Reply To: Anger

Mark Alexander

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Amanda and RJ. I agree that reactive anger has a constructive purpose (the reptile brain version, as RJ notes). I am more wary of anger as a choice that is indulged in.

The first great work of narrative in western lit is Homer’s Iliad, which explicitly deals with the consequences of Achilles’ anger. The arc of tribal anger and its consequences leads to Aeschylus’s great Oresteia trilogy, which starts with the curse of the House of Atreus (derived from the Trojan War) and the journey into the Rule of Law, which supplants tribal anger and revenge seeking.

The Greeks get short shrift these days, but they are highly artistic and instructive for narrative and the journey of individuals and communities. It was anger that killed Socrates and ultimately the Athenian democracy, due to the “justified” anger of the mob. The danger of political anger is that it fuels mob violence and deligitimizes the democratic process.

There are better political fuels. I think of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Although I’m sure they had their issues with anger, they saw the value of expressing something else to effect change. (Go back to MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.)

I think “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” is equally instructive. It begins in anger and ends in love. Remember, it was anger that got Malcolm X killed.

And is not the journey into love for the individual and community the great narrative? If there is a meaning to life, that meaning resides in giving and receiving more love.

And that means ultimately refusing to indulge the five passions of the mind: anger, greed, lust, vanity, and attachment.

Instead, replacing them with tolerance, contentment, discrimination (in the best sense), humility, and non-attachment (releasing anchors that hold you down).

You may never eliminate them. But it is a choice to indulge them or justify them.

This is not a polemic designed to change anyone’s mind. I only offer food for thought. I am no longer interested in changing others or even changing the world as such. It’s a full time job getting to know myself and changing what needs to be changed in me. I will serve others as I can, and that means offering, not requiring (except of course in self-defense).

Thanks for your responses.

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