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Anger leads to violence

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I was at the Saturday Coffee Talk (though late) discussion and the topic was self-righteous anger.

My experience is that anger has always led to violence and we (humankind) would be better served if we could find, and use, new ways of promulgating change than through using anger as the touch stone.

This will most assuredly mean a change in what seems a fundamental part of our character, but wouldn’t it be worth the effort to make that change and possibly eradicate the need for war? People might find more peaceful ways of communication. This does not mean always being “nice” and not being able to clearly point out deficiencies in our system of government or banking, but rather the clarity could be seen as a tool for the viewing of what is, rather than coating truth in false acceptability.

This is where some fundamental differences in belief come into public focus. Western religions have the deep-seated belief that we are fundamentally broken and can never become whole. Eastern traditions believe in reincarnation as the path to perfection (a real possibility). A Transcendentalist (the basis of my tradition) believes we are born in perfection and the personal spiritual path is the rediscovery of that truth within oneself.

If we live in a consciousness of being broken and believe that human characteristics can never be changed, we are doomed to relive the same behavior from generation to generation as we have done for thousands of years. If we could expand our awareness to include the possible release of ideas and behaviors that don’t support peace and learn new forms of communication that allow us to be clear and passionate from a place of love instead of anger, how much more could be accomplished?

It is often said that the news will only show violence because that is what sells. Could the media ignore 3 million people going to Washington D.C. and participating in a non-violent sit-in for change? I am only talking about just over 1 percent of the population — is it possible this could bring about change?

About Joe Niemiec

The Rev. Joe Niemiec Jr. began his spiritual quest in 1986 when he walked out of a Houston jail and was struck by the realization that his life was in shambles.

He began his quest for ‘getting back on track’ with 12 step programs, followed by learning and practicing meditation with a local Redding, California, teacher.

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10 comments

  1. Joe,
    I’m not sure which “western religions” you are talking about when you used the broad brush to say:

    “Western religions have the deep-seated belief that we are fundamentally broken and can never become whole.”

    Are you saying that Judaism & Christianity & Islam are western?

    Belief in brokenness doesn’t have to mean you can’t be whole?

    In my mind and experience it allows a vulnerable and true humility and authenticity to take root that can blossom into a “life of abundance” as Jesus put it in John 10:10.

    Brokenness or powerlessness as the recovery community confess it, is a revelation that opens the door to transformation and healing.

    Having a “change of thinking” or a “renewal of mind” or a profound experience of “repentance” are all intertwined in the biblical path of conversion. This “poverty of spirit” as Jesus taught isn’t antithetical to peace it’s actually the nexus of it.

  2. Hi Joe!

    A little bit about where I come from is that I consider myself a Buddhist-Christian and a devout disciple of Yoda (yes, really). In Episode I, Yoda says, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Each of these are an out-picturing in our world we all wish to ease. And, yet, each of these are forever integral parts of the human experience. (Vulcans even admit to having these emotions.) It’s the way we RESPOND TO THEM that results in the change we so genuinely and desperately desire in our world. With this in mind, is it possible that we have learned to fear fear? Learned to fear anger? Learned to fear hate? Learned to fear suffering? Is it possible FDR bent the truth to motivate us into a necessary war? When we cease to FEAR fear and recognize it simply for what it is–a warning mechanism–the whole world changes.

    Another hero of mine is local NYT best-selling author and mental health counselor, Michael Gurian. In “Chapter 7: Working with Male Anger and Aggression,” in his book, “HOW DO I HELP HIM? A Practitioner’s Guide To Working With Boys and Men in Therapeutic Settings,” under “Aggression Nurturance,” Michael states, “most male anger and aggression is an effort by the male to save himself and others, and while some aggression and anger can ultimately lead to his ruin, most is helpful.”

    It is my experience the sensation of fear and then anger is most definitely a touch stone upon which to choose how to respond with such ability arriving via much practice.

  3. Eric

    Yes, technically the three Abrahamic religions are not western. However, they have shaped western traditions and laws since the 3rd century AD when the Holy Roman Empire established Christianity as its legal religion and the march through Europe began.

    Unless teachings have changed dramatically in the last few years most Christians still teach original sin and the only way to be saved is through the Savior and for all purposes a majority of the world is going to hell. It is this original sin that I referred to as brokenness that Christians still believe. Since every generation is born in sin there is no escape for or possibility for the race as a whole to evolve to a place in which “human flaws” can be left behind if not eradicated.

    I am a demonstration of someone broke becoming whole without the need for recognized redemption and/or finding a Savior, Yes Jesus did teach of a path to wholeness and never condemned people for not following him. It would be very interesting to speak with him and see what his reaction to what has been carried forward as his teachings.

  4. I find it interesting with the eons of evolution humankind has been a part of that we can deeply believe we can not evolve beyond anger. Of course it can be said that anger is a natural part of the human condition, it is how we respond to it that is important. That is the easy way. The hard way is to participate actively in our personal evolution beyond anger into a place of recognizing our real feelings and dealing with them rather than a secondary feeling which is what anger is.

