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Spaces to be Angry

I think that we tend to view anger as a weapon. Anger is something that is used to hurt others, it is an act of aggression (and even sometimes of violence), that silences others and damages relationships. Once we have experienced somebody's anger we are more inclined to keep them at a distance — lest they lash out and hurt us again.
However, in my time working with street kids, homeless adults, and all those who are marginalised in the inner city, I have come to see anger quite differently. I think anger is actually something quite intimate. Anger is an expression of vulnerability — and in a culture where we do all we can to appear invulnerable such a thing is valuable indeed. Anger, when approached from this perspective, becomes something that can deepen relationships — not break them apart.
It took me some time to realise this. As I journeyed with marginalised people I was continually surprised that those who lashed out at me, those who seemed to hate me the most (even those who physically assaulted me), would often — after the outburst — have a much tighter bond with me. And it was a bond I felt as well. It puzzled me for the longest time. I was continually shocked that those who one day were ready to act violently against me were, the next day, far more affectionate towards me than I had ever seen them be. At first I thought they were just feeling guilty for their actions but I quickly realised there was something much deeper going on. Several of the deepest relationships I have developed have started this way.
And I think it is because I have recognised that their anger is something that was intimate, something that made them vulnerable. If I were to respond negatively to their anger it would be a personal rejection of them. Which is what happens over and over again. Kids can only so go long without an outburst and the rejection that follows that outburst only confirms the destructive, hopeless image they have of themselves. But I continue to love them after their anger and I think they feel more fully known and, therefore, more fully loved — perhaps loved in a way that they had not been loved before. Allowing someone the space to be angry, and loving them more deeply through their anger, this is what causes transformation.
How do we, who desire intimacy, we seek to live in any form of real community, create spaces for others to be angry? I think that the first step is changing how we view anger at a fundamental level. Increasingly I am learning to see anger as a gift given to me — not a weapon used against me.

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