgent, blinding anger permeating both our political and social discourse. It has perhaps even become the dominant emotion in our world — which is a troubling trend, is it not? Once considered one of the seven capital vices, wrath has now become the normal, and even expected, response to the plethora of injustices and divisions our nation faces.
In the midst of such a heated state of affairs, how should we understand this passionate emotion? Can it ever be justified and helpful? Is there such a thing as “righteous” anger?
The philosopher Aristotle defined anger as “a desire for vengeance.” This might not sound good or justifiable on a surface level, but if we consider it from Aristotle’s perspective, anger is not just an intense negative emotion, but rather a reaction to a perceived injustice. In other words, we feel anger when we witness or experience grave wrongdoing. In this light, anger doesn’t seem like a bad thing at all. In fact, it sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? I mean, if no one felt outraged at racism or human trafficking, for instance, who would take up the fight against them?
Now, racism and trafficking are obvious examples of when anger is justified, but determining whether or not our “desire for vengeance” is warranted in our personal lives often requires a bit more reflection. For instance, we first need to distinguish if a real offense has taken place, and against whom. There are a lot of little inconveniences and transgressions that upset us that do not, in fact, merit anger (e.g. when the next person in the express lane has exceeded the “10 Items or Less” limit — so irritating).
When faced with these situations, it can be helpful to remember that, as humans, most of us think we are “good people,” doing the right thing.
So, when we see someone do something that seems rude or doesn’t quite gel with our beliefs, we might give them the benefit of the doubt and remind ourselves that we don’t know their inner intents or their circumstances. In a lot of cases, the things that anger us are not, in fact, worth our passion, and might be best to just let go of.
If a real offense has taken place, though, then the next thing to do is ask ourselves whether our resulting anger is proportionate to what the injustice demands, and then evaluate if/how our ire should be responded to. If a friend has somehow upset or hurt us, for example, we ought to express our feelings in a manner that is fitting — such as telling them out of love (rather than ignoring or full-on blowing up at them, ultimately causing more problems).
Indeed, there are both small and serious issues in our personal lives and our world that require a certain level of indigence and concern. Yet, we must remember that anger that is excessive, revengeful, and enduring is fruitless — harmful even, to ourselves and those around us.
As Pope John Paul II taught, it is sometimes “Better to cry than be angry. Because anger hurts others, while tears flow silently through the soul and cleanse the heart.”
So, with that in mind, perhaps it makes sense to conclude that in order for our anger to be considered “righteous,” it must first be in accordance with right reason, and second, must stem not from hatred, but from a sincere intention to either correct the perpetrator and/or correct the injustice committed. (Easier said than done, I know.)
Together, we must strive to become sensitive to our anger, listen to it, and use it for positive change.
Do you struggle with anger? How do you deal with it?
Amy Cummins is a writer and marketing professional based in Los Angeles. She is passionate about creating meaningful dialogue and empowering others through her writing, which has been featured on The Huffington Post, Darling Magazine, and POPSUGAR, amongst other blogs and websites. You can connect with her on Instagram and her website.