Angry at society appears to be the primary emotion of our time. As this angry feeling festers, it can lead to feeling hatred. Yes, there is also kindness found in society, and I do know people who are not angry. What can we do with our angry emotions so that we can turn them into a sense of being peaceful, and we don’t end up feeling hatred?
Angry at society? Why is there so much anger? We see it in the streets, in demonstrations, on social media, etc. I have my theories, but the focus of this article is not on the why, or the origin, of the anger. Instead, I write this article on anger from the perspective of mindfulness.
In mindfulness, we are urged to remain in the moment, non judgmentally. Following that suggestion, I don’t necessarily need to understand why someone is angry. Assuming anger is taking a person from their peace, I guide that person to shift their perspective and so take action in the hopes of returning that person to a sense of peace.
As a counselor and practitioner of mindfulness, I don’t perceive anger as either positive or negative. The feeling is the feeling; what I do with the feeling is healthy or unhealthy. So, anger in and of itself is not the issue. My perception and actions based on anger is the issue. Therefore, many people these days who are angry are not what bothers me. What bothers me is what they are doing with their anger.
Anger, as an emotion, has its place. Anger has been used successfully as a means of defense against danger, both physical and emotional. Anger, felt when we perceive a threat, produces in us an increase of the chemical adrenaline. This chemical prepares the body for a physical fight and later coping with the event’s emotions.
In society, whenever we feel that our ideas, beliefs, or opinions are attacked, our basic instinct kicks in, resulting in an angry response. Anger is undoubtedly the most judgmental of our emotions. It’s also the most moralistic, self-righteous, and repudiating. Most of us will defend, sometimes to the death, what we believe.
Attacking a person’s beliefs or opinions is akin to an attack on the person themself. Why? Because we are the thinker of our thoughts! In essence, if you attack my thoughts, you attack what I created, and in so doing, you attack the creator, me.
Anger is probably the only emotion that we consciously cling to. Think about the last time you felt happiest. How long did that feeling, in its intensity, last? And when the feeling drifted away, many of us say, “I wish it lasted longer.” Yet, when it comes to anger, when was the last time that feeling of anger simply drifted away? For many of us, we hold onto it, ruminating over and over the offense, which was done.
Why do we hold on to anger? Let’s examine what the emotion of anger does for us:
- It provides us with a feeling of power.
- It enables us to believe that we are in control of the situation.
- It confirms to us that we are right and correct in our stance.
Examining this list, why wouldn’t I want to hold onto anger? If I give up feeling angry, I may feel less powerful and less in control, and I may discover that I’m not entirely correct in my thoughts or beliefs. Yet, if I am willing to give over my power and control to a reflection of my thoughts, I have now opened myself up to self-examination!
Self-examination, one of the goals of meditation, can also be a means of growth. But self-examination can be scary as we uncover aspects about us that we may not wish to open or issues that even we don’t like. As we hold onto our anger, we don’t allow for this self-examination. In many cases, that which angers us in others is what we are covering up in ourselves!
As I stated earlier, anger isn’t the issue; it’s our reaction to anger, which can be an issue. Therefore I differentiate between what I call a “healthy anger” instead of “unhealthy anger.” For example, you witness an injustice and become angry as your belief system speaks to justice for all. In this example, your motivation for feeling anger is not self-righteous indignation or a sense to overpower someone “because I can.” In this example, your anger will most likely result in action toward resolving the injustice, whereby all parties involved will be granted a sense of peace. As peace overtakes the anger, one is willingly open to self-examination.
The unhealthy anger is that anger, which I hold in a self-righteous manner with no motivation or intention toward a sense of peace or self-examination.
The person who practices mindfulness, meditation, and self-examination recognizes within them a sense of peace. Note that I don’t speak of the “feeling” of peace, rather, the “sense” of peace. Feelings, such as anger and happiness, are fleeting; they come and go. Having a “sense” of peace is not fleeting. A sense of inner peace speaks to an awareness of oneself within your environment. We can feel angry, happy, sad, etc. while at the same time maintaining a sense of peace.
People such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. no doubt felt anger as part of their motivation of why they acted as they did. But a reason their actions were not violent and their rhetoric was of love is that they had a sense of inner peace. This sense of inner peace allowed them to feel the anger, yet not allowing them to betray their values.
When we feel emotions and act in unison with our core beliefs, not violating our true selves, we are at peace. We may feel anger at situations or even toward specific people. Still, in maintaining a union between those feelings and our actions with our core beliefs, we retain our sense of inner peace.
Our goal is not to stop feeling angry. Instead, our goal is to learn how to respond to anger healthily. Here are my steps for healthy anger:
- Before feeling angry, practice mindful meditation and spend time in self-examination.
- When you feel anger, find your inner peace to help change your perspective to understand the situation from everyone’s viewpoint.
- Take action in union with your core beliefs and values, which will ultimately lead to the spreading of peace.
- When the situation is over, refuse the urge to hold onto the anger. Let your inner peace overtake the anger allowing yourself time to re-charge.
I agree that there is much in our world toward which to feel anger. Use the steps above to rise to the challenge of using your anger healthily.