What Place Anger?

The video I posted yesterday, wherein Robert Egger hands Rush Limbaugh his head on a plate, has drawn two very different responses. (Update: The original video is here – video at yesterday’s site has been updated to exclude the “offensive” portions.)

One response is, “Yes, right on! And I love the ending!”

The other, diametrically opposed, is, “You had me until the end. Hold your anger, Robert. Take the high road.”

Those of you who are regular readers here have watched me walk that same line – the line between gentle encouragement and downright indignation.  Like Robert, I have received the same comments when my normally understanding side is overpowered by my “righteous indignation” side.

Watching the response to Robert’s video, both here at the blog and especially in social media circles, I cannot help but wonder:

  • What is the place for anger in creating social change?
  • Does social change require a bit of poking and prodding around the edges? Is it inherently about the balance and blend of anger and higher ground?
  • Isn’t anger part of who we are as humans?  Isn’t it something we all feel at times? Would that not make it ok to express that?  Or is it always about reaching  for the high road?
  • If our highest potential for compassionate, joyful living is reached by walking the talk of that potential, what is the highest potential for what we do with our anger?
  • Is there a place for periodic explosion, for someone to express what we are all feeling, and then, as Robert does every day, get on with the very real work of making change from the higher ground?  Does social change need a provocateur to balance what my friend Renata Rafferty calls “The Tyranny of the Nice”?

In the U.S. over the past 2 years, we have seen the result of anger from a place of fear.  What of anger from a place of aspiration? Is such a thing even possible?

Because I myself am a provocateur, I wrestle with this in my own writing and speaking.  I know that my own anger tends to arise not from fear, but from my own personal intolerance for the intolerance of others. (Yes, I know, I’m working on that. Just ‘fessing up to my own demons here!)

And so I cannot help but wonder:
What place does anger have in creating social change?

24 Responses to What Place Anger?

  1. The impetus for change is the desire to improve upon a perceived injustice. It is fear that drives us to speak up, for we do not wish to be discriminated against or abused.

    Should enough people share the same fear, and change does not occur quickly, fear turns into anger.

    Anger is a weapon. It is a sword. Understanding and compassion is a shield.

    I’d rather avoid anger, it leads to more hatred and suffering. I’ve been told to avoid anger by my Government, parents, family, church, and, of course, Jedi Masters. Looking around, I see no benefit in anger. The only two options are to act upon it, creating more suffering, or let go of it and continue to work towards compassion and understanding.

  2. I too had mixed feelings about the video, although I love love love Robert’s work. But more because I felt an aggressive response gave Rush more validity than he deserves.

    This doesn’t directly talk about anger, but the upcoming article from Vanity Fair about the Obama administration was interesting and related: it discusses how he doesn’t get swayed by the fury and flurry of thoughts and opinions but just puts his head down and does the job. Whole article is interesting but this page is most relevant here.

  3. Chad:
    Yes and thank you! We feel the anger, we acknowledge the anger, we use it to learn from, to dig deep into ourselves and move beyond. I am there with you.

    The example of Obama, raised by Brigid, brings a different point, though. I am reminded of Martin Luther King, who preached to people who had more than enough reason to be angry. His encouragement moved them from anger-based action to the quiet power of mindful action.

    That said, was it only nonviolent action that moved Civil Rights forward? If nonviolence had not been juxtaposed against angry rioting in the streets, would it have been as effective? Does action out of anger give legitimacy to those who are acting from mindfulness with the same goals?

    Like I said, I have way more questions than answers. I know for my own place of being, that I try to do my best to walk the talk of the behaviors I want to see in others – what Gandhi referenced as being the change we want to see. Sometimes I am better at that than other times.

    But while my own work is to move social change beyond “dissatisfaction with the present” to “aspiration for the future we can create,” the truth is that dissatisfaction is often the starting point.

    Which brings me back to wondering whether there is a place for anger in social change – if, in fact, social change can happen entirely absent of anger…

    Clearly I will be thinking about this all day today.

  4. Anger in and of itself isn’t the problem. It’s what we do about our anger.

    If I am angered by some injustice, I can break things, pound on the desk, yell at somebody. Is that useful? Not so much. But if instead of pounding and yelling, that anger results in me becoming more active in a cause formed to fight against the injustice, the anger has the potential for positive result.

