Denver's done a fantastic job of making itself one of the most desirable places to live in the country--but that doesn't mean it's all bluebird skies, puppies playing in the park, and powder days. Scratch beneath the shiny, happy surface of the Mile High City, and you might be surprised what you find.
What the F*#% You Lookin' at?
Why anger gets a bad rap
By Maximillian Potter
Back when the year was new, my wife gave me a desk calendar of Buddhist teachings. Each day brings an Insight From The Dalai Lama, like: “Inner peace, which is the principal characteristic of happiness, and anger cannot coexist without undermining one another.” We aren’t Buddhists, though I do think His Holiness is a remarkable guy. Rather, it was my better half’s hope that my pondering this calendar would help me, as she puts it, “let things go.” My wife, mom, dad, brother, doting Aunt Patricia, friends, and the boss man—pretty much everybody—have long encouraged me to “relax” and to not be “so angry.”
I’ve been tempted to respond with any number of things that politely would sound like: Put a sock in it. A thick hiking sock would be best, but any dress sock will do. Ball it up and please, pretty please, jam it deep into your piehole. Not because someone cares enough about me to care—I truly appreciate their concern. But it’s the tone, that hybrid of first-grade teacher and Dr. Phil that presumes that there’s something inherently wrong with being angry. That really pisses me off.
It seems to me we have become such a kumbaya, bury-our-heads-in-the-sand world of passive milquetoasts that we’ve forgotten that anger is a healthy emotion, the core ingredient of the revolutionary (read: American) spirit that often affects necessary change.
I embrace anger. I view it as an obligation, a by-product of conscience and civic responsibility. Anger is the backbone of our country. Think of the Founding Fathers or Martin Luther King Jr. History tells us these men were kind, strategic, nonviolent, hopeful—and most definitely angry. Even nearer to my heart are muckraking journalists like Ida Tarbell or Lincoln Steffens. Hell, just about anyone who has said enough is enough has done so because they were angry.
I’m not talking about bringing a gun to a town hall meeting, or kicking the poodle because the pizza deliveryman is late. That’s rage, and that is something else entirely. I’m talking about anger—expressed nonviolently—over hypocrisy, incompetence, indifference, laziness, rationalization, theft, fraud, violence, or death. I’m talking about a justified reaction to an unjust person, place, or thing. Think “Mission Accomplished,” “Heck of a Job, Brownie,” AIG, Madoff, BP, the Catholic cover-up. I’m talking about honestly acknowledging anger and its causes, and then harnessing that emotion—compassionately—into constructive efforts for change. I know anger isn’t good for my health, and I know about its links to cancer, ulcers, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction (I’m fine, by the way), and on and on. I’m well aware that I have many reasons to be happy. I listen, and I am grateful for your concern.
But to me, the question shouldn’t be why am I so angry; it’s why aren’t you? I think Buddha might be on my side. According to September 28 in my Dalai Lama calendar: “It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act. There are two aspects to action. One is to overcome the distortions and afflictions of your own mind, that is, in terms of calming and eventually dispelling anger. This is action out of compassion. The other is more social, more public. When something needs to be done in the world to rectify the wrongs, if one is really concerned with benefiting others, one needs to be engaged, involved.” If I’m reading this right, His Holiness is acknowledging that compassionate action begins with anger.
If I had my way, the desk calendar about anger would feature the actor Michael Douglas. Not the Michael Douglas from Falling Down, the broken rage-aholic who, among other things, fires a bazooka into a construction site during a vengeful rampage. I’m talking about the Michael Douglas from Wall Street, the fictional corporate raider Gordon Gekko, who, in the iconic movie’s recently released sequel, has just been freed from jail. “Greed is good,” Gekko said, sounding like a precursor to the likes of AIG and Madoff. “Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” I first saw this film in high school, when my head was being filled with so many inconvenient ideas about social justice. And go figure, the film made me angry at the unethical “businessmen” on the Street, sowing the seeds of my desire to go into journalism. But if you change a few words, what Gekko said rings true to me. On my calendar, Gekko’s quote could be recast for any day if it read this way: Anger is good. Anger is right, anger works. Anger clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the revolutionary spirit.… Wait. Before you say anything, I’ll take off one of my socks and lend it to you.