The other night at a local city council meeting, I heard several councilors scold each other, members of the public, and even themselves for getting “angry.”

I wanted to tell them this:

We must distinguish between angry emotions and harmful actions.

Here’s why:

Anger is an emotion. 

Emotion is information that tells us when a need is unmet (our own or our community’s) or that a part of us needs attention and healing.

Anger—like any emotion—is not good or bad. Emotions do not cause harm.

Actions cause harm.

Expressing anger with respect is not the same as engaging in harmful actions.

Expanding policing? Unfairly assessing the community? Blocking democracy?

These are harmful actions.

Speaking up with a bit of anger in your voice? Taking a stand for justice? Saying no, I will not abide?

Not harmful.

As Audre Lorde wrote: “Anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in the painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have grave differences, and who are our genuine enemies. Anger is loaded with information and energy.”

Having emotional maturity means allowing ourselves to experience the full spectrum of our emotions—including anger—and responding with actions that do our best to meet our needs.

In Love and Rage, The Path of Liberation Through Anger, Lama Rod Owens writes: Emotionally mature people I know express all kinds of emotions. They get pissed, they laugh, they are serious, playful, and sometimes sad.

Let us stop tone-policing our anger and stop apologizing for how we feel.

Let us develop the emotional maturity to honor all our emotions and act with respect for ourselves and each other.

Let us create systems that honor our anger and address our needs.

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