This is my daily effort to discover good things people do around the planet. I’m planning to engage in these searches six days a week. I will gladly post your contributions regarding good human behavior, no matter how trivial they may seem to you (or, frankly, to me). Please join me on this trip and tell your friends.


Is Rage Good for You?

My wife mentioned the other night that I’ve been responding with rage recently to the challenges of domestic life. I accused her of conspiring to misplace my favorite can opener, for example. I threw a fit when I thought she finished my home-roasted peanuts (she didn’t, I merely misplaced them). There’s no point in denying it, I’ve been angrier than usual these past few weeks.

The country seems to be on the angry side, as a whole. The right finds an expression for their rage in the notorious Tea Party gatherings. The left takes revenge by naming them Tea Baggers. If you did not spend your formative college years in a fraternity, you may want to consult the Urban Dictionary for the off color meaning of the term (it’s the second definition). I used to be offended by right-wingers’ use of "Democrat Party," emphasis on Rat. I believe the teabagging imagery more than sways the scales in the opposite direction. Regardless of all that tit-for-tat, we’re obviously in a rage, as a nation and as individuals.

But is rage necessarily a bad thing? Since this is my daily quest for goodness in the world, I decided this morning to check out the possibilities for goodness within rage. Are there occasions when being angry is not only appropriate, but actually good for you? I know I’m giving away my conclusion here, but, remember, it’s not getting there, it’s the journey!

The headline with the most promising comic possibilities in recent days was, in my opinion: Was road rage suspect just trying to get a tan?

Benjamin Bell reports in the Boston Herald about a Dorchester, Mass woman who was driving down Popes Hill Street in a red Nissan Sentra when she turned into the closed entrance of a Stop & Shop that had been coned off for pedestrian safety during school crossing period. Ignoring the barrier, the suspect drove through the cones and only stopped after the victim - surrounded by kids - yelled for her to stop.

The suspect got out of her car and began screaming and spitting at the victim before fleeing. Cops said the suspect was found at a nearby tanning salon.

How desperate for a tan must you be to plow through a crowd of school children if the unfortunate little ones are standing between you and your UV lamps?

You’ll be surprised. As you may know, one of the fringe benefits of sunlight is vitamin D, and low blood levels of the vitamin have been associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in older adults, severe asthma in children, cancer, and serious digestive problems. Read all about Vitamin D Deficiency here, but in the context of our topic this morning, the benefits of rage, perhaps the enraged driver felt particularly deficient, practically fighting for her life.

OK, it's a stretch. Still, a good attorney could get her off using this argument, given time and money for expert witnesses. Maybe. Would road rage be a good thing if your life was really on the line, though? Probably yes. I'm sure ambulance drivers get soaked with adrenaline as they push their way through traffic. It has to be at least borderline rage!

A woman named Cailo ("A transient idealist with no patience for SUVs") runs the blog Rage Is Good, where she states: "I'm suspicious of people who aren't angry about something." Attempting to survive life in Alabama, she and her friend Sarah decided to do something with all that rage. "So we cause some trouble and encourage our friends to do the same. So far, we've even managed to avoid getting arrested."

In a piece called Awe, Cailo writes: "I believe each of us is a survivor of something. Something traumatic, on some large or small scale. There comes a time for many of us when we realize we have begun to think of that trauma not only in terms of its impact on our lives, but also as a tool, something we can use to help others. Reaching that point is a powerful moment. When we realize, ‘I am more than the very bad thing that happened to me.’"

But then, on an entry dated 3/8/08 and titled Resolutions for the next week, she writes:
1. sleep
2. refrain from drinking excessive amounts of wine
3. go to bed before 2 a.m.
4. avoid fried things and cheese and any sauce for which a main ingredient is ranch dressing
She concludes that one: "After this weekend my standards are pretty low." It’s a bit strange to wander like that into people’s private blogs, click through their thoughts and impressions over several years. An overall impression starts to accumulate, influenced, no doubt, in this case, by Cailo’s choice of template – an imposing, black background, with small, white text. Those design values obviously reflected her mood when she got started, back in 2005. But is she still feeling this way today, or is she trapped with a five-year-old paint job she can’t change? Is her rage, then, in small measure, a self-fulfilling property?  

