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Anger, Bad – and Good? Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 30 December 2011

The guy behind the repair-shop counter would not accept credit cards even though, a few days before, his boss said they would. I argue, try to get him to understand that his boss said different, “JUST TWO DAYS AGO!” Young and short of cash, a credit card is all I have. Clearly, I am not getting my VCR back any time soon.

So, I get up in the guy’s face and let him have it. He quickly backs down, says he will deliver it within the hour to my apartment around the corner. I go home and wait, and wait some more. After a while I figure the guy isn’t coming so I storm back up Columbus Avenue, slam the door open, and go inside. The guy stands behind the counter with a certain look on his face.

“You scared me before but not any more,” he shouts at the top of his lungs. “You are never getting your VCR back.”

“Oh, yes I am,” and I make a move to the back room. I almost make it but the guy jumps up and blocks my way. We stand there inches from each other, eyeball to popping eyeball until the guy’s friend intervenes. He touches my shoulder and rather gently says, “Let me handle this. Go away and come back in a while.”

Immediately upon leaving the store, I am overcome with remorse. I really lost my temper. I am embarrassed. I walk a few blocks to a liquor store and pick up a bottle of scotch.

A few minutes later I open the door to repair shop and step inside. All eyes turns to me. All conversation stops. I walk up to the guy who is now sitting at a desk. I reach into my bag, pull out the scotch, bang it down on his desk and say, “drink with me.”

Total, almost gasping, silence, and then spontaneous uproarious laughter from everyone in the store, led by the guy himself.

The guy produces glasses and everyone in the store stands around sipping scotch. I notice he is not really drinking just putting the glass to his lips. I figure he’s Muslim. No matter. We shake hands about a million times. We hug each other and pound each other on the back. He gives me my VCR and says to pay him in a few days.

When I was in my twenties, I used to rage at waiters and others but mostly at cabdrivers. Once a cabbie picked me up at LaGuardia. I tell him the way to go. He makes a massively wrong turn and we head into deeper Queens rather than toward sweet Manhattan.

Of course, I yell at the guy. He screams at me. He makes more wrong turns. We fight some more. We drive and drive. Finally, he reaches into a bag on the front seat of his cab, “You want an orange?” I eat it. He offers me a sandwich, which I decline. We laugh and talk. He invites me to his house for dinner with his family.

Note: in neither story is there a groveling apology. There is a gesture – drink with me, have an orange – and all is well. One of the many things women do not understand about men is how quickly we can overcome anger, offer peace offerings, become non-combatants and fast friends, seemingly on the turn of a dime.

Men know this from the playground. What man has not become best friends with a guy he had a dust-up with on the playground way back when, or maybe even in a saloon later on? Women tend to linger on hurts and slights and fights. Men usually forget, and fast.

I cannot defend my actions from twenty-five years ago. Though they had happy and even funny endings, they went way to far. These were not displays of righteous anger. And I am grateful that such anger has left me.

There is little question there seems to be an epidemic of male rage these days. I wonder if it is due in part to our overly feminized age. We live in an age that devalues most manly virtues and any manly flash of temper, however minor, is viewed with horror.

When I started out in the world, getting chewed out by the boss was a rite of passage. Now it’s viewed practically as assault.

They say John McCain – he of the old school – has a temper. He has chewed out more than a few, and three years ago the enemies of his presidential aspirations said he was “mentally unbalanced” because of it.

You get the feeling that our age would be uncomfortable with Jesus telling people that they are “whited sepulchers.” “Whited sepulchers. He said that? That’s so mean.”

Everything these days has to be softly modulated lest anyone’s feelings get hurt, even if disasters loom. I was at a pro-life conference years ago when a speaker, a Messianic Jew, went on a tirade about how the Catholic Church is the devil’s own sun-worshiping heresy. As I rose to give him what-for, the woman I sat with whispered, “Do it with love.” She neutered me – but quick.

It sometimes seems to me that if Jesus Christ Himself came back today and he turned over tables and drove the money-changers from the temple, the tut-tutters and all the lady-writers would say, “Do you really think he is a fit Savior, what with his anger issues and all?”

