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Anger and Paying Attention

b2ap3_thumbnail_566px-The_face_of_an_angry_man._Drawing_18th_century_-_after_C_Wellcome_V0009329ER.jpg“If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” has been a trope since the 60s. The desire to change the world is something I understand. I want my fellow humans to be happy, healthy, and productive; creating and inventing, and following where the heart and intuition lead. But I have to ask if anger is really the best way to change the world. Certainly it provides energy that can move people forward through difficult challenges, and it helps people support personal boundaries, and can be an indicator of where those are located. But I’m not convinced this approach is the most effective largely because constant anger is horrific for the body.

Anger is a stress response. From a physical stand point, anger and fear provoke the same biological actions in the body. Coritisol is released in the blood. This hormone circulates, causing the heart to speed up and breathing to increase so that you will have enough oxygen to act. Blood thickens so that if there is an injury we will be less likely to bleed to death. Body chemistry changes so that fats and sugars are not stored and will be available for fight or flight. All of these responses will slowly kill us if we spend all our time living in them. And this eventually leads to burn out and perhaps worse.

The assumption behind this phrase is a moral one. That there is so much bad about the world that it is obvious and glaring and if we don’t see it, we must be willfully blind. Not only that, but if we are not angry, then we are bad people, being both lazy and selfish. But is anger really the most effective response? Do I have to be angry about something to want to change it? or even to be committed to making a difference? Are there ways in which being angry might actually interfere with an effective response to a given problem?

It is clear to me that the answer to the last question is a clear yes. Anger most certainly effects how we think. One may believe one is filled with the righteous anger of the gods and acting out their will, but I question the morality of someone who would cause harm to others or their property in the name of justice. This is not to say that confrontation is always bad, but that anger during such confrontation prevents us from recognizing moral hazard, and perhaps even caring about it. The single minded certainty of being RIGHT banishes fear and moves one forward without regard for others.

But what if instead of acting out of anger, we come from a place of love? Love not just for the oppressed, but for those who oppress? When we stop viewing some people as the enemy, we have a much better chance of understanding them. With understanding comes the opportunity to change minds and hearts. My teachers at Cherry Hill Seminary like for us to ask questions, and of course if we ask, we have to listen to the answers. By listening, we can discover solutions that might work for everyone, not only the people for whom we advocate, while at the same time, attending to our spiritual life.

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Selina Rifkin, L.M.T., M.S. is a graduate of Temple University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In 1998 she graduated from the Downeast School of Massage in Maine. She has published articles in Massage Therapy Journal, been a health columnist, and published The Referral Guide for Complementary Care, a book that describes 25 different healing modalities. In 2006 she completed her Masters program in Nutrition with a focus on traditional foods, and the work of Weston A. Price.
Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan seminary to offer Master’s degrees.


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