Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Rage resulting from unresolved anger has become a familiar crippling force in our society. Symbols of our rage are shamelessly displayed publicly and privately. Consequently, most people have become complacent and numbed to incidents of anger due to the frequency at which it occurs. Most often we ignore or have forgotten the causes for our anger. Additionally, we are inundated by incidents of anger and violence, both real and fictional, through the media. I do not believe that we should accept this behavior as the status quo. I also believe that if we do not make a concerted effort to dispel our appetite for anger, it will consume us.
Either directly or indirectly, we take turns as participants and witnesses to a destructive cycle born of anger. Anger, untreated, leads to rage which breeds hatred which leads to violence which in turn creates still more anger. We have contributed, in one form or another, to this monster within our midst. We have allowed it access, form and presence through our negative action, our ability to ignore it, or our justifications for it.
Americans have a strong tradition of justifying anger. The founding fathers used justification as a defense for the anger that forged colonialism, genocide and slavery. Anger was the emotion that allowed Americans to come to terms with the internment of Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Anger swells the proud chests of hooded marchers for white supremacy. Anger glared from behind the eyes of murderers recently as they watched the life drain from the body of a young gay man in Montana.
Like venom, anger poisons many domestic relationships. A common theme and familiar result is an ending with a crescendo of senseless violence. When asked why he killed his wife of eight years, a young husband replied, "I was angry--I could not control it." The media's response was to sensationalize the event just long enough to wait for yet some other more current and gruesome act of anger to take center stage.
There were no mass protests. Life went on as usual, proof positive that we have become accustomed to the status quo. Last week's mayhem becomes only a distant anecdote. Apathy gets the best of us. As a society we exhibit a high degree of skill for ignorance. I believe it is the latent anger in us all that allows us to silently bear witness to acts of anger without calling an end to the madness.
In the essay "Anger," Julianne Malveaux cites an example of justification for anger: "And that I am. Angry. Angry and proud." I too once felt as she does. I wore my anger as a shield or badge. I felt completely justified and entitled to my anger. After all I had good reason. Like Malveaux, I am in my mid-forties, black and female. I have weathered racist and sexist oppression, white feminist betrayal, classism and poverty. I am also a lesbian. In my case this serves as what some would call triple jeopardy compounded to the tenth power. On all accounts and by average standards, I have a right to be totally pissed off. Everywhere I look my personal/human rights are being violated, denied, or neglected. I have only to look over my shoulder to discover some nut somewhere feeling justified for taking a cheap shot at me. However, I have learned to work at trying not to shoot back. I stop to think and question, as we all should. What will I gain by anger? How will I be changed by violence? How can I gain respect through rage? Are there greater possibilities through reason? Which is the better example to teach my children? What legacy will my reactions create? Will not the prize be worth the wait?
One reason which drives Americans to anger, rage, hatred and violence is our need for instant gratification. We are very spoiled and selfish in this way. We want what we want, and we want it right now. We seldom take the time necessary to work things out. We do not think things through. We refuse to look at the big picture.
A greater problem with Americans and anger is that we are all so invested in our anger that we can't see how to let go of it. The causes for this anger are so deep-rooted, so personal, primal, and intimate, we have become the anger itself. We live it, thrive on it, own it and are readily willing to lie down and die for it. And dying is exactly what we are doing--as individuals and as a society. Rage kills!
Prolonged anger takes on the form of serious illness. Arguably it makes sense to cast suspicion and concern upon anger and its counterparts as a link to the rise in stress-related illnesses in American society. I believe angry people are more susceptible to disease. During the spring of 1997, 20/20, the popular television show, aired a documentary on stress-related illnesses. Much of the information taken from their interviews and studies on angry people corresponds to my own suspicions. Their findings suggested that not only were chronically angry people more susceptible to illness, but also exhibited a higher tendency towards stomach ulcers and heart attacks.
"Anger will devour your soul. There's no room for rage in here; it is a sin to treat your body bad." Marvin Gaye sang these words of wisdom as a social commentary on anger in the American society during the early 1970s. His was a message and a warning we should all heed. Gaye sought to bring to focus the dangers of long-neglected social evils or personal troubles. And so it goes; the story is nearly as old as time and yet as close as yesterday.
Conflicts continue between women and men, government and its people and people of one belief and those of another. All of this is intertwined with the struggle for who can gain the most power, along with the resulting anger, rage, hatred and violence that ensues. The culminating sickness spreads like cancer, and though lethal, it is operable. Everyone will need to give in, in order to effect the cure.
For those who would disagree with me citing that they are entitled to anger and its madness, I say, "Get over it." We can no longer waste time on the idea of the privilege of entitlement. For those who would disagree, claiming injustice, I say the days of payback have long passed. We have tried anger as a way to work it out over and over. It has not worked. If you feel you have not gotten yours, learn to go on without it. Revenge will not buy you serenity. Revenge and anger will not teach our children love, respect and tolerance. Continued acts of anger will not bring us peace. And peace we sorely need; we need peace with ourselves and with each other.
While America has been called the land of liberty and freedom, its ruling forces have been greed, conflict and the struggle for more power. We have inherited a legacy born of injustice and betrayal, steeped in sin. Be it ever so tarnished, our history does not need to continue to be our ruin. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind." We need to effect a change now. Coming to terms with our anger and healing from it would be a huge step in the right direction. To make a change will require patience, sacrifice, compromise and compassion on the part of us all. We owe it to ourselves, to one another and to our united survival. The only other choice is destruction of ourselves, of one another and of our united survival.