The value of anger

To get my degree in psychology, I had to establish a specific hypothesis and then design and conduct experiments to either prove or disprove it. I based my hypothesis on the work conducted by Dr. Martin Seligman on Learned Helplessness.

Dr. Seligman’s theory is that an organism (dogs, rats, college sophomores, or other), when exposed to circumstances beyond their control will eventually give up trying to effect change. That doesn’t sound remarkable – why try to change your circumstances when they’re beyond your control? What is interesting, though, is that even when circumstances change and the organism can effect change, they don’t because they no longer have the ability to even recognize that they now have control. They have literally learned how to be helpless.

The end results of learned helplessness can run the extremes of resigned acceptance and indifference to incompetence and burnout to severe personal depression.

Dr. Seligman and others continued this research and further expanded the theory to conclude that the level of helplessness a person experienced was directly dependent on how much they internalized the cause of the helplessness. In other words, if a person attributed the lack of control to something within themselves, they’re going to experience learned helplessness at its most extreme. They’re going to get severely depressed.

For my work, my hypothesis was that the degree of helplessness a person experiences can be mitigated by another emotion – anger. The way to cure helplessness? Piss the person off.

Sorry. I know you all wanted me to say something along the lines of “learned optimism”, enabling personal empowerment, love, joy, or some other form of positive emotionalism. No can do. In the work I conducted as a senior in college and in my own experience, I have found that, at times, there is no healthier or more motivating emotion than anger. And anger, more than any other emotion, is the one most suppressed by society.

Is a loved one ill? Accept that it’s God’s will. Job sucks? Accept that only a few people have good jobs. Has a disaster hit? Accept that it’s a result of bad karma. Don’t waste your time trying to fight back and, whatever you do, control your temper – you’ll live longer if you do.

Anger has become socially unacceptable.

Well, that’s just bullshit.

Revolution isn’t based on calm reason, but the fact that enough people became angry at the status quo and fight to effect change.

People don’t fight injustice because, in a moment of love for humanity, they decided to devote time to fighting the injustice. The people saw something that made them angry, and their love of humanity helped channel that anger into positive results.

If we all followed the dictate of “accepting God’s will” as an explanation for illness, we wouldn’t have doctors – we’d have more priests. And a lot more dead people.

Now, anger can be destructive, as we witnessed recently with the shootings at LAX. Usually, though, this type of out of control anger is based on the very thing that we’re fighting – learned helplessness. Except, instead of becoming internally self-destructive, the person externalizes the destruction, literally going ballistic.

Healthy anger isn’t out of control – it’s not red-faced screaming accompanied by acts of unpurposeful destruction. Healthy anger is not shooting innocent people at a ticket counter, nor is it road rage, or abuse of loved ones.

Healthy anger is passion and purpose, determination, and change.

Anger led to the Civil Rights movement and stopped the Vietnam war. Anger prevents corporate monopolies and brings down corrupt politicians. And anger can heal.

Anger applied effectively and appropriately, is not only healthy for an individual – it’s necessary for a thriving society. If it’s angry people that forge a new society, it’s the gently melancholic, the intellectually pessimistic, and the complacent and indifferent people that destroy it.

Go ahead, get mad. You’ll feel better.

An archive of this page, with comments, is at the Wayback Machine

More angry voices

From the archives, Wayback Machine has an entry including comments from 2002

Interesting comments on the Value of Anger posting. As I expected, this is not a subject that people tread lightly. However, I was surprised at how personally some people took this posting.

For instance, Dave Rogers disagrees, strongly, with the concept of “healthy anger”, writing:

Anger isn’t some transcendent experience. It’s a temporary (hopefully) abnormal condition. Let it go.

Frank Paynter was actually “pissed” because Mike Golby and I talked about the healing power of anger. He wrote:

Anger is a bad thing. It comes from fear, and it inspires fear. Fear has a proximate cause. Root out the cause, displace the anger. Anger sucks. Angry people rationalize inhuman behavior. Angry people foster hostility and resentment in others. Angry people haven’t learned a loving acceptance that transcends helpless acceptance. Angry people are stunted in their personal development.

And both Jonathon and Dorothea saw themselves as “gently melancholic and intellectually pessimistic”, taking exception to the line If it’s angry people that forge a new society, it’s the gently melancholic, the intellectually pessimistic, and the complacent and indifferent people that destroy it.

Considering that I was wrote this line after reading a book based on a period of time 1000 years ago, I wasn’t expecting immediate identification. However, this shouldn’t be surprising. No matter how technologically advanced we get, no matter how we see ourselves advancing as a species, we’re still nothing more than humans experiencing human emotions. Love. Hate. Joy. Compassion. And Anger.

