The emotion of anger is complex and double-sided; anger is like fire, not only potentially destructive, but also potentially creative as it can alert us to transgression or injustice and energize us to work for change. Nevertheless, much of the discourse about anger within classical sources and Buddhist and Christian literature focuses primarily on the destructive potential in anger. This demonization of anger is a feminist concern because of the way anger has been gendered in Western culture: While anger in men can be appreciated as an expression of strength, anger in women is seen as evidence of female irrationality and inferiority. This paper argues that wholly negative assessments of anger depend upon a fallacious conflation of the emotion of anger with acts of aggression. This conflation informs the discussions of anger offered by Robert Thurman and Martha Nussbaum. Both acknowledge that there are (rare) experiences of anger that are free of aggression, but account for such supposed anomalies by positing a dichotomy between ordinary (bad, aggressive) anger and the purified (good, compassionate) anger of a saint or bodhisattva. But anger as it arises in human experience cannot be so neatly dichotomized into the utterly bad and the perfectly good. More realistic and helpful approaches to anger are found in the work of Audrey Lorde, Anita Burrows, and others who dare to honestly encounter and know their own anger without judgment or denial. These writers suggest that the work of "tending the fire" of anger with discernment and awareness is an essential, albeit daunting, spiritual task.


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pp. 67-76
Launched on MUSE
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