“Anger used does not destroy. Hatred does.” – Audre Lorde
I honestly feel like I could write a whole book on anger. For better or for worse, it has taken up a certain percentage of my life. It is, without doubt, a searingly powerful emotion, and I do not believe it can be simplistically described as “positive” or “negative.” It has had positive and negative effects on my life and the lives of most other people. It is one of the most fundamental of human emotions. To be angry is to be human. I expect anger to rise within me on a regular basis. It is not about having or not having anger; it’s what you do with it when it arises.
I have faced a lot of mistreatment and systemic oppression in my life. Unsurprisingly, this had made me angry. Anger then fuels my activism and my desire to create change. If everything was peachy keen, I would not have the experiences that have made me angry. Consequently, I would not have the basis for my activism. There are so many things in the world that SHOULD make us angry. How can we not be made angry by the level of injustice and environmental devastation that surrounds us all over the globe? As the saying goes: if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. Any “woke” person would see the lack of fairness in our world and be angry about it. Anger can be harnessed to help us educate ourselves, to fight for change and to become empowered. We should not be afraid of anger nor be quick to demonize it.
Are there any risks associated with anger? Yes. Maya Angelou stated: “You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.” And in the quote above, Audre Lorde tells us that anger used does not destroy, hatred does. The problem is that it is not that hard to go from anger to bitterness and from bitterness to hatred. They can have a domino effect. I should know, I have experienced this slippage before. This is why I have a love-hate relationship with anger. I have seen the good it has done in my life and I have seen the damage it has done. In the final tally, it is not easy to say which side “wins.” Rather, anger has been a great teacher.
In both quotes, we come to the issue of USING anger. If we do not use anger correctly, then anger can do damage to us. We need to use anger; we need to not let anger use us. Because it will, and we will be the worse for it if it is left to flame up unchecked. Using anger means taking action of many different kinds: creative, social, cultural, activist and political. We can use anger to call attention to injustice and mistreatment. If used well, anger can be empowering and it can help to galvanize ourselves and other people. If anger overtakes us and we are not mindful of the fact, the impact can be deleterious or destructive. This requires emotional literacy, where we can be very meta about our emotions and what path they are taking us down. I hope that anger teaches you much about yourself as it has done for me, and that it serves as the instigator of actions to change the world for the better.