    In Robert Egger’s video, the ending no doubt brought a satisfying feeling to participants, but for public circulation that part should have been edited out.

  5. For me, anger is a cue that something I value has been violated, a line has been crossed. I’m quite certain that being called “lazy idiots” and “rapists of the economy” violated many values and principles we hold dear in the community benefit/nonprofit sector. We work hard, contribute to the greater good, contribute significantly to the economy. We create jobs, pay taxes, play by the rules, and don’t ask for inflated bonuses at the end of the year. To be treated less than human, when your work is for the benefit of all of humanity is a great insult.

    I didn’t for a moment think that the audience for that video was Rush or anyone who agrees with him. Rather, I saw it as message to all of us in the community benefit/nonprofit sector. It said to me, “Don’t listen to him. Don’t believe it. We don’t believe this about you. We don’t believe it about ourselves.”

    When doing economics trainings with public sector workers, I found that when given a wide range of public and private sector options as solutions to a particular problem, public sector workers almost always chose private ones more passionately than any other. Some may say this is because public sector workers know how bad public options are. Maybe. But when I ask why they want the private option they say, “Public sector workers are stupid, slow and lazy.” Notice that they said this about themselves and their colleagues. Sounds to me like they have been demoralized enough about their work by everyone else that they believe it about themselves. And if others expected stupidity, slowness and laziness of them, that’s all they might expect of themselves.

    Maybe this video was really a message to all of us doing this work not to believe the negative images that Rush Limbaugh is trying to promote. Mr. Egger’s video, and even the surprise ending, is really a morale booster for a sector that is consistently underpaid and undervalued. We know what we are, we know what we do, and we know that we are courageous and smart and kind and generous and efficient and innovative and hard working and determined in making this world a better place. And sometimes we need to remind ourselves of all the great stuff we do and the great people we are with a little bit of finger-pointing! 🙂

  6. You know what’s frustrating, trying to understand why Limbaugh is still on the air….but that’s irrelevant at this point.

    I applaud Robert for showing his passion AND anger. The two go hand in hand. Anger holds a very special place in social change, and based on the injustice occurring all around the globe every day, it is warranted. I don’t think we’d be in this line of work if we weren’t angry about something (poverty, illiteracy, or the intolerance of others). Maybe not angry to the point where we take a more radical approach and burn buildings and riot. But angry enough that we [agents of change] are compelled to take action.

    I feel Robert does reach for higher ground by educating Rush on who nonprofits represent and their impact. He clearly put thought in to his response which is more than I can say for Mr. Limbaugh.

    So what if he flipped him off? I couldn’t wait to get to the end of the video because I KNEW it was coming. You know he wanted to. Many of your readers probably want to as well. Kudos to Robert for having the chutzpah to do it publicly.

    I think what’s not being said here is that we all express emotions such as anger, disappointment and happiness differently. Where Robert gives Rush the finger someone else might write a letter. Someone else may cry and another may share this video on all their networks asking folks to rally for the removal of Limbaugh and other hosts that use scare tactics to influence the public.

    Personally, I feel we all need to express anger in a creative, controlled, and non-threatening way as Robert does in this video. Secretly, I’ve been hoping that the President calls someone an a**hole on air. And although such an act would NOT benefit the administration, it sure would make me smile and remind everyone that he is just a man. Not a saint. Not a savior. Just a man. A man that gets pissed off sometimes.

    On another note, if Robert’s response resembled Anthony Weiner’s rant as shown here (http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/anthony-weiner-video-073010), well, they may not have been so smart.

  7. Your question brings to mind the motivational speech offered by Shakespeare, Hildy.

    “imitate the action of the tiger;
    Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
    Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage”

    I’m not thinking of Rush Limbaugh’s inane utterance but of those for whom profit is devoid of social conscience. Which in our experience can be found readily in some of the most wealthy individuals in the world who won’t be taking Bill Gates’ giving pledge.

    Our work focusses on those most disenfranchised, as my colleague Terry puts it in the Axiom News article below, those “left to die”


    Rage which is justifiable can be transmuted into compassionate action.

