The challenge of our age: Moving past our rage

Anger is an important call to action. But anger alone will not lead our country toward useful, lasting change – nor will it meaningfully diminish injustice, Kevin Shinn writes.

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There was a nugget of consistent advice I was given as a young father many years ago. I was encouraged to never discipline a child in anger. I wish I had a chance to go back and redo some of those moments where I violated that counsel.

In the heat of the moment, when the kids were arguing, disobeying, or talking back to their mom in disrespect, I knew this was not the desired behavior I wanted for my children, and thus I would get angry.  It was immediate and inescapable.

The words don’t discipline in anger would flash into my mind’s eye.

What else was I supposed to do? Their actions provoked an emotional reflex in me that was impossible to ignore. How was I to not discipline in this anger that I was feeling so acutely? In these moments, it seemed there was no other solution.

This complicated dilemma isn’t limited to parenting.  The adage never discipline your child in anger could effectively be expanded to say don’t do anything in anger.

Anger is an important human emotion. It is a call to action. It’s like the CO2 detector or smoke alarm in my house. When the device signals its annoying tone, it doesn’t do any good to ignore it or remove the battery to prevent it from going off again. Its noise is a sign of a bigger problem that needs to be addressed.

It’s telling me to pay attention and investigate further.

When my young kids made me angry, I did not fully understand at that moment that the emotion was there to get my attention. Theirs was poor behavior. It was my job as a parent to guide them away from hurtful actions toward a better way to behave.

In this way, it was critical for me to have a clear picture in my mind of the outcome I wanted for my kids. I wanted to raise children that knew how to be kind, generous, and have a positive influence on the world around them.

This was not going to happen by wishful thinking. I had to engage and take action. I had to be involved in their lives, especially when they were acting up. I had to shape them intentionally. Venting my anger was not going to actualize my vision. I had to be smarter than my impulses.

In the heat of the moment of childhood discipline, it was important that I shift my anger. I might be justified in feeling mad, but I could not let it overtake me. I had to transform the acute emotion into productive love and nurturing development. Anger left unmitigated would only lead me to destructive rage where solutions aren’t realized and no one wins.

Politics should take a page from the parenting playbook.

Injustice and racism are two of the most looming forces provoking anger in our current culture at large. And rightly so. No human being should be subject to the kind of mistreatment we have witnessed, even just this past year. To not be angry at this kind of brutal loss of life is to deny something sacred and precious about the importance of every individual.

The anger is understandable. But anger alone will not lead our country toward any useful change. Just being outraged isn’t going to diminish injustice.

Anger without a vision will only burn itself down.

Deep, abiding change will come when the average citizen recognizes the futility of being angry without a compelling picture of a better future. There is no legislation that can address an angry heart or cause it to change.

It becomes liberated by a free choice, not through a law.

And when human hearts are free from anger, it can create a much more effective coalition than any rule or party can provide.

A chef, writer, and entrepreneur, Kevin Shinn is a thought leader in Lincoln’s cultural, economic, and civic life. He was the owner and executive chef of bread & cup restaurant in the Haymarket from 2007-17. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.

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