In seeking out the useful side of rage, as part of seeking out goodness in unexpected places, I ran into this ancient story, which appeared originally in the Ottawa Citizen, but exists online only as a lifted excerpt on the environmentalist webzine Grist: Ottawa, 26 Jan 2001 -- Betty Krawczyk, a 73-year-old great-grandmother, romance writer, and hero to many Canadian environmentalists, was released from jail yesterday, after a judge ruled that she had served enough of her year-long sentence for protesting old-growth logging in the Elaho Valley in British Columbia. Krawczyk began serving her jail term four months ago just as five loggers were given only suspended sentences for assaulting a protest camp in the valley. Krawczyk, who is a member of the group Raging Grannies, said yesterday that when she blockaded logging roads to protect trees, "it affirmed human values over the profit motive and that's considered far more dangerous by corporations and governments." (Rage Against the Machine, Grist Magazine)

Last december, Jonathan Hiskes reported in Grist Magazine about the activist troupe The Yes Men, who presented themselves at the Copenhagen conference as disgruntled Coca Cola PR employees from Atlanta, urging people to take a pledge of abstinence from Coke products (Employees* rage against the Coke machine in Copenhagen).

At least 20 people took the pledge, reciting, "I, [name], with respect for crimes against people and the planet, from this day forward, for the rest of my living days will never, ever, drink Coca-Cola again until the Coca-Cola company ceases and entirely stops stealing the water from communities in India and stops union-busting in Colombia and ceases and desists entirely from relentless and absurd greenwashing like a ‘bottle of hope.’"

The Yes Men said Coca-Cola’s greenwashing is dishonest and its environmental impacts and labor practices unjust. Admitting this on Coca-Cola’s behalf was "identity correction." So, is rage against the Coke machine good for you? I’m going with a hesitant Yes (for Yes Men?). I also must admit that political street theater scares me, even when I agree with the message. Because there’s always an implied, underlying message in these events, which favors theatrics over a lucid discussion of the fact. If I’m frightened by Tea Party vignettes in which grandma is executed by Obama health judges, I should also loath similar shenanigans from the left. In either case, the end result is likely to be folks with torches and pitchforks kicking down my door.

Last month, Palm Beach philanthropists Michelle and Howard Kessler hosted a question and answer session at their home involving 8 psychiatrists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, regarding the rage in that affluent community over its "cancer cluster."

Harvard professor and psychiatrist, Gregory Fricchione, MD. was asked about anger at the county for the pace of the investigation of the phenomenon, and at the media for the tone and shallowness of its reporting. "Parents go through levels of bereavement and grief when they get a diagnosis of cancer their sense of invulnerability is become vulnerable," said Dr. Fricchione. "I tell patients we live life with confidence then instant vulnerability. It flip flops. Suddenly we're way down here. It's uncomfortable. The natural response is anger."

He explained that venting and rage, are in fact healthy to a point. "The stress that anger causes may be useful but there is a law of diminishing returns. If it gets too high your ability to help your child goes down," said Dr. Fricchione. (Tim Malloy, Psychiatrist weighs in on 'cancer cluster',    

In other words, you can be angry, but don’t let it get out of hand. I have no idea how an angry person may be expected to act reasonably about his feelings. After all, when you let your anger out, it’s more like opening the flood gates than turning a faucet. Which reminded me of a statement from Maimonides (Hil. Deot, 2:3), Anyone who becomes angry is like an idol worshipper.

The great hasidic teacher Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk refers to this statement when he questions Moses’ breaking of the tablets. Remember, Moses has just spent 40 days and forty nights on the mountaintop without food or drink. His was a purely spiritual existence. At the same time, his nation below was having a huge orgy around the gold calf. In his pure state, Moses was of no use to them, argues Rabbi Elimelech, and so he chose to become angry, so he would be like an idol worshipper, like a sinner, and in that reduced state he could be available to his flock.

I suppose it means that there is goodness in anger (and anger in goodness). Go ahead, do something wrathy…