July 2, 2007

Anger has a place too

Posted in animal advocacy, emotional healing, vegan, veganism at 5:54 pm by nevavegan

Invisible Voices posted a blog entry the other day about how other people might be very uncomfortable witnessing our emotions. Particularly she applied this to animal advocacy, where people would say she was angry when she felt she was just pushing for compassion, justice, and fairness to non-human animals.

There is always this risk, when we do the hard work and we face those things most people turn away from, that bitterness over this heartbreak, this awfulness, will start to define us. Still, the bitterest people I’ve known in my life weren’t vegans; they weren’t animal advocates.

I do think we need to realistically define and keep an eye on our emotions, if for no other reason than that our message can get lost in a sea of undirected anger. But at the same time we don’t need to apologize for having emotions when we see animals killed, used, mutilated in such horrible ways.

In fact there seems to me to be something defective about someone who can look at immense suffering, who can look at hens crammed into battery cages next to their dead sisters, and just see dollar signs, just see loss or profit. There is being in control of our emotions, and then there’s just being deadened to all empathy.

But the fact remains that many people are uncomfortable with other people’s emotions. Often these people who can’t handle the emotions of others aren’t necessarily unemotional themselves, but they subscribe to certain myths about emotion. Perhaps they feel that emotions like anger or disgust are always wrong. Conversely some people might view anger as “strong” but grief as “weak.” Others might feel we have some obligation to those around us to only express “good” emotions like happiness.

The truth is that all of our emotions are part of who we are. We don’t have the right to take those emotions out on others. We shouldn’t be passive-aggressive in handling our emotions. But sometimes anger is simply the sanest response possible to a given situation.

I recently got a copy of UPC’s latest Poultry Press and in it was a picture of a battery hen who was too weak to stand or walk and some college students at KSU had thrown her onto their basketball court from 30 feet up in the stands. Other hens were painted red and blue and tossed onto the court. Two of the hens died.

The only possible response to instances like this, where the strong purposefully hurt the weak, is to get angry. Bullies thrive because nobody ever stands up to them, nobody confronts them. We can get angry, but we need to use that anger toward a measured response, a thoughtful strategy. We don’t need to just lash out wildly, without thought, but our emotional response, our outrage is justified and necessary.

If we think about all the millions of battery hens who suffer and die hidden from sight, then the anger and the grief is almost incomprehensible.

Gender stereotypes work against us as well. Many people will tolerate a certain level of anger from men, but adhere to a myth that women should be gentle, quiet and sweet at all times. Women aren’t supposed to get angry. But of course we do, we get angry about injustice against ourselves, just as any human being does. Some of us get angry about injustice directed toward others, because our compassion leads us to care what happens to them.

As always our anger doesn’t give us license to hurt others, but it can give us energy if properly directed. If we keep an eye on our mental state as well, perhaps we can know when the anger crosses some line and moves away from energizing and more into exhausting and consuming. That’s when we know we need to take a step back, visit a sanctuary, hug a dog, find something happy and cling to it for a while.

Still some of the people who’ve told me in my life that they think I’m too angry, were themselves among the angriest people I’ve ever met. People who deny and suppress their anger aren’t necessarily diffusing it. Instead it might be waiting, boiling right below the surface, waiting to leap out at the first opportunity. It’s much better to harness it to good work.



  1. Eric said,

    I just found out over at VFF that you’ve been blogging here for a while. Great stuff! I’ve been browsing through your archives for a bit now, and just wanted to say “hi.” Thanks for adding your voice to the animal-friendly blogosphere.

  2. jen said,

    i’m excited to find out you have a blog too! i’m always interested in what you have to say about things.

    i agree with you that anger itself is not right or wrong, it’s what you do with the anger and how you express it that matters. i also agree that it’s dysfunctional to never be angry, just as it’s dysfunctional to never be sad or happy. again, we can’t (and shouldn’t) control the fact of our emotions, just how we choose to express them.

  3. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Eric and Jen!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: