A lot of anger has erupted on the streets of America. Do you have the feeling we’ve been here before? I was too young to pay much attention to the Watts riots of 1965 in Los Angeles or the campus demonstrations of 1968, but between last year’s Occupy movement and the mayhem spurred by events in Ferguson, MO, it does seem that we’re replaying old history. That suggests that the billions of dollars for ‘programs’ and the gallons of ink spent on writing legislation has been useless. Perhaps, in some ways it has even caused more harm than good. Surely, that is a reason for well-intentioned people to pause.

Maimonides, a great rabbi, physician and philosopher of the 12th century, wrote an examination of character traits. He states that we should search for the golden mean, recognizing that each trait taken to an extreme is harmful. For example, he sees stinginess and generosity as two sides of a spectrum. Being too stingy is clearly undesirable, but being too generous is equally harmful. That tends to lead people to ignore their own needs and those of their families while worrying excessively about others, or even to mistakenly think that they can be generous with other people’s money. According to Maimonides, we should aim for moderation in all traits, recognizing the tug of the extremes and delicately balancing between them.

Maimonides exempts one character trait from his advice. Anger. He insists that while we sometimes need to seem angry, such as a parent admonishing a child, we should never be angry. Being angry causes us to lose control and traps us in an emotional maelstrom. Anger destroys us and works against our achieving our goals. Does tearing down neighborhood stores (as in Ferguson, MO) or forcing the closure of ambulance service in a community (as happened in NYC last night) really help anyone? Actually, it does. It helps demagogues and those whose power and income increase when Americans hate and distrust each other. It helps media personalities who need something passionate and visual with which to fill airtime. Violence is ever so much more colorful than peace. However, it certainly doesn’t help most people – those of all colors, races and genders who seek to provide for and raise families in peace and dignity.

Goading people to anger is easy, especially when facts are expendable. When anger takes center stage, true issues are ignored.  If we take away the cloud of rage (outrageously encouraged by this administration) and courageously but calmly look for truth, what will we find?

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5 thoughts on “Anger”

  1. It’s a bit like the French Revolution. Upper-echelon factions who have always behaved contemptuously toward a certain group of (underclass) people they judge to be on the level of “social lepers” do the classic “Let ’em eat cake” number on them. And it’s nothing new: this is a still-ongoing phenomenon.
    After a while these underclasses get fed up and not just once or twice but repeatedly. And, eventually, they start losing it.
    And you know how exasperation can often resemble antagonism.

  2. Clarence, Each of us is made up of many factors, including past experiences. It’s evident from your writing that race is a very emotional issue for you. While I am sorry for your pain, anything that makes it impossible to move beyond the past is a problem. In my husband’s book, America’s Real War, he critiques the Jewish community with having the same problem in regards to the Holocaust. Again, the pain and anger may be understandable, but they can easily motivate harmful rather than helpful responses.
    To the best of my knowledge, the recent Occupy movement and the campus movements of the 60’s were predominately not composed of minorities. They, however, were both destructive and powered by anger. I have trouble understanding how looting stores in a minority neighborhood or stopping people from accessing emergency health care helps anyone. It releases and increases anger (and yes, I do think that bad forces take advantage of others by getting people riled up) but it doesn’t help.
    I appreciate your writing even though you disagreed with my piece.

  3. The 800 pound Gorilla is being Ignored!
    What the Gorilla’s Name?
    White Supremacy!
    What is he?
    A Belief that feels that by being “White” he is supreme over other all other Humans, and that all other Humans are Inferior to him.
    Even Some who call themselves Jews believe they are superior to other Races.
    Some Jews who ideology of what make them who they are “Jewish” is based on the Belief that as a RACE, “not by their actions” they are above all other Races as proclaimed by God.
    The Belief that: All men are not created Equal, Some Men are placed above other men by RACE or GOD, and those higher RACE don’t treat the other race as equals.
    What is the Gorilla doing:
    Practicing his beliefs: not giving full rights, respect, treatment to the people whom he feel is inferior to him.
    This eventually lead to Up Risings against the Unfairness: Protest, Riot, Civil War, Etc.
    This Same 800 Pound Gorilla killed 100,000 Albania in Former Serbia, 6 million Jews in Germany, Enslave 20 Million Africans, and Kill 60 Million Native American Indians.
    The 800 Pound Gorilla nobody want to mention.
    Instead we blame the symptoms of his actions.
    It’s like blaming a German Jewish Protest against unfair Nazi treatment on the Jews themselves smh… Only someone with the mind of a Nazi would do that.
    Some Jews today have minds of Nazi’s when it come to relations with other races.

  4. James, I certainly also look back with regret at times I got angry. I worked hard to change my default position of ‘anger’ when something went wrong to a different emotion. And, yes, I think there is a weird joy and excitement of being part of an angry mob. It is destructive, but allows manipulators to take advantage of that feeling.

  5. Your column is right on target to extol moderation in all things, for any ‘good’ thing taken to extreme or to excess can turn rank. Rudyard Kipling: “and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.” You are wise to warn against anger. As I get older I deeply regret most of my outbursts of anger towards others, as I have been hurt by others’ gratuitous or unthinking anger against me. As for public riots and conflagrations, though, I wonder if there is not a special class of people who seek opportunities (have-riot-will-travel) to indulge their inner demon of anger, viciousness and destructiveness. Back in the day we called them professional outside agitators, helping to incite riot as a means to shadowy political ends. Some people instigate destruction simply to prove that they can. Yet none of this aids any decent cause, for any fool can destroy what it took good people decades to build.

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