Be Thankful for Your Anger

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

From grades 2 through 4 a popular and pretty girl named Paula tormented me in school.  She paraded the halls of our school with an entourage of followers willing to answer to her every command.  In the lunch room she’d gesture to someone behind me and my chair would be pulled out.  She and her posse surrounded my best friend and taunted her with comments like, “dirty Mexican.  Go home.”  She called me, “dirty communist.”  The word “dirty” routinely peppered her hate speech.  Somehow she obtained the favor of teachers with her in-class obedience and high marks.  Most students called her “smart”  perhaps due to her quick mind and clever, diabolical schemes.  I learned so much from Paula. 

I learned that racists are ignorant and afraid.  My best friend, from the Philippines, had dark skin and beautiful long hair.  This made her some foreign, scary thing in Paula’s racist mind.  I don’t know if Paula even knew who Karl Marx was, but somehow calling me a “communist” gave her power and control over others.  (For those still frightened by the red baiting 1950’s please know I am not now, nor have I ever been a communist). She embodied Joseph McCarthy at our elementary school.  Paula obtained more followers the more she demonized others.

By the time we made it to the 4th grade most of us who were tormented by Paula had found some confidence and a place for ourselves.  Paula, perhaps bored with bullying her peers, decided to take her minions to the kindergarten playground.  That’s when I got real mad.  I gathered a few of my friends and we marched in to defend the little tykes.  “Leave these kids alone!” we shouted.  “Act your age!” we demanded.  “We’re calling the principal!” we threatened.  Paula backed off.  The little ones gave us some hugs and made us feel like heroes.

Anger over injustice, ignorance, fear and cruelty is a powerful force for social change.  Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King, Jr. said,  “The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.”  British Philosopher, Nobel laureate and peace activist, Bertrand Russell was imprisoned for his efforts on behalf of conscientious objectors during World War I.  He wrote that he had become, “filled with despairing tenderness for the men who were to be slaughtered, and with rage against all the statesmen of Europe.”  Colonists left Europe to escape religious persecution and economic stagnation.  The American revolution stemmed from anger over “taxation without representation” among other issues.  While social movement theory, a subset of social psychology, goes into depth looking at the many factors that spark movements, most still find change starts with an angry grievance.

During this holiday season I am thankful for my anger.  It gives me the energy to fight for those who lack medical insurance and need treatment.  It gives me the motivation to grow my newspaper clipping file proving the corruption in the health insurance industry.  It gives me the courage to confront child abusers and bullies.  When we humans temper our anger with compassion and reason we can and do create real progress.  Are you thankful for your anger?  How has your anger helped you?  Let us know and we’ll publish your comments.