(posted for International Pagan Values Blogging Month)
Wait a minute, what did she just say? I couldn’t have heard that right, we can’t really be valuing anger, can we???
Yes, you heard me correctly.
There are many ways in which my thoughts, experiences and values don’t line up with many other people’s. So perhaps I should use this time to blog about some of the things I’d be willing to lay down money that other people aren’t going to touch. Starting with anger.
Because we live in a culture heavily influenced by Christian morality and its turn the other cheek, the meek shall inherit the earth philosophy on life, most of us grow up demonizing anger, believing it a wholly negative emotion for which there is never a justification. New Age philosophy, which influences a good chunk of the modern Pagan movement, is no better on that front; though their reasoning may be different, they also hold that anger is negative and destructive and needs to be avoided at all costs.
I’ve met plenty of Pagans and a few Christians that claim to reject anger, are always happy, serene and pleasant about everything all the time. To be perfectly honest, I don’t like dealing with such people because I find them creepy; I often find myself wanting to lean over and stick a pin in their leg, just to see if it would piss them off. Anyone who has interacted with me online or in person knows that I’m not the cheeriest thing out there and identify as a misanthrope, but that doesn’t mean I am incapable of being around nice people, this goes beyond that. Its like what I imagine interacting with someone who had had a lobotomy must be like, there is something almost robotic in their responses. Human beings are designed to feel a wide range of emotions and to entirely remove one of those emotions from your repertoire removes some of the humanity from you. Some people consider that to be enlightened, but then again a lot of traditions deplore anything human or worldly, a view that I in general disagree with (even as a misanthrope).
Although this is not the focus of my post, I will acknowledge briefly the other side of the equation, not as common but equally annoying. There is a contingent in the Pagan community of arm chair warriors who have of never been closer to a war than watching old John Wayne movies on TCM, who have no training and no discipline but still think they can call themselves warriors because I guess it sounds so macho and bad ass; also there are those so called “dark” wiccans or pagans that often as not come across as very young late teens early twenties, naive sheltered kids rebelling against a middle class upbringing. Both of these groups often embrace so called negative emotions such as anger and elevate it to a quality to be celebrated and utilized above and beyond all else, probably mostly as a phallic extension or a way to rebel against the dominate paradigm rather than any well reasoned self examination. This side also misses the point though in a very different way.
Are all modern warriors or self identified dark pagans going to fall into that category? No, of course not. Just like its very possible to embrace wanting to be a nice person without taking things to extremes. But more often than not anger seems to be an emotion that people are completely irrational about, swinging to either to one far end of the spectrum or the other, with very little rational middle ground to be found.
The fact is no emotion is wholly negative when expressed with a sense of moderation. Everything can become negative if over used or used the wrong way. There is such a thing as being too nice and becoming a door mat; there is such a thing as being too giving or too understanding and becoming an enabler. But do people try and warn you about excessive kindness? Not anywhere near as often. And again, those traditions that deplore the human condition seem to consider excessive kindness enlightened, whatever harm that can do to you and to those around you.
You feel anger for a reason. When someone does something to hurt you, you have a right to feel angry. When someone does something to hurt your family or your friends, you have a right to feel angry. Anger can serve as a sign that something is wrong, that you need to protect yourself, that you need to change something. Its a perfectly natural and justified reaction to someone or something, knowingly or not, violating your boundaries. Its not something you should have to apologize for.
If you would say this is basic stuff, looking around at our culture does not bear that out. What do we as culture truly value? A person that is never angry, that can forgive anyone anything no matter what. A woman who can embrace her child’s killer in love and forgiveness is hailed by the media and the public as some sort of a saint, something we should all aspire to be. While I guess the woman who can’t do the same is a lesser person, sure we feel bad for her experience but we’ll expect her to work on that anger so that she can come to a place of forgiveness. It is after all, the only way she’ll ever be able to move on.
As controversial as it may be for me to say this, I do believe a big part of that is nothing more than our cultural attitudes that instill a sense of guilt for maintaining a degree of anger toward anyone. We’re supposed to love everyone, or at least not hate anyone. This isn’t always the way that things were, and in plenty of ancient cultures not only was anger or holding a grudge considered okay it was the correct and moral thing to do when someone harmed you or yours. I don’t recall reading about a lot of ancient Norse or Greek warriors being kept up at night over it. Why should I be?
I have been abused or ill treated for much of my life. Am I angry about what happened to me? Of course I am. Do I hate the people who abused me? You bet I do. Is this eating me up inside, interfering with my life, preventing me from moving forward? Absolutely not. In fact my life has steadily gotten better in that I am living on my own, far from those people; I have a girlfriend, a small circle of friends, an apartment I take care of, a deity I serve, a religious community I interact with; sure I will always struggle with things like self esteem, anxiety, trust issues and the like, but for the large part I am very happy where I am now. The anger and hate I feel is there but more dormant in the back of my mind, it doesn’t dangle over everything I say and do, for the most part I rarely even think of it.
