Destructive anger erupts around us so often that it’s easy to forget that anger itself isn’t right or wrong; it’s simply an emotion that God has designed to direct our attention to important issues we should consider. We don’t have to react to angry feelings destructively. We can respond to anger constructively. Through wise anger management, we can not only strengthen our well-being, but use the tremendous energy of anger for good purposes — like solving the problems that are making us angry and changing our lives for the better.
My recent trip to Boston to learn about the American Revolution showed how significant anger is in the process of change.
When people just reacted to their angry feelings without much thought or prayer, the anger quickly turned into destructive rage. Unfortunately, examples of that happening abound. One instance is the tragic Boston Massacre, which started with just a trivial annoyance (a few boys throwing snowballs at a solider on duty in front of the local customhouse) and escalated into the murder of five souls when tensions rose between colonists and British soldiers crowding around the area. Rather than trying to defuse the situation, those in the crowd traded insults back and forth, until some soldiers shot colonists without official orders and with no warning.
Another sad example was the arson by a mob of angry colonists that destroyed innocent people’s homes in Boston. They reacted to their anger over the Stamp Act law (which created new taxes) by setting fire to the houses of those who they associated with the law — without bothering to investigate whether or not those people actually had anything to do with enacting the Stamp Act. After the mob burned down the home of Thomas Hutchinson, the colony’s chief justice (and later governor), they learned that he had not supported the Stamp Act. In fact, he had written to his superiors in Britain trying to prevent them from passing the law, warning them, “It cannot be good to tax the Americans” and that “You will lose more than you gain.” Hutchinson spoke in court the day after he lost his home to warn colonists about the destruction that rage can cause. “This destroying all peace and order of the community — all will feel its effects … I pray God will give us better hearts!” he exclaimed.
In contrast, when people sought wisdom from God and carefully considered their actions, their anger became a positive force that propelled them closer to achieving their goals.
The role that George Washington (commander of the colonists’ Continental Army and later the first U.S. president) played in the Siege of Boston showed the power of constructive anger in action. Washington, who was known for his strong faith and character, made a habit of seeking wisdom rather than reacting impulsively in conflicts. Rather than unleashing an uncontrolled fury on British soldiers in the area, Washington studied the Battle of Bunker Hill, learning why the British had suffered so many casualties (nearly half of their men killed or wounded) despite winning that battle. Then he carefully devised a strategic plan for how to proceed in the future. Part of that plan was fortifying the Dorchester Heights hills overlooking Boston Harbor) in well thought-out ways that surprised British soldiers, cut off their supply lines, and led to them peacefully evacuating Boston. Washington used his anger to come up with a plan that ended up solving a major problem for the colonists.
Another famous patriot, Samuel Adams, was angry about injustices under British rule but controlled how he expressed that anger. Instead of just raging against the problems, he used the energy of his anger to motivate him to find solutions. Adams often spoke eloquently in town meetings about the issues leading to the American Revolution. He directed his anger toward motivating others to think about the issues and figure out ways to make change happen. A great example of a female patriot who used anger to solve problems well was Mercy Otis Warren, who wrote poems and plays about the issues that inspired readers and audiences to respond thoughtfully.
I confess that I’ve been guilty of reacting to anger more times than I’d like. In the process, I’ve learned that arguments don’t solve problems well. Now when I feel angry about something, I try to pray about it to get a clear perspective on the situation, and to seek God’s wisdom about how to respond well.
What are you angry about right now? How could you channel the energy of that anger to accomplish a good purpose — like bringing a revolution of change to something in your life?