Ira (wrath) is one of the seven deadly sins and ought to be avoided. But since Our Lord Himself displayed anger at times – call it righteous indignation, if you want – maybe we should worry that our lack of anger is sometimes really a lack of manly courage or commitment.

Not trying to pick a fight with anyone or anything. 


Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.

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Comments (24)Add Comment
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written by Jacob R, December 30, 2011
Good point!

People routinely accuse me of being unstable or even evil when I've never made a threatening statement to anyone in my life. If you have strong Christian convictions and aren't afraid to defend them or, heaven forbid, go on the offensive, you're considered mentally disturbed.

This woman who was the head of student affairs threatened to have the school's lawyers prosecute me because she lost an argument with me and didn't like it. She backed down, but it's scary that her first idea was to have me silenced and marked as a lunatic so the dangerous things I was saying would not be taken seriously.

But these people have zero moral compass. They're now trained to scratch and claw like animals and use any means necessary to destroy their enemies, real or perceived.

This is what happens when you let godless secularists run your life because you're too afraid to stand up.
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written by Ars Artium, December 30, 2011
I do not have the passage before me, but, if I remember correcctly, Josef Pieper wrote that the absence of righteous anger is one of the symptoms of a dying civilization.
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written by Grump, December 30, 2011
Austin, good piece. To everything there is a season...Even stodgy old Aquinas said, "It is requisite to the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes." And, it has been said, it takes more than twice as many muscles to frown as to laugh.

God supplies the jokes; we supply the punchlines.


Happy New Year!
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written by Tony Esolen, December 30, 2011
Excellent, excellent!

From Dante's Purgatory: "Blessed are / The peacemakers, whose anger is no sin!" Mull that one over ...

A Dominican friend of mine: "Anger is given us for the sake of justice."

It's clear, in Dante's Inferno, that the poet viewed the irascible faculty as a natural good that may be abused, just as the beauty of the body, the appetite for food, and the natural wealth of the earth may be abused.

The motif of two men becoming fast friends only after they have wrestled with one another in anger is as old as literature itself. It is the basis of the epic poem Gilgamesh. There, the enmity-turned-friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu is what civilizes both men. In fact, civilization is only made possible by bonds like those.

If this is true, then what happens when feminizers prevent men from expressing anger is that, paradoxically, the enmity is never solved, and those great friendships are never forged. Meanwhile, boys never do learn how to deal constructively with that anger, and so we get teenagers knifing each other rather than scrapping in a fair fight.

But these fight-before-friendship scenes are everywhere: Tom Sawyer, How Green Was My Valley ... When I'm teaching Gilgamesh, I ask my students in the huge lecture hall how many of them, the men that is, have had a Gilgamesh-Enkidu experience -- a close friendship that was preceded by a fight. Plenty of hands go up ...

The implications for political cooperation, by the way, are profound, but nobody wants to talk about them ...
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written by Ars Artium, December 30, 2011
I am thinking of two events. One is biblical - that of Jacob's wrestling with the angel. The other is an event in my own life, a rather commonplace event - my attendance at a Mass at St. Jean Baptiste Church in New York City.

The Mass, sung in Latin, began in procession of a robed, all-male choir. As was customary at that time, there were no women on the altar. It was (obviously) very long ago. I was a young girl but did not in any way think myself excluded. I was in fact not excluded. I have not forgotten the beauty; the memory has enriched my life.

But what has this to do with Jacob and his struggle? Everything. I had read the story and, as with the Mass, identified with it as an inheritor of the Jewish tradition through Jesus and as an acting person, a child of God, who by God's gift had been born as a member of the female half of the human race.

In neither case did it occur to me that I was not part of the event through passionate involvement in life and in love of God. That I am female was not the point.

I also have striven "with man and with God". If there are "feminizers" who forbid righteous anger, their number does not include myself, my daughters, daughters-in-law, or many friends.

