But how else would a man be expected to act if he does not know how to identify, much less know how to share, his sadness, his anger, or his endless grief—often about his own love and losses, or the world that he once dreamed would happen? . . . Much male anger is actually male sadness. Men often have no way to know this themselves, and many probably even think of themselves as “angry men.” They are often very sad men, but they have no differentiated feeling world, no vocabulary, no safe male friends, no inner space or outer setting in which to open up such a chasm of feeling—not even in their churches or with their partners. [Richard Rohr "Boys Don't Cry" Sojourners July 2010]
In the language of spirituality, anger is really grief. It is sadness over a loss. All of our lives are filled with loss every day—from the absences and deaths of those we love to the escalating pace of change in our world to the waning of our own power and privilege over time. To live is to lose, and learning to live well means learning to lose well. But if your self-image in wrapped up in holding on to and projecting power and control, admitting any kind of diminishment is very difficult to do. Hence the grief. Hence the anger.
If anger is grief, in the language of psychology, anger is a response to a violation—of our dignity, of our boundaries, of our selves. We get angry not only because we’re not in control. We get angry because other people violate us. What we need when we’re angry is not to hit or kill somebody. What we need is to set limits or reestablish boundaries and expectations. A priest friend of mine in California has the best of all responses when he experiences a personal violation: “I invite you,” he says, “to step back over to your side of the line.”
How would life be different if, instead of yelling and screaming at each other, we asked those who violate us to step back over to their side of the line? How would life be different if, instead of calling people abusive names, blaming them for our troubles, or peppering our talk with hostile or sarcastic phrases, we admitted the sorrow and fear occasioned by our losses? How much social and family and personal violence could we avoid simply by knowing what we feel when we feel it and reaching out to each other not in anger but in humble acknowledgment of our vulnerability?
To be human is to live in community, and Jesus would remind us that we have been given each other not as punching bags but for support. Even religious obligation is less important than mutual love and reconciliation:
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24]
The people we love, we work with, we live with will always cross over our boundaries. The things and people we love will always be passing away. Our own powers and privileges will inevitably diminish. These are the givens of life, and our choice is to live it either by constantly sticking our heads out our windows and shaking our fists, or to live it by reaching out to each other in forgiveness, acceptance, and love.
It’s easier to be angry than it is to grieve. It’s more acceptable to be snarky than it is to be hurt. Jesus calls us into the hard emotional work of growing up, knowing what we really feel, and acting accordingly. We are not alone in this process. We have each other as companions on this lifelong journey. It won’t be easy, but it will be real. And when we are real we are who God means us to be. So forget about being mad as hell. Get in touch with your feelings. May the Force be with you. And have a nice day. Amen.