There is little use arguing that America is not an angry place.
That’s because as a nation we keep very good statistics on anger. Put
more properly, we keep statistics on the ultimate effects of anger.
The most serious effect is murder; some 25,000 people are killed by
another person each year in America. A thousand of these murders take
place at work, where innocent bystanders are often added to the toll.
Sadly, these murders are but the tip of the iceberg of one million or so
workers injured each year in violent attacks by coworkers.
At times, we seem even to have glimpsed the problem; the term “road
rage” was coined some time back to describe automobile drivers who —
enraged by the actions of their fellow motorists — resort to murder to
even the perceived traffic score. Commentators frequently ask “what
drives” such attacks. Unfortunately, they seldom answer their own
question. That’s a pity. Good questions deserve at least a peek around
the next curve — for they can take us down productive, although
So it is with the angry American. We all know what anger is, of
course, because we have all experienced it. It’s probably a part of our
emotional “survival gear.” But experiencing is not necessarily
understanding — although some would have us believe so. My dictionary
defines anger as “a revengeful passion or emotion directed against one
who inflicts a real or supposed wrong. …” That definition has probably
contributed to my failure to understand anger. Perhaps it has misled
you, as well?
Anger surfaces early, as anyone who has cared for young children can
attest. In fact, if you frequent grocery stores you’ve probably seen —
more likely heard — angry children. The child is struggling to reach
something just beyond its grasp. Because the angry individual is a small
child we are not threatened and rarely pay much attention. Perhaps we
should; the same emotion causes drivers to murder their fellow
motorists, and workers their coworkers. And as the age of murderers
delves down into childhood, we see that they may not be waiting as long
as they used to before turning their anger on others.
In discussing anger, Dallas Willard, a philosophy professor (The
Divine Conspiracy, HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) offers a telling
definition: “It is a feeling that seizes us in our body and immediately
impels us toward interfering with, and possibly even harming, those who
have thwarted our will and interfered with our life.” Anger, Willard
notes, is frequently used to make others around us change their course
of action. In so doing, it thwarts their will, resulting in anger on
their part. My anger feeds off your anger, and back again.
Anger is a feeling — and as such, automatic. We can’t stop it from
occurring. But why, when the initial feeling passes, do so many of us
choose to remain angry? At the heart of anger is our sense of
self-righteousness; our wounded self. We use minor daily incidents to
keep the fires stoked. We can even become addicted to the adrenaline
rush that our anger produces. As Willard writes,
- All our mental and emotional resources are marshaled to nurture
and tend the anger, and our body throbs with it. Energy is dedicated to
keeping the anger alive: we constantly remind ourselves of how wrongly
we have been treated. And when it is allowed to govern our actions, of
course, its evil is quickly multiplied in heart-rending consequences and
in the replication of anger and rage in the hearts and bodies of
everyone it touches.
Perhaps America is angry and violent because we as individuals
have chosen poorly? It was God himself who first “laid down the law —
thou shalt not kill,” as part of the Ten Commandments. Later, Jesus
would elaborate, drawing the relationship between anger and murder when
He said, “I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a
brother or sister is guilty of murder” (Matthew 5:22). Hard words; but
Jesus knew that our thoughts give birth to our actions.
So what can we do? We go through each day and we suffer cuts and
bruises to our pride and ego. Jesus tells us: Forgive them, move on, let
it go. It takes, perhaps, an eternal perspective to harbor such
forgiveness. We are not capable of it by ourselves. Jesus knew that His
Father had already arranged to settle the score: “… vengeance is mine;
I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Who among us is equipped
to do God’s work for Him? Even Jesus deferred.
I think we often confuse anger with change. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m
not going to take it anymore!” The sad truth is, solutions born of anger
rarely change anything for the better, but they frequently make things
worse. Resolve simply to change things. Leave the anger unpacked — hand
it over to God — and stop trying to do His job for Him. For as Willard
so wisely writes, “To retain anger and to cultivate it is … ‘to give
the devil a chance’ (Ephesians 4:26-27). He will take the chance, and
there will be hell to pay.”