Most of us have our demons. Some of them aren’t very pretty. A student of human behavior, I’ve watched people’s ways for a long time, including my own. It’s hard to say which one of these seven deadliest sins (according to the New Testament) is worse than the others: pride, greed, lust, envy, glutton, wrath or sloth?
Any of them can interfere with good days and right behavior. But it seems to me that wrath, or anger, can do the most damage because it can play a supporting role in most of the other wrongs committed. It is the prelude to violence. According to the latest New Yorker magazine, an article on Hitler and the Holocaust points out that anger played a major role in his life. They said that he blamed a Jewish doctor for his mother’s death. There were other anger issues, of course.
What makes you angry could be the key to what makes you tick. History can be changed “for better or worse” by angry people. Being mad is not necessarily an evil emotion, but rather an abused and misused emotion. It can take over the whole person and make him/her do things that are horrible. Over a hundred million people were murdered during the 20th century alone. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are at least 954 hate groups in the United States today.
It seems to me that anger does the most damage when we become “holier than thou” and try to justify bad behavior on religious grounds. Too often, anger parades itself as Godly-virtue, as divinely inspired militancy for truth. So, some people justify themselves as holy warriors. History illustrates this too many times. As Blaise Pascal was quoted in Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s column, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
When I see and hear truth being slandered, I get upset. Most of the time, this comes from plain ignorance. The atmosphere of trying to change “reality” and trying to make it sound like the truth is nothing but nauseating. Yet, I am encouraged because of the “Me, Too” movement and the change that is taking place in simple morals and ethics. I believe we are turning the corner to a more decent society, at last. There are boundaries in human behavior that need to be honored and I believe more and more people are seeing this need. And we are seeing who and where the enemies are. All of us need to live by the teachings of Christ. Read Matthew 5, 6 and 7.
I grew up in a small town in Mississippi, a place that has become infamous for having a sheriff and cohorts who were guilty of killing three civil-rights workers during the 1960’s. Racism defined the whole area, and I heard negative talk about black Americans and what should be done to them, knowing that it was wrong and against God’s will. Thank God, the town has changed a lot and people are waking up to the fact that we are ALL God’s children, regardless of the color of our skin or the things we believe in.
Anger at a person for being red, yellow, black or white is just plain stupidity, as well as prejudice. You had nothing to do with your color. It’s a slam against the Creator God to hate what God created.
To bring this closer to home, look at domestic violence, which they say is decreasing. In my marriage counseling experiences, I pointed out (usually) the sentence in the New Testament, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” It’s good advice for any couple of any age to follow. If you never disagree with your spouse, you must be in a boring relationship. But “watch it”, many divorces come out of bad tempers and irritable dispositions. So often, we get angry at those around us, blaming and pointing fingers at them instead of looking in the mirror to see what we need to change about ourselves. Entitlement doesn’t come to any of us because of gender, race or what have you.
Passive-aggressive behavior is akin to all of this. This is the person who wants to get back at the other guy, but in subtle ways that are not so obvious. Classic case: Husband asks wife, “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” she replies with tight lips. “Yes, I know something’s eating on you, what is it?” She says “Nothing!” This goes on for a while, she withholds her affection from him and refuses to do little things for him until he figures out that he forgot her birthday. Quiet and indirect anger defines passive-aggressive behavior.
“You can circle up, hug, hold hands, and sing Kum Ba Yah for the rest of your life, but until you shake it off and look at yourself and embrace a sweeter disposition and mindfulness, you are going to remain dysfunctional and out of sorts.” (Larry Winger, paraphrased)
One purpose of anger can be to bring discipline into your life where you tolerated failure before. It can give you the motivation to change bad and self-destructive habits. It can help you to develop good behavior. So when you mess up, lose your patience or your temper, no big deal, just admit it, forgive yourself and the other person, and move on. Other than that, life is a party. Amen.