– Heartwood Path Waypoint 1.10 –
Put Your Anger To Good Use
Despite the criticisms of doomsday rhetoric, despite how poorly such words are taken by the political elite, by technologists, and by the academic establishment, our global situation demands that we recognize the scope of our problem and no longer turn solely to technology alone, or science alone, or religion alone, for the fix. We need to develop the people who can give us the best sort of ethos to guide us, even if we use technology, science, and religion as part of the solution. Unless “we better understand our own behavior and how to change it, we will not use sophisticated technological solutions when and if they become available” (Winter and Koger, 2004, p. 21).
A recognition of this need leads naturally to three questions: What sort of eco-centric elders do we need? How do we produce more of them? What is the sort of ethos that is required for human happiness and ecological sustainability? By the end of the Heartwood Path you will be able to answer each of these questions.
For now, learn what it takes to make a major step towards being a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. This step has to do with finding the light side rather than just the dark side of anger.
Looking back at the successes I contributed to in my conservation career, it was the love of certain natural places plus the proper channeling of anger over their potential devastation that, over and over, propelled us through difficult times to eventual positive end results. The thought of the long-operating Mullen Farm going under water as a result of the proposed Meramec Dam on one of my favorite canoeing streams, for example, made me livid. And it was the bitterness I felt about the audacity of planning the desecration the finest forest cathedral in Missouri—the Irish Wilderness—that provided the impetus I needed to sustain me over the years of effort that largely ended when that wild place—so precious to me—was added to the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Hindsight reveals that when I was angry over the thought of some impending destruction of a beloved natural place I worked on the issue; and when I wasn’t, I work less or not at all. At the time, I didn’t know that I, along with the other leaders, were appropriately channeling our anger in ways that ended in conservation successes. We were just muddling through. We focused almost solely on the outer world resources. We essentially never focused on our own inner world motivations, resilience, or clarity. Thanks to what is presented next, you do not have to repeat this more difficult and unimaginative approach.
Given what I now know, I cannot imagine ever justifying the diminishment of anger. Temper your anger. Don’t extinguish it.
Five Steps Toward Making Your Anger Useful
The importance of the next five steps you take down the Heartwood Path cannot be overstated:
Step One. Decide if your anger is worth expressing. Rather than fuming out loud to others about grievances that have no solutions, save your outbursts for issues that can be corrected. Any imagined solution, regardless of its difficulty to achieve, will do for this step. Imagine it is solved and it will be solved, especially if you do not listen to experienced predecessors who may claim that the work will be too difficult or that the desired outcome is unlikely. Get mad at anyone who demoralizes the key players in the environmental movement—the naive amateurs—who, while often not knowing it, have within themselves the ability to do the impossible.
Step Two. Apologize for your imperfect expressions of your anger in advance. Do not apologize for your anger, for it gives you energy and conveys importance. Just tell others that your expressions may be less than ideal because your anger keeps you from always communicating clearly. Admitting your anger-driven discomfort will make your audience more empathetic.
Step Three. Slow down. Rather than engaging in a rapid-fire monologue, take a break, and be silent for however long it takes for you to regain your composure. These breaks will likely add to the impact of your presentation.
Step Four. Monitor your anger as you proceed. Make sure your anger continues to give you energy and is helping you to convey your message. The goal of this monitoring is to make sure that you are using your anger in ways they convey urgency—the need for rapid participation, the need for greater involvement now, the grave need to protect some being, or the need to act earnestly to do something that adds to someone’s happiness. Also, check on the impacts of your anger on others.
Step Five. Set limits on the severity of your expressed anger. If your anger is too much for you or your audience, or if your anger is a distraction, cool it down. A walk through a natural setting is one of the best ways to bring your anger down to an acceptable level. If your anger is not sufficient to give you the energy you require, or if your expressed anger is not imparting enough urgency, heat up the expression of your anger. To do so, imagine the negative impact of a proposal on a loved one and express with greater vehemence (perhaps with pounding fists, fire in the eyes, or stronger language) your displeasure about the prospect and your determination to do something significant to right the wrong.