Anger is a part of us. It’s been a part of us before we ever attached a name to the emotion so that we could discuss it rather than act it out. To deny anger is to deny ourselves. Might as well deny love – it, too, can lead to destructive actions.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have no interest in being a saint. And I have no interest in denying my capability for love or anger. I would hope that I expend my love on those that return it – to do otherwise leads to a great deal of pain. And I hope that I can control my anger and use the energy it generates for something productive, such as fighting the current political administration.

Mike had it right – anger is sharing.


Today was hot and humid, which meant the fireflies were out, in force, at dusk. One particularly frisky little bug hovered in front of the living room window, seemingly infatuated with the magnificant glow of the small light by the window. Zzz. It said. Zzz. Zzz. Callous light just glowed steadily, ignoring the little critter.

How sad, this lost moment
and the love that was not meant to be;
The little burningbug
who lusted after electricity.

I didn’t see my first firefly until I moved to a house on Grande Isle in Vermont several years ago. The place was surrounded by fields, high up on a hill overlooking the lake, the closest neighbor hid by a bank of trees.

During the summer, thunderstorms would roll through, magnificent expositions of lightening and rain. And at dusk, in the cooling moisture, bright lights would begin to appear. A shy glimmer here, a quite moment of luminosity there, until the field was aglow with the delicate white lights, dancing in and among the plants.

Was this was my most perfect moment in Vermont? Or would it be held by that winter day, when the sun fell coldly on pure white snow, brilliant blue sky overhead reflected in the ice on the lake. And across the unmarked white field in front of the house hopped a red fox.

Later that night, we threw the switch that lit the lights on a tall evergreen far out in the field. The tree lights reflected on the snow, like fireflies flying about in the cooling mist of a summer night.

Nebraska’s On My List

Driving across Nebraska was a series of slows and gos due to the road construction. Unfortunately, it was also the location of my first car scratches.

After leaving a construction zone at one point, a work truck next to me that was hauling away dirt and rocks and mud hit a rut and a pile of mud with rocks splashed across my windshield and the front of the car. Considering that the day was sunny and clear I was more than a bit surprised by the mud appearing from nowhere, especially when traveling at around 70MPH. Luckily I have nerves of steel.

(Well, in honesty, luckily no one was around me when I swerved from surprise and hit the brake.)

Today I had the car thoroughly cleaned and sure enough, the little Nebraska legacy left scratches in the door and across the hood.

Golden Girl’s no longer a pristine scratch-free virgin. Sigh.

I knew I should have gone back to the location and beat the crap out of the crew.

It was never about the guys

Jonathon juxtaposed two quotes within a posting – a serious one from a woman questioning whether she would ever meet the man of her (overly perfect) dreams; and a rather humorous exchange between guys on IRC.

In response to a comment attached to the posting, Jonathon also stated:

An alternative reading of the (ironically) juxtaposed quotes might draw attention to the earnest self-centeredness of the woman compared to the easygoing self-deprecating humor of the men. Or to the failure of thirty years of feminist theory to effect a truly fundamental change in men’s thinking.

Leaving aside questions of earnest self-centeredness and self-deprecating humor based on choice of quotes, I wanted to focus on Jonathon’s statement about feminist theory effecting fundamental change in men’s thinking.

I’m not surprised that thirty years of feminist theory, or practice for that matter, haven’t instituted major changes in the male thought processes – feminism was never about changing men’s thinking. It was always about changing women’s thinking.

We can’t say to men, “Look, you have to change your evil ways and start treating us equally”, when we’re not willing to make changes ourselves. And we definitely can’t expect to have our cake and eat it, too.

For instance, do we as women see ourselves as nurturers first, and then as unique human beings? If we do, then we women haven’t achieved the growth and change we need to make. Women are far more interesting and capable then just being baby incubators and brood mares. As part of our complexity, we can be excellent mothers and wonderful mates, but that’s not the sum and total of what we are. Until we start respecting our own uniqueness and individuality, we can’t demand that men look beyond the stereotype we’re perpetuating.

We say that society puts women into a position and keeps us there, but if all women said “Enough of this bullshit”, society wouldn’t have a chance. If we women as a whole rejected the stereotypes, refused to compromise ourselves, didn’t play the “woman” game, change – real change – would occur. And it starts with us, not the guys. It was never about the guys.

Saying that change must start with men perpetuates male-centeredness and denies women any say in this change – yet again another, albeit extremely subtle, stereotype.

And as for humor….

IRC Quote 1834:
[09:50] Hey, anyone who knows Japanese, what does “kikurimu” mean?
[09:52] “I am a preteen with bouncing breasts.”
[09:53] There are probably three or four words for that.
[09:53] Sort of like the Eskimos having so many words for snow.

IRC Quote 6918:
I don’t like pamela anderson type breasts
Their remote controls are annoying and not well documented.

IRC Quote366
“Too few women on the internet?
There are lots of women on the internet,
only most of them are naked and in JPG-format.”