I was born with a temper.
Let’s start again.
At some point, very early, before I even remember, I learned to deal with difficult emotions by covering them over with anger and throwing an explosive fit.
It’s a response mechanism I invested in for almost 40 years.
Then I got therapy, and that helped.
Then I got God*, and that helped too.
I learned to un-invest in the anger. I learned to dig deeper to identify the emotion under the anger. I learned to have the courage to feel THAT emotion and to let it flow through me and out as the thing it actually was, instead of the anger I was using to protect myself from it.
I also learned, briefly, not to trust my anger.
But that’s wrong, too.
Culturally, we have become invested in the idea of civility and rational discourse as the only and most effective way to engage with one another.
We fell in love with Michelle Obama for accepting candy from George Bush and thereby exemplifying the “high road” we all aspire to.
We white folk loooovvvveeeee to post quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., that seem to imply that the road to fairer treatment for Black Americans was paved exclusively with genteel manners, polite speeches, and crisply pressed suits.**
And every time someone points out an instance of racism, misogyny, ablism, classism, homophobia, or any other toxic prejudice, they had sure as hell better do it nicely.
Because if they express anger, they risk the very polite interjections of the “civility police” who will explain quite sweetly that all they want is for everyone to Love (TM) one another, and that if we all just Loved (TM) one another, it would fix everything.
Well, fuck that.
What I meant to say was: “Yes, love fixes things.”
But: “Love doesn’t mean what you think it means.”
If we can, for a moment, take an example from the religious mythology most Americans know best: The story of Jesus.
Who is known in the Christian tradition, as you may know, as the perfect example of perfect love.
And who once sat down beside the temple and, over the course of an afternoon, carefully and thoroughly braided a whip. Then he walked into the temple, turned over the tables, and whipped the money-changers (ahem, bankers) out of the building.
Listen. Love isn’t squishy.
I should know. I’ve been the recipient of the non-squishy sort of love and let me tell you IT FUCKING HURTS.
But also: IT FUCKING HEALS.
One of my favorite people, a man who was very much one of my PEOPLE, a kindred spirit, taught me about table-turning love the first time I walked into his office to complain about a paper on which he had given me a “C.”
He told me I hardly deserved even the grade he had given me.
He told me all of the detailed ways I had fucked up the assignment.
He told me he was disappointed in me.
He was angry. He knew I could do better and he couldn’t stand to watch me waste my potential.
He handed me a box of tissues and waited without expression for me to be coherent enough to listen to the rest of his feedback.
Then he told me how to think better. How to be better. How to do better.
And I did.
That’s love, my friends.
Didn’t feel like it at the time.
But it sure the fuck was.
Here’s another one. One time, a woman, who was my friend at the time, called me to tell me something one of my children had done that had hurt her child.
She was pissed.
She said some really awful things about my parenting.
It hurt like hell.
Maybe those awful things were true. Maybe they were not true. Maybe, in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, it’s a little of both.
Anger was protecting her child.
That’s love, too.
Did it feel good to me?
Did it end our friendship? Alas, yes.
Was it the “right” way for her to handle it? Was there a “more productive” way to do it? Fuck if I know. Not my job to walk her path. It did the job from her perspective, and I got some valuable information from it.
In the first case, the professor who later became my friend, the love and the anger both were pointed at me, at helping me become the better person he knew I could be.
In the second case, the mother who is no longer my friend, the love was directed at her daughter, and the anger was pointed at me.
Both were love.
Both did the job that was needed.
So. I promised to talk about befriending my anger.
It turns out that not all anger is a cover for other emotions.
Anger is not a belligerent stranger that needs to be banished.
Anger is a beautiful and a right and a good friend.
Anger is protective.
Sometimes, anger misfires. When we invest in using it to protect ourselves from feeling unpleasant things. When we use it to harm or exploit others. When we place it in charge of protecting the wrong things.
But we have another option.
We can choose to befriend our anger.
We can choose to let it know we appreciate it.
We can demand that it do better. That it stop protecting us from our unpleasant emotions. That it stop protecting us from self-knowledge.
And that it start defending justice, rightness, equality, beauty.
When we place it in service of love.
This is not easy. It requires discernment. It requires courage.
It’s much easier to bury our anger and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or dismiss it and insist that it not come to the party.
But alas, the world we live in is not just or right or equal. It is beautiful, yes, but that beauty is at risk of destruction by the hands of humanity.
And anger is one of our allies in the fight for justice and rightness and equality and beauty.
What good does it do to “love” our neighbor with squishy warm feelings if tomorrow they walk out their door and are killed because they “looked suspicious” due to the color of their skin?
What good does it do to engage in civil discourse when our government continues to take lands and rights from the descendants of the land’s original peoples while we look the other way?
And is it actually love if I let my child get away with bullying because I don’t want to confront them about their behavior?
I’m not saying everyone has to use anger the same way.
Everyone’s personal medicine is different.
Mine includes anger. I’m a dragon, after all. Occasionally, I’m going to flame a schmuck.
But only because I love them.
Go in peace, fucker.
*Not the God you’re probably thinking of.