By David Hegg
Get ready. Here’s a question you may never have been asked. How would your life be better if you decided to abdicate anger, if you chose to be unoffendable, and if you determined that anger and all its siblings would no longer play a role in your life?
I know. Like me when that question was asked in Brant Hansen’s brilliant little book “Unoffendable,” I immediately started building a case for how good and helpful and necessary anger can be. But, even if there is a place for anger, can we all admit it is a teeny tiny place to which we should only go if our anger can be completely righteous and produce only good ends? And even then, do we really need anger? I’ve come to understand the answer is no.
I continue to be amazed at how easily anger flashes out in our society. It has ceased to be a carefully caged emotion and now is considered a right, and even more, a necessary reaction to anything we find uncomfortable, irritating, or contrary to our perfect personal opinions. Enumerating all the ways we’ve been offended has become our national pastime with anger being the expected and – weirdly! – accepted way to demean and demolish the offenders. You know this is true, and you’ve probably joined the game.
But let me ask this: Are we better off as a nation, as a people, as neighbors, as families? Nope. Since anger has become acceptable, even laudable, we’ve become less tolerant, hyper-sensitive, and consequently, persistently offended. Take a look at us. Too often we are emotionally indistinguishable from a group of third graders. Here’s why we all should abdicate anger.
First, just admit that anger is a highly contagious relational virus. Simply put, anger produces anger in its targets. It may be an angry return volley, or the carefully hidden seething resentment, but it’s there. And at some point, it will explode out into the world, spreading even more of its deadly toxin. It hit me the other day that we spend billions tracing the COVID-19 virus but increasingly put up with the spread of anger that is killing our relationships and social discourse.
Second, anger is so dangerous because it is so deceitful in several ways. First, it deceives those who use it into thinking they are more and more right. Have you ever noticed how arguments polarize and rationalize until the two sides are irrationally obstinate? The angrier we get, the more we are determined to crush our opponent and win at all costs. Anger also deceives us into believing everyone else is culpable except us. Their failings are monumental, ours are non-existent. And most of all, anger deceives us into thinking it actually works. How foolish is it to believe anger can solve problems, create mutual understanding, and bring about peace?
So, why are we more and more giving anger a leading role in our lives? The answer is extremely complex, but the solution is simple. Abdicate it. Give it up. Refuse to be offendable. Stop seeing every situation, every irritation, and every inconvenience as being about you. Start realizing you are guilty of the very things you get angry about in others.
You know that driver who cut you off? You’ve done that more times than you remember. You know that co-worker who never thinks about other people? She thinks the same thing about you and with good reason. And remember that pushy, impatient customer, and that self-centered blowhard in your club? Guess what? You don’t know what else is buried in their lives that has made them the way they are, but you do know that anger and resentment and those ugly thoughts you bear toward them will never, ever make things better. They’ll only continue to erode the parts of your soul that are meant to make life better.
James, the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem of the first century, put it this way: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19,20).
Someone has said anger is an acid that eats its container. I say, let’s evict it. Let’s refuse to allow anger to rent any more space in our hearts and minds. Let’s become unoffendable, first for our own sake, and then for the sake of those we love, and the society we need.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.