Don’t (Just) Get Angry

Anger mobilizes power. In an oppressive world, we are made to feel powerless and act powerlessly. To work on behalf of social justice, we need to break out of feeling powerless, to get our voices back, to get in action. Anger helps make all this possible. Getting angry is an essential step in reclaiming power!

But anger can only get you so far. Anger is always a reaction to something. True power, and true leadership, is creative, not merely reactive. To be a more effective leader, you need, at some point, to transcend anger. All around me, however, I see developing leaders get stuck in the anger phase.

The process of Reclaiming Power moves through several steps or stages.

  1. Feeling Powerless and Acting Powerlessly (our starting place; the result of having been hurt by oppression)
  2. Anger (freeing our voices and getting in action)
  3. Change-Directed Anger (putting that anger to use to make things better)
  4. Creative Leadership (transcending reactive power; anger is only one of 1,000 tools)

How do you take the step from reactive to creative power? Here’s my answer!

The video was filmed at an “Ask Steve” Q&A evening. Participants ask any question about counseling, personal growth, or relationships. Steve has 5 minutes to answer!

View Video Transcript
Don’t (Just) Get Angry
Steve Bearman
August 18, 2015

Question: What does it look like to support someone who is going from the Anger phase, or change directed anger to creative leadership? Answer: Okay and so the question is if there is some process by which people come to reclaim true power in the form of creative leadership and in order to get there they have to go through a phase of getting angry at whatever it was that made them less powerful in the first place and then maybe using that anger to good purpose to try to help create change but you wanna help them get unstuck from the anger. How do you help them move from that into whatever creative leadership is? It seems somehow like it’s our nature to assume that things make sense and, in particular, that things make sense in a way that we kind of believe that fairness is a feature of the universe [laughs] and we expect on some basic level, as young people, for things to be fair and for people to be fair so there’s this belief in a just world that many of us start out with. How that happens I don’t know. What happens in part when you’re working in the social-justice world is that you discover how unjust things are and so the recognition of how unfair things are, especially because of how you in particular and the people that are in your community have been treated unfairly, when you recognize that, it’s a source of this very potent kind of righteous indication that’s this essential anger that you need to be able to recognize that it’s not okay for things to remain as they are and people can develop the capacity to get angry and it’s important. It mobilizes them and it mobilizes their energy and gets them unstuck from a feeling that they can’t do anything. It gets them un-paralyzed but the reason people stay stuck there is because they – even though it doesn’t seem like it, even though it seems like they kinda get that things aren’t fair, they – continue to believe that the world is fundamentally just and other people somehow should act fairly and so every instance that they see of something being unjust or someone acting unfairly is just another opportunity to keep getting mad about it because there’s not some just acceptance that it’s not that way. People don’t get to the point where they can accept that the world is unjust that fairness is an ideal, perhaps, to strive for but not the way of things in human societies, at least not yet. There’s something about accepting that that’s really challenging to do. What do you mean accept that? I’m not gonna accept that. That’s not okay. It may not be okay but it actually is the way of things. It is the nature of reality. Things are not fair, yes. People all around you are gonna keep saying stupid, racist stuff. You know why? Because they have stupid, racist thoughts because the racism is just everywhere, you will waste all of your energy getting mad at that if you keep looking for it and reacting to it. At some point you just get tired of reacting to stuff and if you can really get tired of reacting to stuff then you can go, “All right fine that’s what it’s like. Now what do I wanna do,” right? If my getting mad at it won’t stop it from being that way, now what do I wanna do? How do I wanna respond to it, right? Another person staid a stupid, racist thing, how do I wanna respond to it? Oh yeah you can get mad, I can react or I can be, like, okay here is a human being and they’re sort of caught in some clear misinformation or they just – they’re – acting weird or who knows why they feel that way but maybe I could be, like, “Okay human being [laughs] you know what should we do about this? What you just said is, like, strange. Can we talk about how strange that was that you said that thing,” like, or you know maybe you kinda get that, like, “Wow your view of reality is so skewed, how do you live in that?” “Like I’ve just gotta have compassion for you, you’re living in that really skewed world.” Maybe even you could love somebody who lives in a skewed world that has really dumb thoughts. And then when you start to love them you’re, like, “Oh that actually feels kinda more like what the world would be like if it were fair, you know? If the world were the just, fair place that I wish it was, people would love each other and take care of each other and understand each other and even when they were different, even when they were dumb, we would do our best to give each other a hand and lift each other up and maybe I could be a person who does that and, in being a person who does that, I am now starting to lead in a creative way instead of a reactive way but I have to just keep accepting, [laughs] over and over, the current state of things is just what it is. Accepting it doesn’t mean condoning it. Accepting it means recognizing it’s just what we have to work with and how do I be an expression of the thing that is the goal of what all the work will lead us to? Because if I can be that it’s actually really nourishing, it feeds me. If I keep reacting and getting angry it’s draining, people burn out, right? People just reproduce the kinds of circumstances in their communities and in their relationships that they’re wanting to change in the world because they keep using a kind of reactive power that’s the reactive power that causes everybody to do all the violence that everybody does anywhere. So something about getting tired of reacting [laughs] is essential and then recognizing that your reactions don’t produce the results you want and there’s something else that might, you know? It might get you right now a little bit of paradise if you could just be on the other side of the mountain and act like somebody who’s there and then help other people to do the same.

About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange's San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he's not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what's possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.