By Jake Wiskerchen
“The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn't angry enough.”
- Bede Jarrett
So very much has been written, taught, and shared about anger. Courts order people to manage it. Counselors help people understand it. Psychologists and neurologists study it. The educated and the uneducated both struggle with it equally. Everyone from pastors to prostitutes has an opinion about it. The success of gangsta rap was fueled by it. Vengeance and retaliation are often its products. So much has been written about it, in fact, that finding a new perspective is growing increasingly difficult.
We’re often told that we “shouldn’t” be angry and that somehow we are supposed to skip over the emotion and just refocus and be happy. In my best valley girl accent, I have to ask, “Like, are you serious?”
Anger seems almost to come upon us as though we have no say in the matter. As it turns out, that is mostly true. And yet, it is not quite true because typically prior to anger, we feel something else that we do not want, such as fear or sadness. Given these dynamics, anger still largely remains a choice, just so long as we can be aware of what event(s) preceded it. Beyond that, anger has some use, as pointed out by Bede Jarrett. More on that in part 2.
First, to the point that anger can be chosen, we must first acknowledge that the anger-inducing situations are typically not from nature itself. Think of cavemen 40,000 years ago, roaming around without a civilization or society. Now think of when a caveman might be caused to become angry: pain, restraint, or constant low-level frustration. Each of these is perpetrated by another human, except for accidents (say, a stubbed toe), and all of them can be reasonably explained primarily as disappointment at an unmet expectation. For more on that, see the article on sadness. Now think about the last time you were angry and ask yourself: were you angry first…or disappointed first, because you were let down?
The brain first registers an unmet need and then it interprets that event. If your upbringing tells you to be angry about it, you will be angry. If your upbringing tells you to tolerate it, be sad, and then set your sights elsewhere and move on, you will just be disappointed and you probably won’t become angry.
In modern, highly developed society, anger is rapidly becoming an emotion that we are supposed to “not feel” or somehow eliminate. The presumable guess about this is that because anger is so often linked to behaviors that result in negative consequences, we should therefore just get rid of it altogether. However, that kind of thinking is nonsensical for two reasons: 1) the limbic system in the brain will still produce the chemicals that cause anger, no matter what society wants, and 2) anger can be useful if it is recognized and harnessed.
I invite you to read part 2 to learn about behaviors associated with anger and how anger can benefit you.