The River of Anger from Stratford to Aleppo

Anger is universal. Without anger we are not alive. It is a powerful river running through all our lives.  It can be a force for good and achievement while also driving terrible deeds and behaviours.

Today, both types of anger are being played out in the news – at the Olympics and in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Before the athlete comes the person. Before you are a soldier you are a person.  You play out your anger in your sporting career. You play out your anger in your fight against oppression. You play out your anger in the vindication of love for your parents. You play out anger in your oppression and slaughter of the innocents.

Anger can support us or it can undermine us.  It is the nuclear fuel that can power us to great things or that can cause disaster.

Yesterday Victoria Pendleton admitted that they were “overwhelmed” by their eagerness and excitement. This described the experience of overwhelming anger, the anger that drives us to great achievements but that if not managed leads to “tilt” or overwhelm.

Sometimes an event which stimulates anger drives us to greater achievement. Michael Phelps has always used the anger of defeat “to fuel” his success. He did it again yesterday. Ben Ainslie who has some history of anger incidents accused Jonas Hogh-Christensen of ganging up against him claiming: “He doesn’t want to make me angry”.

Andy Murray at Wimbledon used Ivan Lendl’s stillness to help him control his own anger. John McEnroe famously used anger to take a break and to fire himself up. Bjorn Borg contained his anger and focused to such a degree you would not have known he experienced feeling at all. Gemma Gibbons is driven by anger and sadness at the loss of her mother.

Tragically, while one group of young people have the opportunity to channel and play out their anger in a constructive, entertaining and life affirming way, another group are kept off the front pages and are lower in our awareness. I refer to the conflict in Syria, the most violent stage of the Arab Spring so far.

Over 20,000 men, woman and children have died. The alleged massacres by both sides are a sign of nuclear anger that has gone into meltdown. Anger out of control gets in the way of relationship, of diplomacy and humanity. Koffi Annan has resigned, this is “mission impossible”.

Anger has a bad name, a bad reputation if you will, but it is a key part of our humanity and in denying it we create shame and even more anger. Let us not judge anger itself by the terrible behaviours which are driven by it. Let us understand it as a sign of who we are, a symptom of something that we may think is wrong, something we need to pay attention to.

Anger managed, contained and expressed in other ways can drive us to great things. By changing our attitude to anger, by accepting the part of ourselves that is angry, we can change the view of ourselves. We cannot rid ourselves of anger but we can change our relationship to it.

Nelson Mandela, more than anyone else in modern life embodied the focus of anger on justice, freedom and forgiveness. He famously said: “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”.

To live our life to the full we must embrace the force and vitality of anger.  Our challenge and opportunity is to accept it, to engage with it and only through this can we be fully in charge of ourselves.

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