    As long as we teach that anger is a useful tool we will continue to establish it in the next generation.

    Nonviolent Communication puts into practice the possibility of getting beyond social obstacles without anger or violence but through the recognition of feelings and needs.

  5. Joe I would agree with your assessment regarding the one Christian view of sin, it’s not the only view and you seem to come at it with a slight edge but in general it’s accurate as far as Protestants view it.

    Luke 24:46-47:
    “And he(Jesus) said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’

    Martin Luther had an his own edge too and he put it this way in the Smalcald Articles:
    “Such and many similar things have arisen from want of understanding and ignorance as regards both this sin and Christ, our Savior, and they are truly heathen dogmas, which we cannot endure. For if this teaching were right, then Christ has died in vain, since there is in man no defect nor sin for which he should have died; or He would have died only for the body, not for the soul, inasmuch as the soul is sound, and the body only is subject to death.”
    (http://bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php#baptism)

    I think all of us have reactions to the gospel message of sin, repentance and forgiveness depending on where we come from and how such truth was presented to us. Martin Luther came from a system that was oppressively based on human performance, merit and used such a system for profit. His response to the gospel is rooted in his experience of religion. We all have our own journey and its going to be affected by our own systems and backgrounds.

    For me, I see the beauty in light coming from darkness, order out of chaos, hope after despair, healing through brokenness. To me such a process of life out of death reflects the created order I understand, see and experience.

  6. Reading this thread, I find myself wanting to respond, and not really knowing how.

    The assumptions of the Christian worldview are so out of line of my own that I find it hard to know how to connect, but here goes.

    All this stuff about perfection and brokenness and redemption seems like religious narrative that clouds the issue and that entices one to pursue impossible goals. Instead, I ask, why do I even have anger? Not just “why am I mad right now?” but “why am I capable of anger in the first place?” As usual I find the answer in evolutionary psychology. I evolved anger as a way of motivating my behavior in order to defend myself against predators and/or loss of resources. Anger is a primitive emotion that I share in common with reptiles for goodness sake! It’s wired into my brain stem.

    Anger is my friend. Anger is there to help me. I choose violence not because of my anger but because of my conscious decision to choose violence, or because I was confused enough in my thinking that I couldn’t tell right from wrong. I can do this with or without anger.

    When I feel angry, that is a sign that I am being violated in some way. Sometimes my anger is valid, some part of myself that Iconsider to be legitimate really IS being violated, and my anger is there to alert me of this violation and to act (energetically) to protect my boundaries.

    On the other hand, sometimes my sense of violation is a result in a misperception or confusion. I may be drawing my boundaries badly, or I may be clinging to a false narrative about myself in the world, or I may simply be operating under a false assumption, or I might be medically compromised. In these cases my anger is not valid, but I feel it anyway.

    This creates a dilemma for me, because when I’m angry, I tend to have a hard time separating out what is and isn’t a valid reason for my anger. In other words, my anger affects my judgment.

    Usually I respond to this by backing off. This is a safe course of action because it means that I won’t escalate the situation by getting angry in the moment. But it has a cost. The cost is that sometimes I don’t stand up for myself when I really probably should. I end up losing ground in my relationships. Other times I do get angry, and stand up for myself. In this case I’m also taking the risk of escalating the situation or of bullying others out of what is rightfully theirs (by mistake).

    So either way there is a dilemma. I would like to say that I have great judgment and that I always use my anger wisely, but that would be a lie. The best I can do is to live with the dilemma, stay aware of it, and check in with other people who’s judgment I value to see if my perceptions are clear, and to own up to my mistakes and make amends when necessary/possible/helpful.

    But I want to emphasize this point: Anger is a tool I was equipped with by evolution to promote my wellbeing. I don’t want to get rid of my anger. I want to feel it fully and use it wisely, but then I want to let it go. Living in a constant state of anger is painful, and a waste of my resources, so if I get stuck being angry all the time (it’s happened more than once in my life) I usually find it helpful to talk to a professional to get to the bottom of how and why I feel violated, and what I want to do about it.

    I hope that helps.

  7. Hmm. (Good discussion.) Perhaps the challenge is we are discussing “anger” as though it is (minus implicit suggestions) similar to a gill we yet have from when we breathed under water that now hinders our ability to efficiently process oxygen. I believe there are some overlaps to such an analogy, however, anger is not a body part, it is EMOTION.

    My understanding of emotion is that it is a SPECTRUM of “energy in motion.” This spectrum ranges between degrees of coherence and incoherence in waves of energy. Anger is a slush fund term for a range of emotional wave patterns deemed moderately incoherent. Pinning down the precise moment fear or frustration becomes anger is the effort of many a millennium of practice.

