What this world needs is more anger (seriously!)
Wouldn't it be great if more people shared their anger?
Crazy, right? Why should we wish for more anger? Anger starts wars. Anger kills people. Anger divides families and can ruin careers. But, I honestly want more people to openly express anger and if you read this post, I hope that by the end you'll wish for that, too. Here I invite you to take a look at anger through the lens of mentalizing, so beautifully portrayed in the 2015 film "Inside Out," to lend us a fresh perspective. (Mentalizing, for those new to the term, is the [limited] human capacity to read minds - not only other people's, but our own, since usually we are busy paying attention to the outside world.)
Anger, especially in America, especially today, is capital B Bad. What good could come of more killing, more war, more violence? Hang on a second, though. See if you catch a logical fallacy there. Do you see it? If you do, congratulations, skip this paragraph. If not, consider the examples of Susan B. Anthony, Asmaa Mahfouz, Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
They led movements of non-violence - but not non-anger. They led movements that were successful in their ability to channel anger into non-violent forms. The logical fallacy is that if anger leads to violence and violence is bad, then anger is bad. But fallacy it is, for anger can be expressed in ways other than violence.
Still, this fallacy is a trap we fall into far too often to not examine it more closely. Anger is equated with violence again and again, especially in the media portrayals
that surround us. When anger is equated with violence, we lose sight of the crucial difference between the feeling (anger) and the action (violence). The mentalizing model can explain, in part, how we blur the two. When violence is threatening to us (physically, emotionally, to our values), our mentalizing weakens and we begin to view people being violent in a black and white, good or bad, kind of way.
Consider instead a case where violence isn't all that threatening: a young child who acts in anger. When a toddler or preschooler hits someone, we don't demonize that child, we don't banish her from our midst. We generally see it for what it is, a person with limited communication, immature and maybe impulsive, who is overwhelmed.
Many adults who act violently have minds that are no different (with obvious exceptions) than the toddler's: limited communication skills, immature and maybe impulsive. When adults act violently, however, they do tend to convey threat. Threat inhibits our mentalizing and we lose sight of the violent person's mind for fear of their actions; violence, thereby, takes our attention and concern away from the mind of the person who is angry, hence sabotaging the opportunity to make right, or at least acknowledge, whatever wrong drove the person to violence. Of course, we also hold adults to a higher standard than toddlers, expecting them to stay in control. This standard, though appropriate, can divert our efforts - as the threat itself does - from appreciating, or attempting to resolve, whatever caused the anger.
The lens of mentalizing also helps us understand how anger turns to violence. Violence is anger without a voice. Violence is anger that believes it has no other way to be heard. Violence is anger that has decided no one cares about me, no one is listening, no one will help (unless I...), nothing will really change (unless I...). Violence is anger turned desperate. Violence is anger when mentalizing has failed. At that point, emotions overwhelm us, talking seems inadequate. We instead feel driven to eliminate the source of our anger; such action is often violent.
Mentalizing our anger, on the other hand, creates opportunities. When we mentalize ourselves, we can see our anger and name it. Without that, anger may be jumbled with other feelings, or we may mistake it, or it gets shrouded by a wave of shame or fear. When we mentalize others, we see nuance that allows us to retain hope for change. That is, we hold in view that we may not get what we want right that instant, but showing our anger may get us a piece of what we want, or get us there eventually. When we mentalize others, that also encourages them to listen genuinely to us, to care about what made us angry. Put simply: when we are angry, the blaze can be quieted if we catch someone's attention, if they get what upset us, and they act to acknowledge or address it.
As Ghandi and Anthony and King and Mahfouz reminds us, we can be angry effectively, without violence. To do so we must mentalize ourselves - to know what we feel and why, to say it clearly - and our audience, to expect to be heard and consider how to shape our message. Anger, once seen and named, can be voiced respectfully yet assertively for enormous impact. Hence my call for more.