Is it ever okay to be angry?

In this book i am reading, there is a line that jumped out at me:

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.

Now the second part might seem a little foreign to you, because maybe you don’t believe in the devil, so let’s leave that for a moment.

In fact, the word ‘sin’ might also be a bit of a weird one for some of you, so for the sake of this conversation let’s frame it as ‘act in a way that is unhelpful or hurtful to others’.

‘In your anger, do not sin’. Not only does that seem to suggest that anger is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it seems to assume that anger is a given. You will get angry. That is going to happen. The question is what will you do with that anger when it happens?

Let anger inform you, not control you

So the assumption is that i will get angry. What does the Science tell me? Well, in my experience the Science very much proves the hypothesis. The Science of experience. i DO get angry.












When are some times that i get angry?

# i get angry on the hockey field. In fact, the other day i got angry because i didn’t feel like the ref was doing such a great job and then he got angry because he didn’t like the subtle assumptions i was giving him that he wasn’t doing such a great job and so he gave me an opportunity to sit on the side of the field and think about that for the rest of the game.

# i get angry when i drive. Not a super lot but a little bit of a lot. Because people do stupid things on the road. Especially in Cape Town and especially lately it seems. The last month has gotten ridiculous in terms of cars racing through really red traffic lights. Not orange or just turned red, i’m talking “One Missisissipi Two Mississippi Okay now” kind of red. It’s scary and dangerous and that’s when i lose my calm a little bit.

# i get angry when i lose at Clash Royale [silly little tower defence game i play on my phone] – yoh! Nothing makes me say the bad words when i’m alone like losing a level on that game.

# i get angry when i see racism in action. For the most part, i get frustrated on social media when it feels like people aren’t getting it. When white people are arguing against their privilege or telling me how much i must hate white people or how i want them all to feel guilty and so on. That stuff doesn’t tend to make me angry. It’s the Penny Sparrow incidents and the monkey shirts and the comments section [say it with me: NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!] or Steve Hofmeyr or Donald Trump supporter comments. That stuff makes me mad because it’s offensive and hateful and hurtful and often just pure evil.

# i am married. To another very opinionated and passionate person. So we headbutt sometimes. That would seem to be a given.

i do tend to think that the Driving anger and the Clash Royale anger are both largely moments for me to vent anger that i don’t vent in other situations which feels like a good thing. Sometimes my hockey anger can result in me getting sent off or getting overly angry with a player on the opposing team and that can make me lose focus and become a less-than-nice person on the field. Which can be problematic and a sign of bad sportsmanship and often fueled by my own lack of fitness or skill #ItsEasierToBlameSomeoneElse. The marriage anger often comes from a misunderstanding or different perspective or else letting some aspect of the rest of life overflow into our relationship and that can be an unhealthy and unproductive and hurtful thing as well.

But then there is the ‘angry when i see racism in action’ to which you could also add ‘angry when i see woman treated badly or pushed to the side’ and ‘angry when i see the disparity between rich and poor and how so many people i know feel like they can justify this’ and a bunch of others. Which is where this quote comes in:

‘Whoever is without anger, when there is cause for anger, sins.’
[John Chrysostom]

And this for me is really the punchline or the takeaway or a cause for reflection. When is it okay to be angry? And what are the kinds of things we should be getting angry about?

If you go back to the original quote, the warning is about potentially giving the ‘devil a foothold’ and whether you believe in the devil or not, the warning is still valid in terms of controlling your anger so that it doesn’t send you to a bad place. If it’s okay to be angry then how do i channel my anger in such a way that it becomes a positive thing?

i think that sometimes it’s a #NotOnOurWatch commitment. There is a certain kind of anger that hopefully starts to accompany injustice as you see it and adopting a #NotOnOurWatch stance means a commitment to interrupting injustice whenever it appears in front of you, whether live or virtually. Ranging from a polite, “That is not okay!” to a more outspoken and possibly volumous “You need to stop that now!” 

For me, this is very much a work in progress. There are often times where i wish i had not gotten as angry as i did, and hockey for me has been an ongoing space of wrestling with that, knowing that if i cannot control myself i have to consider giving it up altogether. But there are also times where i look back and wish i had gotten angrier. Usually when it comes to real injustice issues. Race and wealth and water wastage and a whole host of other issues.

Channeling Anger into Peace

Last night i attended a meeting of ‘More than Peace’ who were responsible, among other things, for putting together the Peace Justice Witnesses who sent time on University campuses during Fees Must Fall trying to ensure that everyone was safe. My anger at seeing how the students had been treated and were being treated, especially by the private security and at times the police, was chanelled into me volunteering some of my time to be a presence on campus. That feels like a positive use of anger towards good.

There are so many things in South Africa and the world that we would do well to be angry about. But how do we get creative as to how that anger manifests in actions and words that lift up and inspire and challenge and draw people towards each other and seek resolution? That is where we will see the success or failure of our anger. But we cannot sit back in our comfortable and refuse to join those who have great reason to be angry…