Corrupt police, whistleblowers persecuted, financial crime unpunished, cronyism, laws that are obligatory for us but merely aspirational for the rich and famous. Maybe all this doesn’t affect you personally.
Dealing with jobsworths in utility companies, banks, and councils. Wondering why you have to make an appointment in your busy life to sign a piece of paper that could have been posted to you. Maybe at work you’re harassed to do more, to achieve more, to sell more, to recruit more. Maybe you have to deal with managers who dump on you because they’re concerned only for themselves. Maybe some of this is more your experience.
Maybe you work for an institution that appointed you to do a job that cost you a great deal of distress, which, when the institution changed the rules, you see was for nothing. You’re left drained, disheartened, feeling foolish and hopeless—that is, de-sperate. There’s a memorable episode in the US House of Cards in which Kevin Spacey’s ‘wife’, a self-obsessed businesswoman, asks her underling to sack employees, and after it’s done, then sacks the underling. Maybe you understand what that must have felt like.
Anger is hard-wired in to the amygdala and limbic system of the brain. We need it, or used to, for survival. Suppressing it, however socially acceptable, is bad for the organism. I internalize it. I pretend to myself I can deal with it. Then after a couple of days I get collywobbles and pains and what feel like panic attacks. Slowly, it dawns on me that this is not indigestion or oesophageal reflux, neither is it psychiatric illness. It’s anger.
Some people get rid of their anger by thumping. I wish I were more like them. There’s no point explaining to those responsible why you’re angry, for the likelihood is that they’re so keen on saving face or backside (interchangeable?) that their response is merely to hide behind legalities and protocols.
What can the pastor advise about dealing with anger? I spent a good bit of time with a 12 year old lad who had an abusive father. He knew the fate that awaited him for having lost some trivial item. He was beside himself. I said ‘I know how you’re feeling.’ And he – to his great credit – said ‘no you don’t, how can you? you’re not me’. That taught me a thing or two. Saying ‘Jesus understands’ is likely to result in your admission to A & E. Rightly so. Getting people to talk about it is an absolute must. To scream and shout, to curse until there is no more energy left. To sink into apathy.
Apathy. A useful state, however painful it is to arrive there. A lack of emotion. All passion spent. No longer are you foolish enough to expect others to imagine how their decisions might affect you. From apathy you begin to pick up again, knowing better what you’re dealing with. Maybe you become intent on revenge. They say it’s a dish best served cold. The trouble is that seeking revenge makes you hard-hearted and bitter as it eats away like cancer. It is cancer of the spirit. But it’s easy to understand why films about revenge – Shawshank – are so popular.
Perhaps you’ll learn from the experience and move on. Maybe you’ll distinguish between anger on behalf of others, and anger on behalf of self, that is, injured amour propre. If it’s the latter, maybe you’ll see that you’ve fallen victim to the demon that incites us to seek approval from others, and you’re angry with yourself. Maybe you’ll see that those others’ opinions are not worth having. If so, you’ll come out of it wiser, determined to continue to let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’, despite the duplicity and thoughtlessness of others.
But it is never easy.