Some Thoughts About Anger

I like people who are alive. People who are alive are hard to control. They have ideas, aspirations, and feelings, including anger.

John Cowan in Small Decencies


Lots of anger after November 8, 2016. Lots of fear too—often hidden in anger.

A few thoughts about anger:

Rollo May in Power and Innocence:   

The central element which constitutes the human being: It is the capacity to sense injustice and take a stand against it in the form of I-will-be-destroyed-rather-than-submit. It is a rudimentary anger, a capacity to muster all one’s power and assert it against what one experiences as unfair. …this elemental capacity to fight against injustice remains the distinguishing characteristic of human beings. It is, in short, the capacity to rebel.

Can we relate to anger at injustice? What do we do with the anger we feel when we see unfairness? What would be a good way to deal with election anger?

From an unknown source:

A peaceable young man asks a rabbi:

Are we not to forswear anger and live peacefully with all men? The rabbi answers, my son, God made anger for a purpose. If he had not intended for us to use it He would not have put it in our souls. Only be careful how you spend your anger. There are many things we should not be angry about. We should save our anger for those things which demand it.

What do we get angry at that we shouldn’t? How do we pick our battles?


Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

Do we think carefully about how we will spend our anger? Do we discuss our reactions with someone else before we express them?

I wrote in The Spiritual Warrior in the Time of Trump:

 Warriors are often angry people. Their anger is forceful disapproval of lies told, trust betrayed, innocence violated, reality denied, power abused, and incompetence rewarded. They don’t turn indifferent or deny their anger and become sadistic and abusive. True warriors engage their anger and use its energy to empower themselves and free others.

How do we engage and use our anger? When have we harmed the spirit of others in our own lives?

Rollo May in Power and Innocence:

In the utopian aim of removing all power and aggression from human behavior, we run the risk of removing self-assertion, self-affirmation, and even the power to be. If it were successful, it would breed a race of docile, passive eunuchs and would lay the groundwork for an explosion in violence that would dwarf all those that have occurred so far.

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Enemies or the Opposition?

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.
Winston Churchill

Hillary Clinton jokingly referred to Republicans as enemies while Joe Biden said Republicans were not enemies but the opposition in Congress.

I believe that the leading Republican presidential candidates, who appeal to America’s darkest fears, would lead the nation into accelerated decline and would revive the vilest aspects of America’s history and shadow side. And indifferent Democrats may let that happen.

Author and psychologist Rollo May defined a pseudoinnocent as a naive person who has blinders on and who does not see real dangers. Pseudoinnocents cling to childhood assumptions about the nature of the world. They do not want to acknowledge power or aggression much less use their innate power and aggression. How many indifferent Americans are pseudoinnocent and cannot see the dangers that threaten their way of life or the life they aspire to?

Author of The Denial of Death, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote: “If everyone lives the same lies about the same things, there is no one to call them liars. They establish their own sanity and call themselves normal.” I often think of Fox News, conservative talk radio and the extremists of the Republican Party when I read this quote.

The most extreme of the Republicans live in their own illusionary and shadow-filled Plato’s Cave and convince themselves of the normality of their regressive visions and black/white and either/or world. The cave-dwellers collude together to fleece the naive people who follow them. And many pseudoinnocent Republican voters seem happy to get hustled over and over again by the same false promises.

Many pseudoinnocent Democrats believe if they could get those who yearn for a return to the past to understand their vision for the future, those people would change. This was, I believe, a problem of President Obama’s: He didn’t seem to understand how serious and base his enemies in Congress and in the Republican Party were. I don’t mean people who disagreed with him on philosophy or policy. I mean those who wanted to harm him personally. He lacked the ruthless streak a leader needs to deal with those who hated him and wanted to destroy his presidency.

Early in Obama’s presidency, I wrote to Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: “What are you people doing? You make nice with people who want to kill you!” How did that approach work out for America with immigration, climate change and income inequality and so many other issues?

