Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
I recall vividly Peter Finch's magnificent rant in the film NETWORK where he declares, "I'm mad as heel and I'm not going to take it anymore." It was exhilarating to be in the audience. We all were delighted by the outburst, all envied his character's abandon to rage. We all wanted to have that cathartic, cleansing, clear moment of rage. Is that a problem?
I have been thinking a lot about anger and rage lately, and about whether they have been the victims of unfair discrimination. Anger management, calming ointments, talk therapy, civil discourse. We are a civil society, where anger is frowned upon and seen as a primitive, dangerous tendency to be avoided and "dealt with".
Of course, I am aware that rage and anger have lead people to do terrible, regretful things. Rational thought is banished, deep impulses are unleashed, often resulting in tragedy.
But what about the kind of anger that can inform certain actions, and even enhance them?
The athlete. The revolutionary. The battle. The competition. Injustice. Change.
Can a dose of old school anger help these?
People are uncomfortable with anger. People are afraid of it. Except when it is channeled towards a goal that is somehow approved. Winning the battle. Breaking a world record. Correcting injustice.
Mob anger is the most frightening kind of anger there is. The frenzied mind of the group when stirred to anger can wield terrifying power. It can topple a government, it can kill an innocent person.
Also, anger can be a mask for a deeper kind of problem. It often is a result of fear, guilt and denial, which are the eternal motivators of all human behaviors.
But anger can also be clarifying. It lets you know where you stand. It pushes past rationalization and equivocation. It focuses you. It is a total physiological experience, enhanced by adrenaline, it increases power and decreases the effects of pain.
Where I work, we are not allowed to get angry. This would be seen as not being "collegial". If you show anger, everyone looks away uncomfortably and waits for the anger to subside. This is reasonable in a work culture, but what about the fact that the passive aggressive behavior of one's colleagues provokes the feeling of anger? Is it possible a sharp, clarifying response could be useful? Do we always have to go so far around the bend of verbosity to deal with such dynamics? Can we once in a while look someone in the eye and just tell them they are full of shit?
Often I find myself yearning for these moments, and yearning for someone to retort at me with the same kind of clarity. At least then I would know where we stood. So be it. We can move on from that.
Watch how professional athelete channel anger in a positive way. Take a close look at the relationship between the weightlifter and the barbell.
Then recall the time you tried a little harder, pushed a little further, did one more rep or lap, finished the task you had failed to finish the last time.
Wasn't there a little dose of healthy anger involved?
Perhaps we shouldn't dismiss anger out of hand as a dark mystery to be avoided and shunned at all costs. Maybe small doses can be useful in everyday life. Perhaps a controlled outburst now and then can prevent the pent up explosion that could result in something truly tragic.
Since anger is a part of who we are, we might as well try and understand it, instead of shunning it.
Dylan Thomas seems to imply a healthy dose of anger against the diminishing qualities of life through aging are justified. I like the sound an old lion makes when he roars at the younger lions around him.
I think I'm going to keep my roar, if you don't mind.