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.

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