Recently, I came across a news article about people who were needlessly killing animals in Africa.
These were rich which people who were simply doing it for the “fun”, for the sheer pleasure of killing a large animal.
I’ll be honest. These sort of things make me angry. Very angry.
Angry to the point that I wanted to find ways to get back at these people.
At the same time, as someone who reads a lot of spiritual books and has been inspired by the teachings of the Buddha, I tend to look upon my own anger negatively.
And indeed, from the Buddhist point of view, anger is one of the three poisons (along with greed and ignorance).
Anger is considered a poison because we use it to create conflict with others and enemies in the world around us.
And anger is the type of poison that does as much damage, if not more, to ourselves than to the other person.
Theoretically, I understand why Buddhism views anger as poison. But that theory didn’t match my reality.
Instead, I wanted to continue to feed my anger for these people.
Can You Use Anger Constructively?
I want to consider an alternative possibility, however.
I want to consider the possibility that anger, if used properly, can be something positive.
In exploring this idea, I want to raise three points.
First of all, feeling angry is normal.
Anger is an emotion, nothing more, nothing less.
And emotions are simply signals that tell us there’s something important that we need to pay attention to. With anger, what we normally need to pay attention to is some sort of threat or challenge.
The threat could be a physical one or it could be an emotional one (e.g., a threat to a deeply held value).
It could be a threat to us personally or it could be a threat to someone we care about.
Secondly, anger can be motivating.
Anger, if utilized properly, can actually be a catalyst for positive action, for action that
Finally, what matters is how we respond when we feel angry.
Just because you feel anger and just because anger is motivating, doesn’t mean that you have to respond with anger.
In fact, in most cases, it’s probably best if you don’t respond in anger.
Just think about all the senseless gang wars that take place in inner cities across the United States, retaliation following retaliation following retaliation with no end in sight.
How To Use Your Anger Constructively
I want to look at an example in which anger can be used constructively.
At some point in your life, you’ve probably witnessed a child being spanked, spanked at a level that could be considered abusive.
And when you’ve witnessed such an event, there’s a very good chance that you felt angry.
And you felt that way because your deeply held value against child abuse was being violated.
Feeling angry in that sort of situation is 100% natural.
Now, you might have felt motivated to take action because of your anger. Isn’t this a good thing?
It certainly seems to me that wanting to protect a child is absolutely positive.
But here’s where it gets tricky.
If you respond in anger, you’re only going to make things worse.
The situation will escalate quickly, with the two of you yelling back and forth. And chances are, the child will get punished even worse later on.
So how could you use your anger constructively?
Obviously, one option would be to alert the proper authorities. And some situations may require such a response. But such a response isn’t always necessary and yet you still want to do something.
So how about this? How about you say something like: “Children sure are frustrating aren’t they?”.
Look what that does.
First of all, you’re in no way condoning the behavior of the other person.
Instead, you’re putting yourself in the shoes of the other person and essentially saying “I get it. I understand how you feel.”
And when someone feels understood, the whole conversation shifts to open up more possibilities.
And you’ve created an opening whereby you can eventually talk with the person about more positive ways to respond to their child.
What I’m suggesting is not easy. I know that.
Anger is a challenging emotion and one that’s difficult to respond to skillfully. A skillful response requires awareness, compassion, and courage.
And yet, when we respond to our anger using awareness, using compassion, and using courage, our anger CAN be a positive, constructive force