The good news is that anger is a useful emotion if you manage it well. It is much more useful than despair. Sadly, the bad news is that few people learn what to do with anger, and it toxifies their soul and their relationships to the point of real and lasting damage.
Since everyone experiences some anger virtually daily, we had all better learn not to let anger rot and pollute the soul. In one sentence, the Bible provides a simple standard for anger, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)
Without a long explanation, here are some basics.
- You can be angry without sinning. Therefore, anger in itself is not evil. It doesn’t even need to be embarrassing if you handle it well.
- You can find a way to get the anger taken care of before sundown. Since sundown happens every day, you are on a short leash here.
- One must presume that anger is a great sleep destroyer and does special damage at night.
- Anger is an emotion that must not be harboured. That is a great nautical picture! That boat can float, but you can’t moor it, or you will be dead in the water.
Anger is like milk. It starts as good food, but left unrefrigerated, it will spoil. Louis Pasteur came up with a way to solve the milk problem with a process we call pasteurization. Some argue that is not a good thing because it is not natural. I will leave that for others to figure out.
If all we do is pasteurize anger so that it will last longer, we create a big problem. Pasteurized anger is still anger. You can take the mean words out of anger and supply sophisticated rationalizations, but it is still anger. You can suppress the anger by denying it exists, but it is still there. It may be that as a child, when you experienced anger, you were punished for the anger, and you learned the best way to keep from getting clobbered was just to stuff it back inside. A more helpful strategy for child rearing is to teach the child to find a better way. Get creative. Find a solution. Find something better to do.
Anger wells up within when there is a blockage to your path. It could be as simple as an unexpected blockage in road traffic. We invented a term for an inappropriate reaction to that kind of blockage, “road rage.” You have probably seen the results of that approach to anger. Usually there is little you can do to solve the traffic problem. You might attempt another route, but usually, you find it just as blocked because others thought of it before you did. Your approach to road traffic probably rhymes with your approach to path blockages in general.
If you don’t experience anger when your path is blocked, you may have settled for less than the best. If you still get angry when your path is blocked, that is a good thing. The dangerous issue is not the anger; it is what you do about the anger.
One dangerous alternative to anger is boredom. Boredom is a relatively new word first used by Charles Dickens. Boredom is an unpleasant emotion. It comes when a person feels a lack of interest or difficulty in concentrating on the current activity. Since the human mind is a very innovative and fertile space, there is never a need to be bored. You can always think even if circumstances put you in a straight jacket. Thinking is fun and energizing. Questions are wonderful. Ask them to yourself. “I wonder why” is a great way to start a sentence.
Let’s apply the “I wonder why” approach in the traffic jam. You can have fun with it. You can write funny stories with it. You can learn about people with it. You can invent solutions with it. If you don’t believe that, try it with a few children in the back seat. I wonder why they put that speed limit sign right there? I wonder why there is all that litter alongside the road? I wonder why somebody didn’t come back to find that hub cap? I wonder if there is a store for people missing a hub cap? I wonder why that lady looks so sad? I wonder why somebody hasn’t figured out a way to keep cars from crashing. I wonder why there is only one person in most of these cars.
Of course, you can’t find anything much more than hypothetical or humourous answers to questions like that. So why ask them? Because it teaches your brain to look for solutions. A traffic jam can be like a visit to the health club for your brain. Go ahead and have some fun with it. And be sure to have something to write on when you stumble upon a good idea that needs further follow-up.
Anger can lead to boredom. It can lead to depression. It can be a cover-up for fear. It can elicit the expression of buried destructive thoughts. It can cut a rut in the soul that eventually becomes a trench from which the escape is difficult.
On the other side, anger can motivate positive action. It can stimulate creative ideas. It can lead to solutions. It can be the genesis of beautiful advances in civilization. It can energize your life to experience brand-new vistas you never dreamed possible.
Don’t waste your anger. Write out what bugs you until you detoxify your soul. Talking it out tends to just go in circles. Write it out instead. You will naturally resist the effort it takes to write the same thing repeatedly, whereas when you speak, you can repeat yourself more easily and make far less progress. Just keep writing. It’s so much better that you vent on paper than on people. Write. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees it. Perhaps it will be better if they don’t. Write quickly and furiously. Write for hours.
If you write things out, it is likely that you will eventually get to the point where you start to become solution-oriented. You might even see the beginnings of an action plan evolve. Who knows? You might devise a creative solution for all that litter on the side of the road. Or something even better!