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  • Writer's pictureDan FitzPatrick

Anger Harms the Angered

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

My mother used to say, “There’s no grudge like an Irish grudge.” As my family is pretty much 100% Irish, I grew up observing that adage in full practice quite frequently.

It seems our lives today are filled with anger. From constant political vitriol and ad hominem attacks, to road rage, to news reports that shock the conscience.

There is and always has been a proper place in civilized society for one particular type of anger, often referred to as “righteous” anger. Righteous anger or indignation comes in reaction to a sense of injustice or mistreatment of another. It seeks restoration, amelioration, repair, a return to the status quo, to normalcy, justice, civility, the rule of law. Other types of anger, often called “unrighteous” anger, seek destruction, harm, disruption. We see both in play today in reaction to the positional asphyxiation death while in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

We are all properly outraged and angered at the way in which Floyd was treated by the police. They acted contrary to standard police procedure and in complete disregard of his safety, as we all can see so vividly in the horrifically disturbing video of his arrest on a fairly minor crime. This anger is fully justified, and righteous, so long as it seeks as its goal justice for George Floyd. Anger seeking any other action or remedy in this case would be unrighteous.

Nothing can restore George Floyd to life, to his family. However, there are means to restore a sense of justice within our community. All of the arresting officers have been arrested and charged with responsibility for his death; they will be held accountable in a court of law and punished if convicted. All good people should want to see the process play out as it should – fairly, properly, openly and consistent with our longstanding system of justice.

But there is something else at work here, and it is very ugly.

Our Constitution guarantees us many rights, including those of free speech, peaceful assembly and petition for redress of grievances (First Amendment). All three of those rights are exercised in the peaceful protests occurring daily in cities and towns across the nation. Properly conducted, they are a symbol of the freedoms we enjoy in a democratic society. Other than inconveniencing traffic (and raising health concerns given lack of social distancing), they pose no threat or harm to society.

Yet when these otherwise peaceful protests are hijacked by participants whose anger is unrighteous, their nature changes and they do become a potential threat to society, justifying action on the part of local leaders to restore order and protect people and property from the destruction, harm and disruption those participants seek to promote. Failure to do so would constitute abject abdication of one of the most important responsibilities of government.

Let’s agree that there is a very real difference between protest and riot. Riot is defined as “a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd.” Crowd is defined as “a large group of people that are gathered or considered together.” “A large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence” is called a mob. Crowds protest. Mobs riot.

Recent reports have raised troubling questions surrounding the degree and source of coordination of what appears to be intentional hijacking of peaceful protests by agitators, both local and “imported.” Whatever the true cause, we all are witnesses to the daily transformation of peaceful assemblies to angry riots, destroying property, ruining businesses, endangering others, defacing public monuments, and even threatening physical harm to the White House. Nothing justifies these actions. Not the Constitution. And not the righteous indignation and anger we all feel at the treatment of George Floyd.

The sad reality is that public interest in the pursuit of justice for George Floyd will wane in the space of a few news cycles. The damage done to our society and sense of community will remain, much like a grudge. George Floyd’s brother Terrence expressed this best in a speech to a Minneapolis crowd:

“I understand y’all are upset. I doubt y’all are half as upset as I am. … What are y’all doing? … That’s not going to bring my brother back at all. … In every case of police brutality the same thing has been happening. You have protests, you destroy stuff … so they want us to destroy ourselves. Let’s do this another way …. Let’s switch it up, y’all”

Ever heard the phrase “nursing a grudge?” It means holding on to resentment for a long time. I particularly like the use of the verb “nursing” as it conjures up the image of intentionally caring for and feeding the resentment so that it stays alive. In reality, nursing a grudge, holding on to anger and resentment, has the effect of slowly killing a part of us. It robs us of happiness, it interferes with our enjoyment of life and others, it damages our interpersonal relationships, it sours our disposition, it disfigures our faces, it defaces our souls. It is self-inflicted harm in its most insidious form.

Christians are taught to “turn the other cheek,” to forgive even those who could be considered enemies. This teaching is not meant solely for the benefit of the enemy; in letting go of anger – especially unrighteous anger – that we have been holding so very close (i.e., nursing), we lift a burden from our minds, remove an impediment to our happiness, and take a polishing cloth to our souls. It is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, the very definition of self-help.

We find ourselves today as if living in an alternative universe, with everything upside down and confusing. We don’t know what to do with all the time on our hands. Perhaps this is a good time to do a little personal “spring cleaning.” Let’s let go of our grudges, Irish or otherwise.

Terrence Floyd gets it. Let’s follow his example.

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