Anger and its importance

‘Angry blacks’, ‘angry muslims’, ‘angry feminists’! For many, such labels conjure up unpleasant or frightening images. They distract from causes of the anger and instead focus attention on the now problematic bearers of the labels. That phenomenon could cost us dearly, as Amia Srinivasan’s talk on the BBC Argues. Her talk is largely about the need for anger in protesting against injustice. Anger is a form of moral seeing, she maintains.

Yesterday I was thinking about similar thoughts as expressed by Jesse Prinz, mentioned here. Walking to a checkout counter in Whole Foods I saw that the Sept issue of Shambhala Sun had a section on ‘The Wisdom of Anger’, which the Bhuddas think is very important once transformed into wisdom and compassion. A convergence of thought.

Anger can both focus us on a problem and motivate us to take action.    However, it is unlikely to lead misbehaving colleagues to rethink their actions.  The latter is something to remember.

Some images of anger from Shambhala Sun:


10 thoughts on “Anger and its importance

  1. The other thing that is worth mentioning here is that females especially have been conditioned to not express their anger outwardly and therefore tend to direct their anger inward towards themselves and never ever place their anger on the people or systems that deserve it. The first order of business for females is to combat this conditioning.

  2. Perhaps you could say more? I’m not quite so sure about the “directing it toward themselves” bit. Nor is it clear that the conditioning is all that successful.

  3. This is one of the reasons why the psychotherapy industry’s influence on our culture is so pernicious. The therapy industry is quick to diagnose “anger management” problems and to locate emotional “pathologies” within individuals, and then attempts to “treat” individuals for these problems. This assignment of problems to individuals rather than cultures and societal structures contributes to the marginalization of individuals who resist conforming to such cultures and structures.

  4. Trytherapyfree, I’m no fan of psychotherapy, even though I’d recommend trying it if one is dealing with a very adverse culture, at least to spare one’s partner, if there is one.

    Still, there are versions of therapy which do pay a lot of attention to the culture and try to help individuals be less victimized by it.

  5. What’s the basis for thinking that anger “is unlikely to lead misbehaving colleagues to rethink their actions”? And — besides that — are we intending to suggest that teaching our colleagues how to “behave” is the only legitimate purpose of expressions of anger here? (I’m just generally skeptical of vague “yes, well, *anger* won’t do you any good” admonitions against people stuck in legitimately infuriating circumstances).

  6. It seems pretty clear that there is such a thing as righteous rage, and lots of traditions recognize this (including Aristotle and Christianity). However I think the value of anger, in general and in the OP is oversold.

    Of course people get angry about lots of things, often really really stupid things. One’s being angry isn’t evidence of one’s ability to see injustice, and certainly doesn’t enhance it. Who among us thinks most clearly when enraged? In fact it’s upon reasoned reflection that we can tell the righteous rage from the other kind.

    Further the bulk of the OP isn’t really about anger, it’s about the violence born of it (I’ll assume there are no vulgar behaviorists here). It’s an attempt to justify yelling at someone or more serious kinds of violence. This defense is common lately, and has been used to justify, or at least excuse, things like “punching up” blog posting, some of the looting in Ferguson, the actions of both Israelis and Palestinians, and even ISIS.

    No doubt some injustice should be met with some violence, but not just any violence – proportionate, productive violence which is itself just. So much of this anger behavior is none of this, and rather seems more about making people feel better about themselves and there own situation. The blanket of righteous rage is warm indeed.

  7. BH, I should have made explicit a factor in the last linked discussion; namely, that I was talking about context where one is experiencing sexist discrimination. The effect of anger may be quite different in such situations from ones in which, e.g., one is dealing with a junior colleague who continues to leave the seminar room very messy despite frequent requests that some clean up be done. In general, though, I think anger tends to be a negative factor in negotiations, as the following indicates (many articles I have read have the same import):

    Title: Interpersonal effects of expressed anger and sorrow in morally charged negotiation.
    Authors: Dehghani, Morteza1
    Carnevale, Peter J.2
    Gratch, Jonathan3
    Source: Judgment & Decision Making. 2014, Vol. 9 Issue 2, p104-113. 10p.

    Abstract: The expression of emotion can play a significant role in strategic decision-making. In this study, we hypothesized that emotion expression alters behavior in morally charged negotiation. We investigated the impact of facial displays of discrete emotions, specifically anger and sadness, in a morally charged multi-issue negotiation task. Our results indicate that if a negotiator associated moral significance to the object of the negotiation, displays of anger resulted in reduced concession making whereas displays of sadness increased concession making. Moral significance of the issues fostered an emotional matching mechanism of sorrow, where a sorrow expression from one party elicited a sorrow expression from the other. Taken together, the results indicate that emotional expressions can affect morally charged negotiation in ways that can inhibit as well as promote cooperation. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

    We’ve also had a number of posts on this blog discussing how negatively women are seen if they come close to being assertive, ask for raises, show anger, etc. There’s a very recent one from the tech world a few posts away from this one.

  8. ajfreider, I didn’t get that anyone discussed – the person on the BBC, Jesse Prinz or the Buddhists – are advocating a shouting match if one is, e.g., cheated in an exchange at a car repairer’s. Anger when someone loses his professorial job because of possibly very vulgar remarks on the web may be a very good thing, and help sustain corrective efforts. Or so I would have thought.

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