    I do not believe we can “evolve” a range of emotion out of a spectrum of motion. What we can evolve is our neural abilities to recognize and choose how we interact with movements of energy.

    My great aunt would often tell me when I was a child that she did not get angry, she got frustrated. We learn patience so our fears and frustrations do not turn into anger just as we learn discipline so our anger does not turn into hate, rage or violence. (Anger is none of these.) Just because discipline is out of fashion does not mean anger can’t be an efficient attention getter to oneself.

    We back away from violence as we back away from rage as we back away from hate as we back away from anger as we back away from frustration as we better get to know and understand ourselves and each other. (And such is the experience of life.) Understanding fear, frustration and anger is how we “evolve” hate, rage and violence out of human SOCIETY.

    As long as ruthless injustice exists, a sensation of “righteous anger” will exist. How it’s acted upon is what matters. Do I believe we can “evolve” into a truly just society? Absolutely. (It is not easy.)

  8. I really hate to burst anyones bubble but anger is a SECONDARY emotion, it is a response to a wide range of stimuli!

    Please do not confuse fear or frustration with anger, fear and frustration are primary and stimulate the learned response of anger. I really get frustrated when people talk about “righteous anger” because it is a direct result of self righteousness, the idea that I know best and you (whoever I and/or you are) just don’t get it.

    Please do not confuse the idea that if I am not angry I am not willing to put you in jail for assaulting me, you will go to jail, I just want to take anger out of the equation. A person may easily live and project strong objections from a deeply held belief while being in total control of their reaction to a situation.

    To conclude if anger is a secondary emotion and therefore learned, it could be unlearned and new tools of expression taught. By the way, I still struggle with the use of anger, I am aware of the struggle and the desire to eliminate it from my life.

  9. Joe, the disconnect appears to be in the notion of USING anger to further a cause. (I believe this is what you are arguing against as “righteous anger.”) I have expressed the idea of RECOGNIZING anger when it arises as a directional indicator (a “touchstone”) to choose an appropriate response (not a “tool” to fuel one’s own agenda). In my first post to the Coffee Talk, in response to Rev. Conklin, I exchanged the word righteous with “justified” and pointed out that FEELING a sensation of anger is not synonymous with EXPRESSING anger. Your words speak out AGAINST condoning EXPRESSION of anger for “righteous” causes. I predominantly agree with you on this. What I do not agree with is a statement that says if a person experiences a sensation of anger when witness to a teenager pouring gasoline on a kitten and striking a match for entertainment that this sensation is not in any way, JUSTIFIED. I said in my last post that it’s how a person ACTS upon the SENSATION that matters. You said, “A person may easily live and project strong objections from a deeply held belief while being in total control of their REACTION to a situation.” How are these at odds? (Shall we blow more bubbles?)

  10. Wow, all sorts of interesting territory here.

    I don’t have any ideas to add clarity, but I do have a few that I’m pretty sure can muddy the water:

    I don’t know what Joe means by “secondary emotion.” Sure, I respond to anger as a result of situations that scare or frustrate me, but that doesn’t mean it’s “learned.” All mammals & reptiles express anger. My anger helps me to notice that I have an issue in my relationships. Simultaneously, my anger IS an issue in my relationships. But that’s how emotions work: They are not only internal states they are relational exchanges.

    I certainly agree with riffmeister that the words we use to signify emotion tend to “chunk up” a wide range of subjective experience. But if you think about it, we ALLWAYS have emotions at some level (even if I’m just feeling “emotionally neutral” I’m feeling something). Emotion is like the sense of touch: We always have it, but we don’t always attend to it.

    “Righteous anger” is a name for anger that I feel when my moral sensibilities have been violated in some way. Sometimes this is because of a direct assault on my own interests, but at least as often it is a feeling I get when I see something going on around me that I find morally obnoxious. In these cases I think that I am responding to the fact that the world around me has damaging and exploitative relationships going on in it, and that I fear for the wellbeing of myself, my loved ones and society. Indirectly this does serve my interests of course, but often the connection is hard to see (especially when I’m feeling righteous anger).

    One thing Joe said that I agree with: I do think that we can train our emotional states to some degree. In fact I think that religion is one tool that we use to do that (there are other tools as well). I’m reminded of the Buddhist notion of “cultivating compassion.” I find it hard to imagine a better “self-improvement” goal.

    Finally, I want to point out a common mistake people make about emotions (although I don’t see it going on here). We have a tradition in this culture that thought and emotion are different psychological states, and the emotions get in the way of thinking. This is untrue. Emotions are always present in human cognition, and we can’t get along without them. In fact there was a case study where a man was brain damaged in such a way that he lost his ability to feel emotion. He was completely incapacitated. He couldn’t tell what he wanted in even the most trivial decisions, and kept dithering and perseverating over everything. Imagine a taking a half an hour deciding which writing implement to use! We would be miserable creatures indeed without our ability to fee

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