Can Anger be a Positive Emotion?

“Do not go gentle in to that Good Night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

These two verses by Dylan Thomas came in to my head the other night unbidden and would not leave. I had not read this poem written by Thomas about his dying father since high school. Yet, the verses echoed through my head. In order to quell the refrain, I went to find my battered and much beloved copy of
The Norton’s Anthology of Poetry
. To my great surprise, the book opened immediately to the page the poem was on, as if it knew just what I was looking for. God works in mysterious ways.

The Power of Anger
The Power of Anger

Reading the poem in its entirety, I burst into tears. Yes, I thought. This is how I feel. All around me the light seems to be dying, and I am angry. I am angry that in 2014, we have an African American president, yet black men are incarcerated and shot on the street by cops in ever increasing numbers. I am angry and scared that an epidemic like Ebola is killing so many in Africa and is making its way to our shores. And on a more personal level, I am angry that cancer can capriciously cut short a vivacious person’s life.

Life is not fair, and I am angry.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I am not good with anger as an emotion. In fact I hate it, I makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know how to control it or express it in a positive way.

As this refrain, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” echoes in my head I realize that I have to do something, or it will tear me apart.

Meditation and prayer do not calmly disburse it.

Yelling at God through tears does not help either.

So, I have decided to embrace my anger. I am going to wear it proudly, and try to use it for good. God gave us anger to be a motivating force. The best social movements were started because people were angry about the status quo. Abraham angry at his father, rebelled against his culture and created a new religion. Moses angry at the mistreatment of Hebrew slaves led them out of Egypt. The daughters of Zelophechad, angry that they could not inherit their father’s property because they were women, petitioned Moses to change the law, and won. In modern times, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and African American civil rights would not have been won without righteous anger fueling the causes.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Instead of trying to carefully stomp it out the rage. I will use it to feed the light. Pirkei Avot teaches “You are not obligated to finish a task but neither are you free to neglect it.” I may not solve the problem of police brutality in America, or find the cure or Ebola. I may not be able to save my friend from cancer, but my anger will fuel me to keep trying to make the world a better place.

The absence of this anger would leave me with nothing. No will to move forward in the world. So for now, I am holding on to it in all of its fiery glory.

“Do not go gentle in to that Good Night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

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