  8. People have to be stirred up to take action.

    Whether they call it annoyance or rage is irrelevant to me.

    As long as people are taking action to change the world for the better, that is what helps us, and helps our nonprofits and our causes.

    People have to understand that there are many ways of arriving at the conclusion that YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING.

    One of the best things I did for myself last year was read a book that I knew was going to make me angry. It was called Sexism in America. It’s what made me realize that I needed to start my blog, which has 5,000 readers a month now, and has helped people stand up to their managers, and claim their power as women, and demand better treatment.

    If we don’t get angry, if we don’t stand up and be counted, then why are we here?

    “Can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone, so I guess I’d better do it while I’m here” -Phil Ochs


  9. I agree with Jeff.

    Rage which is justifiable can be transmuted into compassionate action.

    People have to be stirred up to take action.

    This is why I read Sexism in America last year, and it made me realize I had to start a blog to talk about all of the injustices visited on nonprofit employees and women especially.

    And I did a guest post for Pamela Grow today about revolution.

    When are we going to take a stand? When are we going to be counted?


  10. While I agree that Robert’s video ignites that spark of “Wow – we really are something” to a sector that is often dumped upon, is that not what the 2010 equivalent of Nixon’s Silent Majority – the teabaggers – is responding to as well? They feel they have been dumped upon, and that they are fighting back for a way of life they feel is at risk. They feel Rush and the boys are standing up for the little guy.

    Is it, then, different when we do it than when they do?

    Transforming rage into compassionate action requires working quietly through anger, to come to compassion.

    I know all this intellectually. I practice it in my daily meditation, I do my level best to put it into practice in my daily life, and in my writing and public speaking. I seek to see my anger for what it is, to identify its sources, and to then determine what the highest potential is for action. I do my best to work from the conditions that will lead to that highest place.

    So yes, I get all this not just intellectually, but with practice, fairly reflexively.

    And so first, this makes me understand why the right reacts as they do. It makes me see how easy it is to manipulate anger, to turn it to rage rather than to compassionate action.

    Still, my animal brain, my monkey mind, my reptilian being wants some blood. The minute I see that blood, I recoil, thinking, “Damn, I knew better. This will only lead to more blood.” I know this in my very being.

    But it doesn’t stop me from wanting it. Which I think is what we all respond to.

    So I guess the question then becomes: If real social change requires compassionate action, how can we make it easy for all of us to move through anger to get to that place? As social change agents, how can we make it so that our first response is not from that anger?

    We are, after all, only human. How can we instill practices into the social change system, that create a step-by-step for what to do when confronted with “the dark side?”

    How can we create easy-to-use systems that make our FIRST response the ability to stop, to compassionately acknowledge that we understand people’s anger and that we feel that anger as well, and to then move to the only action that has proven over time to truly be effective – to be the change we want to see…?

  11. When I suggest directing rage into compassionate action, I’m speaking in the context of social business, profit with purpose.

    This context is the same as that described by my link describing aims to place a nation’s disabled and discarded children in family homes.

    It won’t be achieved by drip feed funding from foundations or endless funding contests, we have better ways of deploying our skills and time than to spend it jumping through hoops to deliver something that makes good media coverage.

    These intractable social problems are not “sexy”, they require those with spines to go toe to toe with exploitation using sound investment plans which deliver financial and social return.

    There’s a mandate for acting with compassion as far as I’m concerned and it’s coming from many directions as I attempt to relate in yet another of those competitions where winning a prize is not my objective.


  12. Thanks to Robert Egger for his response (both versions) and to Hildy for her thoughtful questions about anger and our response to it. I loved the original video because I felt vindicated, supported and defended. I shared it with my family, who also thought it was a powerful and satisfying conclusion. What I did not do was re-post it on my Facebook until the G-rated version appeared today.

    I admit to wondering if I was being cowardly in not re-posting when I felt so strongly about Rush’s comments and Robert’s response. And yet, I just couldn’t do it. I was concerned about the potential impact on donors and community benefit supporters in my community should they find it offensive.

    Anger is a strong emotion and a motivator for change. As a first year social work/psychology student, I learned that emotions are not good or bad – they just are. What we do with them and how we choose to express those emotions is what matters.

