Just In Case That Ever Might Be Useful
“ If evil is a disease, anger serves as the white blood cells who rush to our body’s defense—a healthy evolutionary response to a legitimate threat”. I love the implication of the possibility of autoimmune attack- one could reach a stage where exposure to any allergen or even benign substances can set off a cascade of anger with nothing to chew on but yourself.
Thank you this examination of an emotion that is often swept aside. One aspect I am interested in with anger as a topic is how does anger change based on circumstances. It has often been said to me that women cry when they are angry, not just when they are sad. That the anger of those at the bottom of the social hierarchy is a justified output of the inequity. I am not disputing those statements, but I am interested in them, since anger, as you noted in other words, can be a powerful force to advancement, but also a terrible burden to bear and to compel others to be subject to.
I have, in my career, stood in front of a group of people in a professional setting and listened for the better part of thirty minutes (I know a short time surely) the many ways they felt I had failed in my work on their behalf while never mentioning that my work was not on their behalf, that they had derailed it any number of times, and had entered into the problem space completely oblivious to how it might affect them because they were representing a well known business. Rather than lash out, which I really wanted to do, I calmly (and that took effort) pointed out that our path forward was not accomplished by rehashing a past that could not be changed. That we needed to agree the work was important, that we would be partners in accomplishing it, and that we should each learn that open and routine communications would benefit us in doing so. Inside I was seething, but the goal, the work, was more important than my ego, no matter how unfairly I felt I was treated. That was enough to reset the group's status from judge to co-worker and we established a better working group to accomplish the work that mattered.
I had wanted to cry. I had wanted to lash out at all the slights and annoyances I had dealt with while they smugly congratulated themselves at throwing their salvos at me while I stood at the mark, just taking the hits. But I knew the work was important and treating them as I was treated wouldn't help.
But I was not and am not always so cool and considerate. But for that moment the better view was clear and attainable.
I wonder if anger is a test that we all take over and over. Do we pass the test when we see the better view that we can reach? Do we pass when we acknowledge our part in the history of the problem? Or do we only pass when we build the tools that let us deal with what is unfair and inequitable, while not forgetting our purpose?
Thoughts and counterpoints are deeply appreciated. Thank you for such a timeless subject.
This reminds me of the rabbinic teaching that the yetzer ha-ra (translated as "evil impulse") is absolutely necessary to human life.
"The rabbinic duality of yetzer hara, the so-called 'evil inclination,' and yetzer hatov, the 'good inclination,' is more subtle than the names connote. Yetzer hara is not a demonic force that pushes a person to do evil, but rather a drive toward pleasure or property or security, which if left unlimited, can lead to evil (cf. Genesis Rabbah 9:7). When properly controlled by the yetzer hatov, the yetzer hara leads to many socially desirable results, including marriage, business, and community." https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-birth-of-the-good-inclination/
Anger is part of the yetzer ha-ra, and like fire, it is a good servant. It is only a bad master.
I think we all have been overmastered by anger at some point, even when it was not safe for us to do so. Do you agree?
Now I have an image of a mashup of Merkavah mysticism and Disney’s Cinderella that is proving hard to get rid of. A quick check into Sefaria led me to believe there won’t be a child friendly explanation of the Divine Chariot anytime soon. https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Chagigah.2.1 It may be because sometimes both Disney and mysticism (Jewish or otherwise) just don’t work for me. I’m no expert, but I have found Gershom Scholem’s “Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism” helpful in understanding the topic.
I would also caution that the context of the quote from Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:6 is a bit more than about being angry.
“And you shall gather all its spoil into the public square” (Deut. 13:17): if it had no public square, one is made for it; if the public square was outside of [the city], it is brought within it. “And you shall burn with fire the city, and all its spoil as a whole burnt offering for the Lord your God” (ibid.): “And all its spoil”, but not the spoil of heaven. From here they said, the holy objects in the city must be redeemed and the heave offerings (terumoth) allowed to rot; and the second tithe and the sacred writings hidden. “A whole burnt offering for the Lord your God”: Rabbi Shimon said: “The holy Blessed One declared, ‘If you execute judgment upon the seduced city, I will ascribe merit to you as though you had sacrificed to me a whole offering.’” “And it shall remain an everlasting ruin, never to be rebuilt”: it may not be made even into gardens and orchards, according to the words of Rabbi Yose the Galilean. Rabbi Akiva says: “Never to be rebuilt”: it may not be built as it was, but it may be made into gardens and orchards. “Let nothing that has been doomed stick to your hand, in order that the Lord may turn His blazing anger and show you compassion” (Deut. 13:18): as long as the wicked exist in the world, there is blazing anger in the world; when the wicked perish from the world, blazing anger disappears from the world.https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Sanhedrin.10.6. “ This Mishnah is commentary on Deuteronomy 13 regarding what to do to a city that turns to other gods. This part of Torah certainly disturbs me. It doesn’t make me angry, it makes me sad. But that is ok.
Yesterday I reached out to a friend, by happenstance a Jewish one, and asked for reading recommendations on the philosophy of anger. And as if by magic, here you are in my inbox, bringing me exactly what I needed. It made me cry in the best way. Thank you.
"This might be the difference between that fury that sizzles on the surface of our consciousness and an anger that comes from someplace deeper."
For me, the surface anger has always functioned very similar to my anxiety; I get caught in a thought spiral about it, which is deeply upsetting for me and also makes it near-impossible for me to function until I've done something to knock myself out of it. This happens for interpersonal anger, and also for the larger structural anger; when the draft about Roe being overturned was leaked, I was so caught in the spiral of anger and despair and anger that I went to the gym at 10pm when I was supposed to go to bed and just ran until I'd excised the energy. It wasn't until after that that I was in any shape to actually do anything, even just the act of setting up a donation to my local abortion fund. Which is part of why I've never really related to the idea that anger is fuel--it can be for something like a run, or lifting weights, or some other physical goal, but so can anxiety, and with both, it's less about setting a personal record with my Great Fuel and more about getting rid of the Terrible Fuel so I can function as a person again. I liked the metaphor of white blood cells, and the connection that Laura Jackson made to autoimmune attacks; it feels very similar to my relationship to anger, and how I've had to learn to deal with it the same way I've learned to deal with my anxiety, and to find other fuels for my work in the world.
But I also like the distinction in the quote I started my comment with, between the surface anger that I just have to deal with in order to function, and a deeper anger, that can actually be healthy fuel. I appreciate the opportunity to find a way to be with my anger in a way that's not harmful to me, and that could be beneficial to me personally and to my work to help fight injustices in the world.
“In other words, anger can take us—or we can take anger—to a few different places. “
That paragraph is the real crux of the matter. And as anger is emotional by definition, it’s a hard skill to channel it, though I know this can be done.
This is a fantastic, helpful meditation on a challenging subject for me!
It's very useful. Thank you, Ravah. Well-timed, really, for me personally - as your writings often are. :)