A spiritual prescription for controlling your anger

Anger, you should pardon the expression, is all the rage.

As if we didn’t have enough to deal with already, it is clear that our society has become far, far too violent, with hostile words quickly turning into physical confrontations that almost daily result in bodily harm, even deaths.

We see it on the street, in traffic, on line at the bank or the post office or the supermarket. It’s often sparked by the most trivial of causes: “You cut me off!” “That was my parking spot!” “I was here first!” “What did you say?!’’ More and more people are starting to either avoid contact with others, or carry some type of weapon, such as pepper spray or a knife.

Where does this anger come from, and what can be done to lessen the bad blood and the flight to fury?

FIRST, LET us understand that anger is not always out of place. Like good cholesterol vs bad cholesterol, every emotion and character trait can be positive or negative.

Mercy and compassion, for example, are generally admirable traits. But, as the Talmud wisely teaches, showing mercy to those who are cruel, such as terrorists, inevitably results in cruelty to the innocent.

Tolerance is commendable, but when faced by those who abuse their power and deny the rights of the vulnerable elements of society, intolerance is the proper response.

Even the universal quality of love has two sides to it. Abe Foxman, the former head of the Anti-Defamation League, was kidnapped as a child by his parents’ maid, who had cared for him during the Shoah when the parents hid from the Nazis. It was a long, hard struggle to finally wrest Abe from the maid’s control. “Her problem was that she loved me too much,” said Foxman.

“Her problem was that she loved me too much.”Former ADL CEO Abe Foxman on getting kidnapped as a child

And so it is with anger. When anger takes the form of righteous indignation, it can be worthwhile and totally appropriate. When we see injustice or inequality, we ought not to be calm or apathetic; we should become agitated, rise up in anger and try to right the wrongs. Indeed, I would suggest that most of the great movements for social change in history – from the Exodus to the American Revolution to civil rights – began with a wave of righteous indignation.

But clearly, there is a very negative type of anger that is unquestionably problematic. Deep, abiding anger that takes hold of us and won’t let go, an uncontrollable anger that results in caustic verbal abuse and horrendous domestic violence.

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