The answer is important in our current age of rage
Anger seems to be all the rage now.
Political pundits see seething masses behind the presidential campaign success of candidates in both parties. Each in his or her own way taps into frustration with the way people feel the world is organized against them, and/or with the direction of social mores, and/or inequality in economic outcomes — for the middle class especially.
Feelings are rooted in facts that give rise to them. Change is the one constant in life, and the speed of change is hard to keep up with. Information travels in nanoseconds now. We are bombarded by news we don’t need along with news we need, and culling through the one to get to the other is a chore. Stories sensationalize the silly and banal. Long form pieces provoking thought are rare. Sources are increasingly dubious; hence emails are rife that spread half-truths and reinforce a culture of complaint.
Whether the subject is same-gender marriage or the right bathroom for transgender persons to use, the question of whether black lives matter enough to shape respectful relationships by or for law enforcement, or equal pay for equal work for women, the social stasis is in flux. This produces, on the one hand, anxiety in those who feel a loss of what they have known as standards they could count on, and, on the other hand, boldness in those who see an opportunity to move from the margins to the center.
The shrinking middle class wants to be heard. Their grievance with the rich goes to their sense that the traditional rungs on the ladder of opportunity have been sawed off. Unions have been broken up; jobs have been offshored for cheap foreign labor. Higher education costs have exploded. At the same time, they believe those beneath them in the socio-economic strata receive benefits denied to them. They feel squeezed in both directions.
The anger is real, but is it good? It can be. Anger can motivate action. It can mobilize people to seek change.
It can also do more harm than good.
“Be angry but do not sin,” the Bible says. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
I haven’t made many good decisions in the heat of anger, have you? I regret most of what I said or did in fits of rage. Anger should give us pause before it drives our behavior. It should alert us to what’s wrong, but then enlist our spiritual reason to address how to right the wrong.
Frederick Buechner puts it pithily: “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back — in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.
“The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
As the summer temperature rises in all sorts of ways, we would do well to cool down with more than lemonade. Raw emotion needs the partnership of considered thought to bring about a beloved community where everyone feels at home and no one lacks hope.