College student Amelia was just having another day in class—or so she thought. The fourth-year undergraduate film & video major in college was listening in on a lecture for one of her elective classes in African-American Studies. As the professor continued on about issues regarding race relations in America, he presented a subjective question to the students about equality as it is viewed today, compared with twenty years ago.
Amelia, a Caucasian with a strong interest in race relations and a volunteer service record to back it up, raised her hand in response to the professor’s question. He called on her. Amelia shared her views—her observations from her own experience as well as those with whom she had worked over the last few years.
To Amelia’s chagrin, the professor stopped her after just a few sentences. “Miss, I am afraid that you, like most people, have it wrong. You really don’t have any idea what you are talking about,” he told her with the utmost conviction, and the eyes and ears of the entire class on both of them.
At that point, Amelia was stunned. If my opinion doesn’t matter, she thought to herself, they why did he ask it? Did this teacher call on me simply so he could put me (and the rest of the class) in my place? Did my opinion mean anything? Will I ever want to raise my hand in this class again?
Given it was only the second week of the term, Amelia thought “No!” She decided that she was not going to sit out the remainder of the class hunkered in the back of the room in fear of speaking up. After the class was over, and as the remaining students filtered out, Amelia approached the professor and privately confronted him, point-blank range.
“I don’t appreciate what you did in today’s class,” she told him respectfully, yet with a clear tone of resentment, and just a hint of the anger that was burning inside. “I am taking this class because it addresses issues that I care about and am very knowledgeable in. And I don’t appreciate you belittling me and trivializing my viewpoints just because I’m the student, and you are the teacher. I thought respect was supposed to go both ways.”
The professor was caught completely off guard.
After hearing Amelia’s point, his response was somewhat minimal. “Well, miss, I appreciate you sharing your concerns with me. I will have to process it and get back to you,” was all he could say. While he never did actually “get back” to Amelia regarding her complaint, nor even apologize for the demeaning way that he spoke to her in front of the class, he did give her the respect she expected and deserved. When questions were put forth to the audience, he would often look to her for a response, and gave better credence to her views, as well as the views of others. By the end of the term, Amelia received an A in the class.
Amelia’s story has a happy ending. While it illustrates many dynamics of the human condition, I’m sharing it here as an example of the choices that anger, one of the timeless seven deadly sins, gives us.
It’s interesting how the power of anger compares to the power of the atom. Think about it—when used for evil, it can destroy and kill millions. When used for good, it can change lives and the world, all for the better. It all just depends on the choices we make.
While anger is listed as one of the seven deadly sins, the mere experience of anger is not a sin. Rather, it is the uncontrolled, untempered feeding of anger that leads to thoughts and acts of revenge that are sinful. This also includes anger that is suppressed, or stewed about within the soul to the point that it leads to one’s own self destruction on the emotional, physical and spiritual levels.
But anger need not become a sin or a source of destruction. In Amelia’s case, she became angry and, despite fears of drawing wrath from her teacher, harnessed that energy to stick up for herself. Her fortitude not only improved her situation in the class, it likely helped the other students, and even made the professor a better teacher!
As we stated earlier: it all comes down to our choices. When people become angry about an injustice to them and to others, it has often led to dramatic action and change that positively influenced the lives of others. In fact, when driven by a justified, yet tempered sense of anger, ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things, and overcome incredible obstacles in the process. If you want just two great examples, visit the websites for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD.org) or 22 Hope (22hope.com).
One last point: perhaps you are reading this and struggling with anger on a personal level. You may not find this information very helpful—and I can relate myself to that sentiment. You don’t need me to tell you that the answer to personal feelings of anger is forgiveness of the person who hurt you. But you might take solace in realizing that forgiveness does not require you to deny or suppress the hurt you are experiencing (which is likely beyond description). Believe it or not, forgiveness is quite simple: to paraphrase Thomas Aquinas, forgiveness is nothing more than willing the good of the other (who hurt you) for the sake of the other. It is not a feeling; forgiveness is a choice.
That’s it! Simple, and while it might not be easy, I would say it is not too much to ask of us. The interesting point to also note here is that this definition of forgiveness is also very close to that of another, unrivaled power in the universe: Love.