This is a post about anger.
Right now, in this time, this place, I am referring to the Zimmerman verdict, and Trayvon Martin, and the system that made it possible for 6 jurors to say that there was nothing legally wrong with Zimmerman’s actions. I am angry. Right now this blog could become a space for us to voice our perspective over the events of the world. However our original purpose is to take on big ideas and try and break them down into smaller steps, and so we will keep our focus here. First, how to help our students – and ourselves – deal with anger in healthy ways, whatever the source of that anger.
There is a lot to be angry about these days. Our anger about the verdict. Our anger as teachers in the time of standardized testing and teacher evaluations based on test scores. Our kids’ anger about this moment, or the unfortunate inevitable next one, or about school, or their parents, or their friends, or their futures.
As the verdict came out and I watched the reactions on Twitter and Facebook and on CNN and Fox, a refrain kept surfacing – Don’t get too angry, now. Whether it was the constant referring to Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin - Trayvon’s parents – as being so “patient” or “restrained” or “dignified,” or whether it was the constant stream of people fearing, hoping, asking that no one get too angry on the streets. Whether it was my own head telling me not to let it get to me (to just let it go because after all there is nothing you can really do), I felt barraged by a message that told me my anger – and yours – is something to be feared, something to tamp down, something to avoid at all costs.
I get why. Anger, unchecked, can destroy. It can hurt. Whether it is the rioting of an angry community with nowhere to channel their rage, or the words you can never take back as you yell at a loved one, anger can wound in a moment what will take years to heal.
But there is a difference between not letting our anger take over and not expressing it at all.
When we don’t feel or express our anger, it turns inward. It festers, turns into true rage, or bigotry, or depression. When anger turns inward it changes who we are, how we see the world. It hurts us. According to a psychosocial epidemiological study, suppressed rage is linked with higher mortality rates, elevated risks of certain cancers, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in both men and women. Anger unexpressed becomes a form of self mutilation, a kind of soul-cutting that leaves no trace other than the edge of cynicism in our voices, or the subtle sag of our shoulders.
When we express our anger in healthy ways, we get it out of the way so that we can start to see the paths available to us. We create space for something more productive.
Our kids get angry, just as we do. Far too often, when angry, they vent to the wrong people, or in the wrong space. How many of our kids have gotten into a fight with someone during lunch when really they are angry at something that happened that morning? They wind up injuring, alienating, polarizing, making things that much worse for themselves. Far too often, when someone is angry around me, my first instinct is to calm them down, tell them not to be angry, show them why they shouldn’t be. Far too often, I have tried to stop my students from being angry, just as I try to stop myself. This is not healthy, and it is not right.
It is important for our kids to know that their anger can be a powerful force in their lives, if used rightly. Their anger is not something to fear, but to channel.
There are healthy ways that we can be there for our kids during controversial or intensely personal times. Try finding some healthy ways to express and feel your anger, and then help your kids to do the same.
Healthy Ways to Deal with Anger:
1. Find a Release. We all need to vent from time to time. But it is important to know the best people to vent to. Usually it is not someone who disagrees with you, or the actual person you are mad at. Try calling a friend and asking, “Can I just vent for a second?” That way, your friend will know just to listen.
2. Find the Source. When we are angry, we are usually angry at more than the thing or event directly in front of us. For example, many of us are not just angry at the Zimmerman verdict, but the underlying, subtle, insidious racism that underlies every moment of this case. Take a moment and reflect – what am I really mad about? What’s underneath it all? This will help you decide next steps.
3. Find the Calm. Just because we are angry, doesn’t mean we should let that emotion run rampant through our bodies. At some point we will want to breathe, count to ten, meditate, go for a run, whatever it is that works to help our bodies calm down.
4. Find the Solution. While you may not actually be able to “solve” the source of the problem that is making you angry, there is almost always something you can do that will help. A conversation you can have, an organization you can get involved in, a change you can make in your own life. There is no better way to deal with anger than by taking a positive action.
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. -Buddha
Kate and Maggie.
Big Idea: Coping with Anger Tiny Detail: Strategies for Expressing Anger