    I believe anger does play an important role in fueling social change. Still wrestling with the questions Hildy raised about the value of expressing that anger vs. taking the high road or some combination of the two.

    Good food for thought on a hot summer day!

  13. Hildy — good questions!!!! When I refer to “tyranny of the nice,” I a referring to the oft-self-interested politeness that replaces righteous anger and passion in the nonprofit board room. The kind that prevents colleagues/neighbors/business associates/etc. from calling each other out when they stray from the mission, or ditz around with respect to their ethical imperatives as board members, or simply act stupid. Anger is not the answer — forceful focus on the mission and the community is the answer. But that means sometimes having to be “not nice.” And no one wants to be “not nice” in their volunteer work when there may be a personal or business price to pay as a consequence.

    Similarly, a certain “class” of anger that is only expressed within the context of anonymity or distance is equally offensive and ineffective as “nice.”

    Both stem from fear.

    If Robert had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Limbaugh, I have no doubt that he could actually bring Rush to some understanding of the injustice of his remarks re: nonprofit professionals. And he probably wouldn’t end the conversation with a finger salute. That would det

  14. (oops, hit “send” before finishing my pontificating!)

    A reasonable-conversation-ending one-finger salute would undermine all the reason and possible inroads made through civil discourse.

    I enjoyed Robert’s video. I enjoy The Daily Show. Unfortunately, both preach to the converted and will probably never sway the heart or intellect of those who do not see and those who choose not to hear.

    Besides, Rush Limbaugh is a straw man. He is an entertainer, a carnival barker, for those who enjoy that level of “entertainment” (no accounting for them, or for people who are into dog fighting, cock fighting, or cage fighting).

    As entertainment, Robert did a great job. But neither fingers, screaming, nor being patently nice when our world is “begging for change” will make that change happen.

    Relinquishing the soap box …

    Renata Rafferty

  15. War is a really horrible thing. It’s kind of impossible to understand how we end up using this horrendous technique to “solve” problems. Everyone knows it doesn’t work. Everyone knows the losses are incalculable. But here’s why we still end up using it all the time: it’s so hard to control that desire to give the other guy the finger. It’s so delicious to posture and demonstrate outrage. And then the other guy struts back. And you get madder – and there we go.

    The courage of Gandhi and Martin Luther King in recognizing that this must stop somewhere is astounding to me. I have been working on road rage because I understand this is not good for me – why am I getting so worked up? Because I’m so very important behind the wheel of a car? But Gandhi took it one step further in understanding that it’s really just as much about the other side. They can’t keep up the rage and the bluster if you don’t. If you don’t want it to escalate, don;t add to the escalation.

    I loved Robert Eggers’ video until the end. Not just because that ending seemed puerile to me, but because it lost power. Suddenly he was playing the same game as Limbaugh. And that game is called war. War, as Chris Hedges says, is a force that gives us meaning, but you don;t have to read much of Hedges’ work to know it really truly doesn’t make anything better. The stupid words of Limbaugh are frightening and disempowering for those of us who believe in the strength of the nonprofit world. I felt good having someone stand up for the things I believe in. Eggers was creating a collective feeling of power: look how strong we are! We don’t care what you say! But then when it began to march quickly with the drumbeats of early war, he lost me. That last gesture – well, he could easily have had a bayonet in his hand. It was about demonstrating defiance and force. It was one step closer to the battlefield. I don’t want to go there.

  16. I’ve spent many hours in meditation on this one. Seeking to find that subtle voice of wisdom that comes from within. Here is what I discovered…

    “To be fearful is human. To express oneself is divine. Growth and a shifting concern for one’s community over one’s self will alter an expression of fear allowing others to hear the commitment behind the concern. Do not waste time on whether fear has a place in our world. Indeed it does. Instead, learn to receive another human beings expression as an act of compassion. Expand your capacity to be with anything your brother and sister has to say about there occurring world. When they are truly heard, the fear will transform.”

