Anger is not only seldom productive;
it is often thoroughly destructive.
In fact, Buddhism says that acting out of anger is never the skillful thing to do. You might think of certain exceptions. What about anger directed against social injustice? And isn’t it necessary and therapeutic to express some anger? I can think of at least three answers to these objections. First, anger causes us to perceive its object in a distorted way. We turn the person we’re mad at into an ogre. We become unable to see their good qualities, and we get pumped full of a blinding adrenaline that often causes our interactions to spiral out of control. Anger leads us to see things in a polarized, sharply dualistic way. We believe we’re good; we believe our enemies are evil.
If you think that’s a helpful way to look at conflict, just look at what it has done for the Israelis and Palestinians, Hutus and Tutsis, Armenians and Turks, etc., etc., etc. Of course, it’s important to work against injustice, but we need to do so wisely, with clear eyes and a compassionate, understanding view of all sides. As Ghandi, Martin Luthur King, Jr., and the Dalai Lama have so ably demonstrated, a calm mind gets better results. These wise leaders were able to see that, just as our anger is a delusion arising out of our suffering, the anger of our ‘enemies’ is also an delusion, like a sickness in their minds. We should fight this delusion, not the people who suffer from it.
Second, though some therapists tout the benefits of expressing anger in a controlled way, such as punching a pillow, recent research in neuroscience contradicts that notion: if you punch a pillow, you’re actually exercising your brain’s neural pathways for aggression. Finally, our anger damages us as well as the object [or subject] of our wrath. It increases our heart rate, elevates our blood pressure, and has other serious health effects. As the saying goes, anger is an acid that corrodes the vessel that holds it. This seems stupidly obvious to me now, but when I was tromping the streets of Brooklyn, running my resentful little mental loops, I failed to realize that they had absolutely no effect on my wife [whom I was mad at]. I was just working myself into an increasingly agitated state – punching holes, in effect, in a wall only I could see. I was carrying around an entirely unhelpful burden, and I had to resolve to set it down.