People are horrible. They will smile in your face and scandalize your name. They will cheat you and steal from you and hide their hands afterward. They will throw you to the wolves and claim they were justified. As Omar Little would say, it’s all in the game and the game don’t change.
When you encounter horrible people or face an injustice at their hands, some well-meaning folk might tell you to focus on the good, pour all of your energy into those who love you and support you, and forget about the rest. Black people and women are particularly encouraged to take this advice, in order to avoid the historical stereotype of being “angry”. “Suck it up,” these folks might say. “You don’t want to seem ‘angry.’” Well, as King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything.” That includes anger.
This is the problem with the stereotype of “angry” women or “angry” Black people, in general. It presumes that the anger members of these marginalized groups possess is unfounded. It is a way to delegitimize very real pain. But even for those who love you and do not wish to minimize your experiences, the advice to “turn the other cheek, like Jesus!” or to simply, “just get over it”, is not only unhealthy advice, but isn’t even how Jesus operated.
When Jesus saw folks misusing the holy temple as a marketplace to make money, He “drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” Please note: He did this on two separate occasions. Jesus overturning tables and benches ought to tell you that there are some things in this world that ought to make you flip the heck out. It is a normal, human emotion that even the apostle Paul encourages you to fully experience, “Be angry,” he writes in Ephesians 4:26—but here’s the catch—“and sin not.”
Anger is a tool that God gave us, which means that there is a purpose for it and a way to use it that will glorify God and not our own egos (which would be the "sin" Paul is speaking of). Be angry, indeed, but use that anger productively. Here are three steps you can take to channel your righteous anger and make it work for you and those around you.
1) Recognize why you’re angry. One of the unhealthiest ways to handle anger is to ignore it or bury it for the sake of putting on a brave face, or not "causing drama". But anger cannot be properly processed until the covers are drawn back and the existence of the emotion itself within you is fully acknowledged. Examine what has happened to you and why it has happened to you. Acknowledge that it was unjust, that you didn't deserve it happening to you, that people whom you relied on should have been reliable, that you are not wrong to expect decency from others and that it was not wrong for you to have expectations of people you trusted that were not met. Name it: you are angry! Own that. Sit with it awhile. Then proceed to step 2.
2) Transfer your anger. One of the surest ways to discover what your purpose might be in this world is to examine what is making you angry. Are you being bullied or smeared? Perhaps standing up for the bullied and smeared is a part of your calling. Is a government agency unfairly denying you benefits? They’re probably doing it to others like you, too, but maybe those others don’t have your same strength or resilience to bring attention to what’s happening. By recognizing the root of your anger and realizing it’s not only happening to you, you allow yourself the ability to transcend personal offenses and recognize structural and social problems that you may be able to alleviate. Transfer that anger into passion and get busy making real, substantive change.
3) Understand why you forgive. Paul suggests that we do not go to sleep while still angry. This is hard advice to swallow, considering that most big problems will still exist when you wake up in the morning, whether you forgive the offending parties or not. But the reason for this is advice is to ensure your own health and self-care. You cannot effectuate positive change in your own life and the lives of those around you if you’re laid up with high blood pressure or in jail or fired for acting out on pure anger. Embrace the emotion and your right to have it, sit with it, understand it and then transfer it into productive energy.
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