The Virtues of Anger

personal development May 03, 2021
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Anger is a many-splendored thing. Most often, we see it as dangerous and harmful–something to be curbed and avoided. I disagree (mostly).

Sure, cultivating and acting upon unhealthy and irrational anger is not a path to happiness or equanimity. At the same time, our prehistoric brain (the amygdala) is designed to trigger us into fight mode when we feel threatened, even if our fear is imagined.

What's more, because we're fond of surrounding ourselves with people who believe what we believe, this anger is often amplified into a delusional rage of righteousness. These convictions become rigid certainties and absolute value judgments. In turn, these opinions are used to justify attacks that are as destructive to ourselves as they are to our perceived enemy.

While there's not much you can do to avoid the reactive anger of the prehistoric part of the brain, you don't have to cling to this emotion and let it take you on its joyless ride. You can insert a pause after this initial flare-up and bring your younger and wiser discerning brain (the prefrontal cortex) into the conversation.

Where the amygdala reacts with judgments, the prefrontal cortex responds with judgment. Engaging this more thoughtful part of your grey matter brings in the curiosity and consideration that cultivates empathy and a healthier and more creative approach to a situation.

Here's the thing though, sometimes our anger is justified. There is injustice in the world, and when we collide with it, we should get angry, and we should act upon it. This compassionate, righteous anger is very different from the deluded rage of righteousness discussed above. It's measured, clear, and directed at making things better.

How can you tell the difference between harmful blind rage and helpful discerning anger? Maybe it begins with asking the question, "Is my anger using me, or am I using it?

Scott Perry, Difference-Maker Coach at Creative on Purpose.

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