Mindful People Get Angry Too
We ARE human, after all.
Before we get to a mindless example to provide us contrast for where we’re heading, I have to take a moment to first give a shout out to my staff – Jessie, Melissa and Paola – thank you! Not only for your fine work but for providing me with motivation to keep going every day, especially when it’s challenging. And thanks to our group efforts, I’m excited to announce that we’re launching a coaching certification program at the end of this week. The Dynamic Coaching Certification Program encapsulates everything we’ve learned over the past seven years in providing leadership coaching, team development, workshops, conference presentations and community trainings. Everything we do at Work2Live is aimed at supporting people to find meaning and purpose in their lives, as well as to succeed in their goals, and since we can only cover so much in a day, training others to implement these programs means more people can benefit. If you’re interested in a coaching career or in improving your leadership skills, please check out the program on our website.
Now back to our regularly scheduled mindless moment. I recently attended an all-day training on implicit bias and one of the videos shown really moved me to think about anger related to mindfulness. In the video, a black man is very angry with a school official in Georgia because the school had lost his 5 year old daughter on three different occasions. The school official, a white woman, is standing in what looks like a waiting area at the school, with a security guard at her side, as the man yells at her. Now on first glance, you may assume that the father is the mindless participant in this conversation. But it’s actually the school official. The father clearly thought through this encounter in advance, including having his wife video the exchange. He states at the outset that the first time they lost his daughter, he was calm. The second time, he was mad, but remained calm. This third time, however, he was going to express his anger.
The school official, in response to this man’s frustration, spends her time justifying what occurred. She blames the bus company. She blames the bus driver. She tells the father that he should lower his voice because other people will hear. What she doesn’t do is empathize with the father, accept responsibility for the school’s failure in keeping his daughter safe, nor offer any comfort to assure him that it won’t happen again. In fairness, but not to condone, the woman’s own fear response was probably in full swing, making it much more challenging to respond appropriately. This is why typical anger is usually not the best approach to solving a problem. We talked about how anger doesn’t usually serve us in a previous podcast, but what if there are cases where it does?
There’s a big misperception out there that mindful people are always peaceful and calm. This is simply not the case. Anger is a human emotion that everyone experiences, but most do so completely mindlessly. Some go into a blind rage, they say things that they later regret, or they cause irreparable damage to a relationship because they temporarily lose their minds. Those are all examples of mindless anger, where our conscious minds go offline as the surge of stress-related hormones take over and the emotions let loose without any actual thinking occurring.
Mindful people are not exempt from this experience by any means. But just as the father did in the earlier example, sometimes anger is required, but it can be mindfully expressed. As we’ve previously discussed, the emotion of anger is really a subset of fear. Most of the time, our fears are not real in that there is no real danger. But sometimes there is danger. That father was full of fear for the safety of his daughter. And approaching the school twice in a calm manner had produced no results, so he mindfully planned his third complaint. The video went viral and clearly shows that bias and racism are alive and well in this country today. How many white people would feel the need to videotape a complaint to a school official? But it also shows how mindfulness works.
The parents recognized that they had to do something more than calmly discuss the school losing their child multiple times because they had to keep their child safe. They also knew that an angry black man yelling in a school, especially in the south, would probably result in the police being called. So the mother accompanies him in order to take video of the encounter. The father states at the beginning that this is not his first attempt and that he was calm the prior two visits. Despite being very angry, he is very articulate about the school’s responsibility in keeping his child safe, despite the school official insisting that they are not responsible. He is able to stay on track, state the facts and point out bigger picture issues, all while visibly furious. It was my first time to see mindful anger, if that’s a thing, in action. He didn’t threaten the school official, there was no physical violence, no name-calling, no personal insults. He kept it to the school’s responsibility to keep his daughter safe and their failure to do so.
This is exactly what anger’s real purpose is. We have anger in order to protect ourselves or our loved ones. For most of us, it pops up uncontrollably and makes matters worse. But this father expressed great anger in a mindful way. And it appears to have been successful. The video went viral on the internet (just search “lost child 3 times” if you want to see it), which helped pressure the school to change their policy to ensure that the buses don’t leave until they know all of the children are on the bus. There were no lawsuits, no arrests and the end result was that the children, at least in that school, are safer due to the encounter.
Stop and consider how you express anger. When you feel anger rising up, what do you do with it? Do you blast it on Instagram or Facebook? Do you yell at someone? Do you throw things, slam things, insult people or groups? You might hold it all in, causing yourself undo stress and even physical ailments. These are all examples of mindless anger. Mindfulness is achieved through constant practice, so if you’re not practicing, odds are, your anger will be expressed mindlessly and probably not result in an outcome that you’ll be very happy with in the end. But by continuously practicing mindfulness, you could discover how to manage your anger and use it mindfully in the rare occasions when it is called for.
One way I manage my anger is to write it down. I recognize when I’m getting angry and if necessary, hold it in for the moment, but as soon as I can get alone, I write it all out. Ugly, ranting, whatever emotions come up, it goes into a Word document or an email that is never, ever sent, or it’s handwritten in a journal. Sometimes I can’t even read the writing in the journal later, clear evidence that my body is pulsing with adrenaline and other stress hormones. My internal agreement with myself is that this is only the first step of the process. I wait a day. I go back and read what I wrote. And then I have the option of taking further action. Every time, whatever I have written is too harsh. It includes personal attacks, justifications, blame. In my right mind, when I’m not furious, I can see that my angry thoughts would not serve me if shared in that angry stance. If I can share my actual concerns in a way that is mindful and productive, I do. But most of the time I realize it’s just a waste of time and energy and can let it go.
Another practice I use when angry and I don’t have the luxury of journaling, is to tap. I may have to excuse myself to go to a bathroom or other private area, but tapping releases negative emotions, so I’ll tap for a few minutes to help myself get re-regulated so that I can think more clearly about the situation. Next week’s podcast is all about tapping, so if you’re interested, join us for that episode.
Finally, I consciously practice avoiding things that I know make me angry. I had a discussion with the presenter at the training, Dr. Barbara Stroud, who I want to thank for sharing that video, and we both agreed that watching the news or reading too much of it produces useless anger, which serves no purpose. Staying focused on what we can all do to make life better is a much preferred way to live. But there are times when we may need to get angry in order to keep us safe and when we do, a mindful approach is definitely a much more effective method for achieving what we want.
Stay calm, stay mindful.