I’ve been receiving personal revelation from magazines lately. Don’t laugh, it’s true; God speaks in mysterious ways. In a recent round of browsing the shelves at my local co-op (where some of the more “hippie” themed publications reside), I came across an article that I really resonated with. The title, “Prelude to Courage” caught my attention, but it wasn’t until I got home and read it that I knew why.
In the health sectioned article (from Ode Magazine), Diana Rico describes her experience with not wanting to deal with feelings of anger. She, as many of us do, interpreted anger as an undesirable emotion. After all, many of the world’s religions and spiritual leaders denounce it as being something that we need to let go of and remove from ourselves to attain peace, both within and around ourselves. But what she explores in the lengthy article (but well worth reading) is that the emotion of anger itself is not the enemy that we might view it to be. It is actually rage that we are thinking of when we talk about anger as being something that should be suppressed and banished from our experience. Rage, as an action rather than a common and natural feeling of the human condition, is “an accumulation of feelings about the past”, whereas, according to the article, “healthy anger” is “always about what’s happening now”.
I got to thinking about this in the context of what I’ve heard in sunday school discussions about “righteous anger”, specifically the counsel in Ephesians 4:46 to “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger”. To “be” angry is not the problem. Anger is a valid and important part of our existence. It is rage and the destructive behavior associated with acting on our accumulated feelings that could be construed as sin. By letting the “sun go down” on our legitimate feelings we are no longer living in or dealing with the moment. We are putting it off and letting it fester. Furthermore, “when you are in a state of rage, you’ve moved from your prefrontal lobe ‘down to your midbrain, where you can only fight, be in flight or freeze’, That’s why rage is uncontrollable—and frightening. But with healthy anger, you’re still in your prefrontal lobe, where capable of managing your responses.”.
The article also mentions some fascinating connections of both unrestrained and suppressed anger to negative outcomes in our health and relationships. At first glance, it appears that no matter what you do to deal with anger, you’re risking your physical and emotional well being. Depression is even compared to “anger turned inward”. So what is the upside? Is anger always bad?
Well, for starters, anger can produce results that complacency and submission never can. Healthy anger, according to the article, draws people into conversations (as well as intimacy), but can also be viewed as the fuel for many of the social changes in recent history. Our collective outrage over injustices can be seen as the driving force behind such important pieces of history as women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement. In these critical moments of humanity’s timeline, anger was the spark that preceded the courage to inspire and fight for change. But that doesn’t mean that anger was always expressed, or that rage always took it’s place. As Gandhi demonstrated, anger at the wrongs that were being perpetuated could be channeled into something that could have a true and lasting impact for positive change.
So where does that leave us? Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Pattern of Intimate Relationships, is quoted in the article as believing that “healthy anger…requires us to change our part in the relationship patterns from which our anger springs”. Rico says that Lerner sees “healthy anger as a powerful tool for increasing respect and fulfillment in relationships with loved ones.” Healthy anger requires that we “observe and change our part in the patterns that keep us stuck, rather than dissipating our energy trying to change another person who doesn’t want to change.” So, in looking at this from a Mormon Feminist perspective, is our relationship with the Church valuable enough to us to want to change it? If this is true, than perhaps what Lerner suggests is the way to go about negotiating and navigating such a relationship – especially when the other party does not want to change for us.
Are we “dissipating our energy” when we fall back into familiar patterns with our church attendance that feel safe and non-confrontational? Are these patterns keeping us stuck? What could we do differently in the spirit of healthy anger that motivates us to positive action? Do we need to stop letting the sun go down on our anger and deal confidently with problems that we personally witness as they arise?
Do you believe you could turn anger into courage to work for positive change?