We live in frustrating times. Anger can motivate change, but only at a personal level. Anger can bring people together but as we have seen collective anger is more likely to be dangerously destructive than constructive. Anger at others is rarely constructive. It might be time for us to focus on the work of change over the angry tone.
A Lot of Reasons to Be Angry
We all have a lot of reasons to be angry at the moment. Civil society is much less civil. We aren’t tackling some of the greatest challenges of our age from climate, to race, to economic exclusion, to a pandemic and more. Much of what constitutes political leadership around the world at the moment is either calculated spin or stoking of these fires. We can’t be surprised that activists are angry and that anger means extreme actions.
In more usual times, I pride myself on my equanimity. That attitude has been a strength to enable me to get results in difficult situations when others have set out to rile me or others. Being the calmest person in the room can be a source of authority and also offer options to see what those who are lost in anger cannot.
‘What about this circumstance makes you angry at yourself?’a question to ask yourself in moments of anger derived from the work of Charlotte Joko Beck
Of late, I have been angry a lot more than I want. Frustration has been boiling over at others. If I am honest with myself, I am angry at myself more than the world. The last 18 months have been frustrating and exhausting. We have swung between fatigue and the many daily efforts to survive. A lot of people have needed a lot of help and support. Few things have gone to plan. There are parts of our daily work lives which now feel like swimming through treacle. I have wanted to do more and better in many domains of work and in personal and family relationships. I’m frustrated and angry because I don’t feel like I have done enough. Another part of me, knows I have done what I can in the circumstances.
From Anger to Action
An angry mob is rarely a constructive agent of change. Revolutions might begin with a lot of smashing things up. After that we need to get down to the work of building sustainably different future.
Anger can be the starting point for your change. However, you are far more constructive if you build the changes and your daily actions from hunger and purpose (like our tiger above). Refocusing your attention on these key matters helps you from getting distracted by the negatives of anger or frustrated to the point of abandoning the fight.
Moving beyond anger to constructive purposeful action is critical if you want the help and collaboration of others. Nobody has effectively collaborated in anger. There’s too much risk and energy for it to be sustainable. Uncompromising emotion doesn’t make a great platform for constructive change. Leaders of groups of people need to help that group find its hunger for action and a purpose to guide that work. Hunger and purpose are far better and more productive guides than any fiery emotion.
In the midst of a global pandemic, we need to take some self-care. We need time to reflect on what matters to us and the changes we want to see in the world. We can get a lot more done going step by step after those goals, than shouting and smashing things.