There’s an old Sesame Street cartoon about a cranky goat that gets picked on by the other animals. He teaches kids that “It ain't b-a-a-d, to get m-a-a-d.”
I guess this is a good message, right? If you’re being bullied, or treated unfairly, it’s pretty normal to feel angry. Maybe yelling and screaming and jumping up and down is an appropriate response.
On the other hand, there might be more effective options. While the cartoon didn’t come right out and say “fight back,” it didn’t offer any other advice either. It was just about validating an emotion, I guess.
I read a book recently that validated this emotion in another context. It talked about the (perfectly normal) anger that parents sometimes feel towards their children.
The book, The No Cry Discipline Solution, provides lots of tips and ideas for encouraging good behavior “without whining, tantrums, and tears.” (From the kids too!) It’s a great resource for parents of young children-- I wish I would have found it sooner.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book was the center section, called “A Peaceful Home: Staying Calm and Avoiding Anger.” In this part, the author, Elizabeth Pantley, first addresses the guilt parents often feel when they get angry at their kids. Then she explains the different levels of anger (from “displeasure” and “annoyance” to “rage” and “fury”), and she shows how anger can escalate if not checked. Finally, she offers some specific steps to manage anger and solve the underlying problem, before you lose your self-control. In a nutshell: Stop (freeze, halt, interrupt your rising anger); get away from the situation; calm yourself (with deep breathing, for example); then analyze the problem objectively.
This is great advice for anyone, not just parents.
As Pantley says, uncontrolled anger can be dangerous. Forget the advice to “let it all out.” Letting it all out can lead to aggression, according to psychologists, and keep you from finding a more helpful solution.
Thinking about this, I’ve concluded there are actually two kinds of anger—or two kinds of expressions of anger—the good and the bad.
Good anger: Indignation over injustice
Bad anger: Road rage
Good anger: Boycotts and protests
Bad anger: A shouting match
Good anger: Writing an impassioned letter, signing a petition, calling a senator
Bad anger: Punching a wall… or a person
It seems to come down to self-control. When you’re angry about something, personal or public, if you keep your cool you might actually be able to do something productive to address the situation. However, if you let your anger consume you, you not only lose your control, you lose your opportunity. (Not to mention your credibility.)
Speaking of anger, here’s something that makes me really mad: Senseless violence and government decisions that promote war instead of peace.
I don’t know if you heard, but the U.S. House of Representatives voted last week for a bill that would turn over the power to declare war from Congress to the president. Yikes. This same bill would deauthorize the U.S. Institute of Peace. Established in 1984, the U.S. Institute of Peace is . Its budget is equivalent to about five hours of the war in Afghanistan. Yet, to “save money,” the House wants to get rid of the peace institution.
Sounds like a strong message that some of our leaders don't think peace is even worth pursuing.
Sign a petition to keep it alive, here: http://www.change.org/petitions/take-a-stand-for-the-united-states-institute-of-peace.
That’s one good way to express some healthy anger.