On How To Be Angry

There’s no point in denying it: I have been feeling angry these last few months. Most of my anger has been towards acts of racism and discrimination towards Asians, but also towards the ambivalence and lukewarm attention this topic has been getting in media and on social. I know I’m not alone, but being angry still feels heavy to carry.

The problem with being angry is that it doesn’t feel great being angry. Right now with over a year of isolation during quarantine, being angry feels unkind to myself and unkind to others. So I’ve gotten curious about how to be angry in a healthy way. And this curiosity led me to read a short book called “Be Angry” by the Dalai Lama.

The first thing the Dalai Lama talks about is that anger can actually be good and useful. This was such a relief, because I have been taught to believe that anger is bad and could even be seen as a weakness in certain situations. Reading that the Dalai Lama, a key spiritual leader, thought anger can actually be good and useful gave me permission to feel okay with my anger.

“Anger brings more energy, more determination, more forceful action to correct injustice.”

– Dalai Lama

This was pretty game-changing for me, because it took the shame out of being angry. He isn’t saying “never be mad”. He’s actually saying, “it’s okay to be mad if it’s coming from the right place.”

In the book, the Dalai Lama distinguishes between two ways of being angry:

  1. One type of anger is motivated by hatred. This kind of anger is toxic. It is motivated by hatred towards a person or a group of people and leads to destructive action. The ill-feeling can be fueled even further by competition (us versus them) mindset. It divides people against each other.
  2. The other type of anger arises out of compassion. This kind of anger is actually useful and good. It is motivated by compassion for others and a desire to correct social injustice. It does not seek to harm another person. The anger is a means to accomplish a positive change. In this way, it brings a community closer rather than divides them.

What does this mean for leaders?

“People in positions of leadership, like politicians, have emerged from within a society that depends on money, so naturally they think like that and lead society further in that direction.

In this kind of society, people who value affection and compassion are treated like fools, while those whose priority is making money become more and more arrogant.

To be angry on behalf of those who are treated unjustly means that we have compassionate anger. This type of anger leads to right action, and leads to social change.

To be angry toward the people in power does not create change. It creates more anger, more resentment, more fighting.”

– Dalai Lama

My take-away from all of this is the following:

  1. It’s okay to be angry. We shouldn’t try to numb or suppress our anger. But we should check ourselves on where our anger is coming from and where it is being directed towards. If the root of the anger is hate, we will continue to spread hate. Anger rooted in compassion allows us to move forward, to find better solutions, and to fight for the inclusion of under-represented minorities who need allyship. In this moment, I’d like to invite you to choose to show compassion towards your Asian coworkers and peers and neighbors. Get curious about their experiences. Lean-in with positive intent and stand with us to drive progress. There are many ways to donate, volunteer, and join discussion groups. I’ve outlined some at the bottom of this post.
  2. It’s okay to create space for compassionate anger. It doesn’t have to feel heavy, intense and exhausting. We aren’t asking you to have hateful anger on behalf of hyphenated Asians. We’re asking you to have compassionate anger. Not to get you fired up. But to grow the community of supporters for this part of the human collective. To hear our stories and to root for the changes that we need to thrive coming out of this.
  3. Leaders and companies have an opportunity to re-set what we are optimizing for. Traditional systems of capitalism, colonialism and exploitation are the source of the injustice, inequality, and discrimination we see today. While we are putting in the work at an individual level, true change will need to happen at a systematic level to reach scale. We need companies, board of directors and political offices to start doing the work of supporting these communities with the right research, programs, and resourcing to truly unlock change in action.

I hope this helped you unpack, embrace, and show compassion to your anger as it did for me.

My best,

Nancy

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