  17. Anger is a secondary emotion the precursor of which is usually fear or pain. So before we erupt in anger – no matter how righteous or justified – let’s ask ourselves, “What hurts? What are we scared of?” and address the root causes of the anger within ourselves. Then, having made the conscious choice to be angry, let’s channel it into the most constructive response possible. A response that educates, informs, or rallies support would be a good choice. A response that shuts people down and makes them less likely to engage with you and listen to your fear, pain and anger is less good, though it often feels great at the time.

    “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.” (Steven Covey) Perhaps the future and success of our sector lie there as well.

  18. I am reading and absorbing and contemplating. I am intrigued, Martin, at how to reconcile your 2 statements. Can you expand a bit?

  19. Hi Hildy,

    Anger is a natural emotion to supress it can be debilitating. What we do with anger is the real question. What we make of the enormous energy anger gives us and how we channel it is what separates those who become ill, create crime and destroy their own lives and the lives of others from those who create change in the world. The good and the bad feel anger.

    I am angry about the fact that we leave so many people out of our society and the majority seem to think that is ok. previously this anger turned inward. I committed crime and lived a very negative lifestyle then one day I realised I had the power to influence positive change and my anger motivated me to drive forward. It still does.

    Although I hate to say it many injustices in the world quite simply would not have been put right without a fight. I wish we had better ways of doing things but we do not seem to be able to manage it.

    Perhaps compassion for others is my main driving force but anger comes next when I see those people I care about being excluded and neglected and it is the anger that gives me the energy to act.

    I would suggest that even Gandhi and Martin Luther King were angry men they just used that anger creatively, constructively and with some brilliance and ingenuity to achieve their goals.

  20. On the theme of Gandhi and MLK it may be appropriate to introduce the man who mentored Gandhi on non-violent resistance, a Russian by the name of Leo Tolstoy whose Letter a Hindu was to persuade Gandhi of this approach.


    Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, known best for discovering Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote this of Tolstoy’s book ‘The Law of Love and the Law of Violence’

    “[The Law of Love and The Law of Violence] consists of almost the last words Tolstoy wrote. Everything Tolstoy wrote is precious, but I found this final statement of the truth about life as he had come to understand it particularly beautiful and moving. ‘That is what I have wanted to say to you, my brothers. Before I died.’ So he concludes, giving one a vivid sense of the old man, pen in hand and bent over the paper, his forehead wrinkled into a look of puzzlement very characteristic of him, as though he were perpetually wondering how others could fail to see what was to him so clear – that the law of love explained all mysteries and invalidated all other laws.”

    “Tolstoy writes somewhere about a peasant belief that a green stick had been buried in the earth and would one day be found, and then all our troubles would come to an end. I think he half believed it himself, and was always on the look out for the green stick, until at last he grew tired of looking. Never mind. The fact that a man like Tolstoy could exist amounts in itself to a green stick. It is true that today his hopes seem more remote even than when he entertained them. Yet underlying the disappointed hopes was his faith in a single infallible guide, a ‘Universal Spirit that lives in men as a whole, and in each one of us . . . that commands the tree to grow towards the sun, the flower to throw off its seed in autumn, and us to reach out towards God and by so doing become united to each other.’ Such was his last word, delivered to us, his brothers, who come after him”

    For those interested, the legend of the Green Stick may be found here:


  21. Funny that you should bring up Tolstoy, because I have been thinking a lot about his work and his influence on Gandhi. I recommend the movie “The Last Station”, about the end of Tolstoy’s life, but really about reconciling one’s beliefs with the reality of one’s life. Tolstoy’s extraordinary gifts as a thinker and writer were not necessarily in tune with his ability in his own life to live what he believed. There’s the conundrum.

    Human beings are so complex. How could MLK and Gandhi have been anthing but angry men, as Martin suggests? The critical thing is not what you’re feeling, (and is anger so inherently wrong?) but how you express it. Tolstoy, MLK, Gandhi – these are people whose words and actions moved others towards passive resistance. It isn’t acting out, but it is sure is acting angry.

  22. Wow.
    After a long weekend, coming back to this discussion is humbling. Thank you all for this tremendously thoughtful conversation!

    Rather than respond in this small comment space, I am penning a full blog post, to attempt to summarize and move the conversation forward. Because for me the question is how we create systems that support the kind of healthy expression you have all addressed from all these many angles.

    So thank you. That post will be up soon!