Republican and Democratic voters need to awaken and see reality as it is. Villains and injustice exist. They do not respond to argument and common sense; they respond only to power. We live surrounded by them in, perhaps, more insidious ways than ever before. Naïve and indifferent people, who make up a significant percentage of the adult population in America, allow the scoundrels to have their way.

We need to make wise moral judgments. It is wrong and irresponsible not to. We need to judge our politicians and hold them accountable with our votes.

Serious about her enemies or not, Hillary Clinton has battled the dark side of the Republican Party for decades with strength and resolve. She has gained wisdom and insight.

Americans need a battle-scarred warrior to lead them in today’s dark world.

Innocence & Pseudoinnocence

Organizations are filled with people who kill the spirits of others. I can tell story after story of abuse and injustice done to others in organization after organization by people with power — and so can you. But we don’t talk about cruelty and unfairness as we should. Instead many of us collude with such behavior.

Many of us consider ourselves to be part of a movement of increased consciousness that we hope will evolve the world to be a better place for all. Yet so many of us also deny the existence of maliciousness in ourselves, in our families, in our organizations, and in the movement we consider ourselves part of. We make excuses for those who choose evil acts to express their fear and impotence. Understanding another’s pain and motives does not excuse the acts they choose to express themselves — nor does compassion excuse accountability.

Rollo May defined a “pseudoinnocent” as someone who is naïve, who has blinders on, and who does not see real dangers. Pseudoinnocents cling to childhood assumptions about the nature of the world. We do not see real dangers. When faced with tough issues, we cower into our innocence and make weakness, helplessness, and powerlessness virtues. Our empathy and understanding are misplaced. We do not want to acknowledge power or aggression or use our own innate power and aggression. We don’t want to be angry, and we want anger to go away as a human drive. We close our eyes to reality to make anger go away. Things then seem simple and easy for us. With this innocence, we can deny the destructiveness to our self or others. Evil denies spirit and kills aliveness; pseudoinnocence denies evil and colludes with wickedness.

Many in today’s movements to transform the world are denigrated as “new agers” in part, I believe, because of this pseudoinnocence. Many seem to believe that if only they could get those invested in the status quo to understand their vision that they would change, and then we would move to a world of peace and tranquility.

To the extent that we espouse utopian visions and do not see what is real and do not take responsibility for confronting injustice, we are not transforming anything. Instead we are avoiding the forces that will make the dreamed-of transformation just another failed change effort. Such pseudoinnocence is irresponsible, colludes with abuse, and, ultimately, brings forth destructiveness in ourselves as we become immune to the suffering of others and lose our empathy and compassion. Such pseudoinnocence is not growth — it is regression.

Health requires that we see reality as it is. Villains and injustice exist. We are surrounded by them in, perhaps, more insidious ways than ever before. Much savagery has become institutionalized and accepted as normal.

If we harm the spirits of others to preserve our own shadow sides, we behave in sinister ways. If we do not bear witness when injustice occurs in front of us, we collude with abuse. If we ignore what is real to sell books, gain consulting contracts, and be seen as a prophet, we are not what we purport ourselves to be. To deny our personal power is to collude with the injustice around us. If we do not use our power for good, we create a vacuum that will be filled by those who use their power to harm others. On the other hand, if we see shadow side behavior for what it is, we may be compelled to do something about immorality. Villains and injustice will not go away because we wish it so.

We need to see life as it is and make wise moral judgments. It is wrong not to. We begin with ourselves and clean up our own inner mess. We accept our own aggression and, instead of pushing it away as something bad, use our energy to claim our own power necessary for life and growth. We use our power to carry out the moral judgments that support and sustain life and spirit — that lead us and others to freedom. Consciousness cannot rest passively. Consciousness must be asserted.

Our experience of the good and the bad of life temper us, deepen our awareness, purge us of our mindlessness, and sharpen our sight. We identify with the suffering and the joy of life. We dream noble visions for the future and remain aware of the lessons of history. We open our sensibilities to all of life, stay the course, and fight powerfully for life itself. As Rollo May wrote we are harmless as doves and wise as serpents. This is spiritual growth.