When we think of anger as an emotion, the connotations are overwhelmingly negative. Daily in the news, we come across stories where this emotion has been expressed to cause various forms of destruction to others. Incidents of road rage, domestic violence, terrorism, and extreme acts on the sporting field are cases in point. Growing up, we may have been taught that anger is a bad thing to feel, and because it may cause problems or lead to confrontations with others, we should suppress it to smooth our path in the world. The problem with this approach however is that bottling this anger doesn’t make it go away. It merely increases the pressure and intensity of the emotion, which makes the prospect of an explosive outburst (leading to the types of behaviour detailed above) all the more likely. Like the metaphorical spring coil, the more energy that one expends pushing down on it, the greater the counterforce will be upon its release.
As an emotion, anger already has a lot of power to it, so we need not suppress it in a way that harms ourselves and others. If we possess the desire and self-awareness to look at the things in our lives that stir up anger, we have an opportunity to harness that energy and use it for positive purposes. In vocational terms, I have observed two ways that anger can be utilised to propel us forward in the fulfilment of our calling.
Firstly, anger can have a powerful motivating effect on our desire to get things which matter to us done. In the workplace, we may encounter a leader or manager who doesn’t believe in us to the extent that we believe in ourselves, or we may experience a failure with a project that we didn’t see coming, despite our best preparations. Instead of feeling intimidated or discouraged by these obstacles, the experience of them, and the anger that we feel as a result, serves to stoke our internal fire and strengthen our conviction that we will prevail. I see this also in the aftermath of tragedies, when the parents of a child who has been killed by a drunk driver or a violent attack, channel their rage and pain towards the eradication of the circumstances that took their loved one away. Determined not to let the intensively negative feelings associated with these events eat at them and destroy their lives, these parents choose the inspiring path of going into their desolation, and transmuting it so that conditions can be improved for others.
The other way that anger can serve us vocationally is when we allow it to teach us valuable lessons about who we are and what we value, and in this process we can gain greater clarity around where our station in life may be. Here, it is important to realise that not all people come to their vocation through love. Some come to it through identifying the place where their talents and interest intersect with the needs of the world. If we are willing to look out into the world with openness and honesty, we will encounter a range of problems that are crying out to be solved. Whilst not all of these needs will resonate with us at the deepest level, there may be one or more that really strike a chord with our spirit, and sensing an alignment with our natural gifting, we instinctively move in the direction of meeting that need in a particular context.
I was recently talking to a woman who entered the law, with a view to becoming a human rights lawyer, because she could not stand some of the injustices that she had directly experienced in her community. Her motivation in that movement was primarily based in the violation of the value of justice that she held so dear. I know myself that one of the strongest drivers that I have to promote the practice of conscious leadership is the agitation that I experience when I see examples of poor or ego-based leadership. The need to have more conscious leadership is one that aligns with my interest and aptitude. The fact that I also love learning about leadership and look forward to growing on that journey, only strengthens the sense of vocation that I feel towards it.
Anger is like fire, which can keep you warm or burn your house down. Holding these two contrasting potentialities, so do each of us, in our ability to choose how we will experience anger and what the impact of that will be. Endowed with the ability to channel our anger constructively, we should make the most of the opportunity, particularly in vocational terms. Exhibiting our consciousness by choosing the path which leads to greater peace and well-being, a welcome side-effect will be the diminishment of many of the things that aroused our anger in the first place.