The Case for Anger

Calmness may not always be as wise as some gurus claim.

Posted Jan 26, 2020

Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, Public Domain

It’s easy to make a case for anger’s opposite: calmness. For example,

  • Calmness militates against rash decisions and unnecessary violence.
  • People tend to like calm people.
  • It’s physically healthier to be calm.
  • Buddhism, the currently hot spiritual tradition, venerates calmness.

The case for anger is less often made, but constructive anger can be useful. 

Anger can fuel action.

Perhaps anger's clearest benefit is that it can fuel action, for example, the drive to achieve the difficult. A current example: to try to nullify or to further President Trump’s initiatives. Another example: Someone saying that you're not smart enough to succeed at a career or task can fuel you to prove him or her wrong. One more example: Some substance abusers will stop only after getting really angry with themselves.

Anger can drive small yet still desirable actions. I went to a Peet’s store to buy a half-pound of coffee beans. The clerk poured some onto the scale and it read .53 pounds. She carefully removed a few beans until it was down to .50 pounds. It’s a small thing but that struck me as inordinately cheap. Peet’s is owned by a corporate conglomerate that owns brands such as Bally and Jimmy Choo shoes. Peet’s charges $18.95 for a pound of coffee while the commodity price is $1.06 and in the quantities Peet’s buys, it probably costs the corporation under a buck. So the .03 pounds costs three cents. Plus, we all like getting a little something extra, so that occasional lucky customer is more satisfied and, in turn, more loyal. When I asked the clerk about it, she said, “I’d get in trouble if I didn’t make it .50.” That made me just angry enough to email Peet’s customer service. I doubt that Peet’s will change its policy but the anger made me more efficacious, feeling that I’m not just an ineffectual pawn.

Anger can increase your influence on others.

Anger loses effectiveness when expressed too often. For example, misbehaving students soon became inured to a teacher who yells a lot.  But a rare expression of anger can encourage improvement. For example, I’ll occasionally express anger with a client, for example, if they persistently don't do the homework they self-assigned. My doing that usually helps the client improve and often, they thank me for my candor.

In a negotiation, getting angry once, maybe twice can move the other person to realize s/he is wrong or at least is wise to capitulate. But as with the yelling teacher, expressing anger too often will likely hurt more than help.

Anger can reduce the risk of being taken for granted.

While it's often wise to roll with the punches, if you do that too often, you can be taken for granted and subject to more unfair treatment. Expressing anger after even just the first significant mistreatment can reduce the chances of getting mistreated again. Of course, it can be scary to get angry about mistreatment because some people will then write you off or even fire you as being “difficult.”

Anger adds color to life.

Many people are emotionally flat, and anger can help them rise above their beige existence. Of course, I'm not talking about assaulting a person. I'm talking about innocuous outlets for anger such as sports fans who yell at the TV: “Ump, you’re blind!” Or video-game players who get angry at themselves for their bonehead move.

Anger can enliven conversation.

Imagine you’re at a party and two groups are discussing the same thing, say capitalism, media bias, or since this is Psychology Today, the pros and cons of long-term psychotherapy. In one group, everyone speaks calmly, with no emotion. In the other group, one or two people express their views passionately, with anger.  Mightn’t you find the latter group more interesting?

The takeaway

As usual, extremes are tough to defend. That’s especially true with anger. Living angrily is an unpleasant, unhealthy, and ineffectual way to live. But as with most personality characteristics, even ostensibly negative ones have upsides. And when expressed in healthy ways, anger can even be healthy. It's in that spirit that I've written this: encouraging tolerance of our and others’ moderate deviations from the mean.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

My previous article made the case for being sad.