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Shabbat Works

Authenticity and Anger

 

"But repressing anger is inauthentic" I heard recently again. "If I don't express my feelings, I am not being genuine." That statement still leaves me a bit astonished, even though I have heard this or something like it in nearly every class I have taught on virtue for many years.

 

It astonishes me because of the breadth of depth of the wrongness of this statement. The statement is always in response to my teaching on the virtue of working through anger.   Here is my teaching, briefly:  We should avoid expressing anger (as in losing it) at others; instead we should work it through within.

 

Anger is a response of the ego self (thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc.) not getting its needs met. The "it" that we are "losing" is our sanity. For that moment, we experience the object of our anger as our enemy. Angry words often are used to threaten, punish or coerce. Harsh things are often said. The other person, unless they have learned to tune out the angering one, feels hurt, usually resent, and often gets angry back. When two people are angry, they often get stuck in the rut of anger, each one trying to threaten, punish or coerce the other into submission.

            

Anger happens naturally. An emotionally healthy person feels the anger when it comes up; a morally healthy person does not inflict it on another; a spiritually healthy person works it through.

 

A morally healthy person does not inflict the anger onto others, because the essence of morality is not to cause avoidable harm to the innocent. In other words, despite the strong feelings of the angering one, the object of the anger usually does not deserve the dose they get.

 

A spiritually healthy person uses the emotion of anger as a catalyst for insight. Once one feels the anger, the inner work is to track down where it came from. Unloading on the other rarely gives us the opportunity for insight, because with the expression of anger usually comes self-righteousness.

 

Anger, while natural, is not generally a healthy emotion. We have urges to all kinds of things that are not healthy. It is natural to want to load up on empty carbs and bad fat. It is natural for many people to avoid exercise. Just because we have a natural impulse to do something does not mean that we should. A person who feels angry constantly should work that through. Saying that anger is natural is not a good reason to walk around angry all the time. I can barely imagine a good reason.

 

There is nothing authentic or genuine about giving in to destructive urges. The tricky part with anger is that the angry person always has something to say that feels urgently true; that must be said "right now."  The question to ask is not "what do I feel I need to say right now" but rather "do I regret what I said and how I said it when I was angry?" Now, sometimes when we've gotten angry at someone, we said just what was needed to be said and we said it in the right way. A line had to be drawn, a boundary set up, and that's how you did it.

 

More often than not, people who get angry at others are not using it as a device to set up a needed boundary, but rather they are using anger to express frustration for not getting their way. Saying the raging things that your ego self feels when its needs are not met is not genuine, it is immature.

 

A genuine or authentic human being admits that we all have needs upon others and the world, sometimes profound, sometimes lowly, which are unmet.  We genuinely know that the habit of raging at others is not a healthy, moral or spiritually whole path. An authentic human being seeks wisdom, not a narcissistic emotional release at the expense of others.

 

"I must say everything I feel" is an adolescent and narcissistic view of authenticity. Authenticity is found in the true and noble struggle to grow emotionally, morally and spiritually.

 

Elul, the month before the High Holy Days, is a time when we are called upon to find our authentic self, the part of us that reaches toward dignity, compassion and virtue. 

 

 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Mordecai Finley
 
 

 

May Their Names be Honored and Remembered as a Blessing

Fri night September 05-

Sat September 06, 2014

11 Elul 5774
Parashat Ki Teitzei
Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
(pp. 476-487 in the

Stone Tanakh)

 

Haftarah:

Isaiah 54: 1-10

(pp. 1048-1049 ithe 

Stone Tanakh)

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