I’ve been told often enough that I need to “come to a place of forgiveness” so that I can “move forward.” I think its very plain to anyone who saw my life then and sees me now that I have indeed moved forward by leaps and bounds, all without coming to that place of forgiveness. And who is it often telling me this? Usually people who, when they list all the instances of “anger” they graciously and selflessly forgave and put behind them, tends to include things like the guy that cut them off in traffic, the waitress that got their order wrong, the anonymous idiot on the internet that disagreed with them, the boyfriend that ended their relationship after just two weeks and I was sooooo in love with him! You don’t tend to get lectured by those that have been through things like serious abuse and betrayal, even if they have felt a need to find a way to forgive they usually get it if you don’t.
I’ll state this very plainly: if something such as the getting cut off in traffic is the best personal example you can come up with, you are not qualified to lecture me on anger. You don’t know what anger is, you haven’t come anywhere close to real anger.
So what sort of anger do I know? I have been abused physically, I’ve been emotionally degraded, I’ve been treated like an animal. My rage is seething, black, all consuming, something that wants only to destroy, to kill. There is a rage in me that is capable of seriously hurting or killing someone; I think everyone has such a capability in them that can come out under the right circumstances, but most people will never come face to face with that. If I had been given the opportunity to cause serious damage to one of those people, I likely would have. My rage is a frightening thing, frightening to the people who have seen it in its full force (or even half force), frightening to myself as well. For a long time I actually tried to be as non confrontational as I could be because I was afraid of that anger exploding out of control.
But that’s not helpful, and I learned that pretty quickly. You can deny you are feeling anger all you want to but you are, you always are. And either it expresses itself in a healthy way, or it goes in a bottle deep inside until that bottle gets too full to hold anymore and it explodes out in less healthy ways. Being non confrontational means not establishing boundaries, not taking care of yourself and making certain that other people treat you with dignity, the way you deserve to be treated. If you just feel serenely peaceful about everything, if you only calmly accept everything that comes at you, where is the motivation to change? The motivation to stand up for yourself?
Anger can be a powerful motivator. That may well be the only reason why I didn’t kill myself back when the abuse was happening, why I never gave up when I was told there was no hope. I didn’t have anything in life, no support no hope and seemingly no way out, all I did have was my anger, my hate. That’s what kept me getting up in the morning, what kept me fighting and what likely saved my core personality from being broken, what inspired me to struggle to heal myself and go out into the world and try to forge a life for myself when I was told I would only ever fail. Sure, now I have a girlfriend who loves me, I have deities that love me, friends that care, a life that’s worth living, but prior to all that I had was spite. I was not going to let those people win, I was not going to let them be right about me, I was not going to let their efforts ruin anymore of my life than it already has. Spite helped bring me to what I have now, without it I might have never left my bedroom. Even now I can still bring that up when I need it to push me through something difficult to do; I want to succeed in my life on my own terms, because I was always told that I couldn’t.
When ignoring anger isn’t realistic, you can make it work for you instead. Using it as motivation is one way. Anger can be crafted into a shield, used as a defense mechanism; people haven’t harassed me in years because, as I’ve been told, I put off a vibe that I’m someone you don’t want to mess with. Anger can be crafted into a weapon to be used in defense when the shield is not enough. I’ve been working the last year or so of finding that line where I can unleash that rage in appropriate levels without having to worry about losing control too much. Doing so has put me in a far better place in life in that I’ve been able to strip out the people that have proven themselves a toxic drain on my mental health, and I won’t be letting that happen again either.
Yes its possible to dwell too much in anger, to allow it to consume you in unhealthy ways. Using it as a motivator is helpful but sooner or later life needs to be about something else; some people deserve to be hated but sooner or later you have to stop thinking about it all the time, you have to move on with or without forgiveness (and you can do it without, don’t let people tell you otherwise); using it to defend your personal boundaries and those of your family and friends is a very effective and very good way of using that emotion, and there is a huge difference between that and being a bully. Those are extremes to avoid just as one should avoid being a door mat or an enabler, but anger is one of the few places where people actually advocate throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
You feel anger. You do whether you want to acknowledge it or not. Its a human emotion and it has its uses. Better to learn to acknowledge it, to listen to what its trying to tell you, to learn to control it and get it to work with you to help improve your circumstances in life. It can become one of the more helpful tools in your arsenal … or, it can give you an ulcer, a break down, ruined relationships when it explodes out at random, or maybe just a miserable life surrounded by people that don’t feel a need to respect you and you have no motivation and no way to change that. You decide.