I believe that Professor Esolen did not intend to include the entire female sex in his condemnation of "feminizers". It does seem though that he is privileging the idea of struggle and righteous anger as masculine. It is not.
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written by Gina Nakagawa, December 30, 2011
Well, now some observations are in order:

1) This is an excellent article and an excellent apology for male temper tantrums.

2) Women who have learned humility and true love know when to "pop their corks" and when to let it go.

3) If the male of the species is so good at being angry and "turning on a dime", why have their been so many vicious, deadly wars, acts of vengeance, et al throughout history.

4) Nope, when the Almighty created us, He made us slightly different, but totally equal. After the Fall we became equally stupid. That is sad, but that is also true.

5) Again, this is a great article with fine spiritual meat to nourish both sexes equally. There is a place for righteous anger, but it is a very small place, and it needs to be rightly directed.
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written by Manfred, December 30, 2011
A few years ago, while listening to the news while I drove in my car, I heard a report that a teenager in Baltimore had shot and wounded the priest who had molested him. In all the reports for decades of abuse by priests, rabbis and coaches, have you EVER heard a report that a father, brother, mother, uncle had ever done physical harm to the predator? One of my six sons was verbally abused by the Christian Brother principal in his high school on ONE occasion. My response? The next morning my attorney and I were in the principal's outer office while he had locked himself in his inner office. He refused to emerge and face us. The attorney followed up with letter sent certified mail relating what we would do to the Brother if his assault were repeated, with a copy to the homosexual Ordinary. The Brother was gone at the end of the semester. Do you know what happens in the absence of anger? Jerry Sandusky retires from Penn State in 1999 and still has keys to the sports facilities where he continued to sodomize ten year old boys for years.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., December 30, 2011
Austin, your insights on th idfferences between how the genders deal with anger and resentment are sure to draw ire and inidgnation from the female commisars, who are never nearly as beautful as Garbo in Ninotchka, but your words deliciously accurate. I am 62, and when I tell my mother about corresponding with a nieghborhood bully from 55 years ago she can't understadn how I write to someone who gave me a bloody nose when I was seven. At the same time I am trying to reunite to female friends to whom I haven't spoken in years, one dying of cancer, and I can't get anyplace. My very orthodox wife is embarrassed by my anger at Catholics who tell other Catholics that it is just fine to suppot abortion. Now, as to what is going on today among young men, instead of provoked anger we are seeing grauitous, sadistic attacks that are the result of the absence of male role models. Oh, I almost forgot--we're not supposed to be angry at social policies that result in enormous numbers of fatherless homes. Thanks for a good end of year column.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., December 30, 2011
Exceelent, excellent point Manfred! That one needs to berepeated from every pulpit and in every ethics and moral theology course in the land. Good way to see in a new year!
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written by Tony Esolen, December 30, 2011
Among men there is the phenomenon of the worthy opponent, the enemy who is within a hair's breadth of becoming my friend. I don't find that phenomenon among women -- at least I have never seen it in my life. That doesn't mean that men are "better" than women; it does mean that male friendship is different from female friendship, and requires a little consideration.

Or more than a little consideration -- some protection and respect. Examples:

In the Army, back in the days before soldierinas -- sorry, but when I see a woman in khakis I see a woman in khakis, who'd be overmatched physically by my teenage nephews -- when two guys got into a scrap, they'd put them in the boxing ring with gloves on. That was by way of settling the dispute (at least), but I'll bet that many a friendship was born from it.

Democracy itself was born from such friendships. The key institution among the Greeks was the gymnasion, where boys would be taught the poems of Homer, and how to wrestle and throw a spear and so forth. In the gymnasion, physical training was in the nude (people hadn't invented gym shorts yet), and that was a powerful equalizer among classes. It also built a culture of dynamic struggle, of competition that profited both of the competitors. It wasn't just a thing-that-happened in Greece, accidentally, alongside the other thing, democracy. The two were intimately related.

There's another question, and that's whether these dynamic friendships occur in the presence of women. My observation suggests that they don't, and for some obvious reasons.

Yes, men fight wars; they fight bad wars, and they occasionally fight good wars. But without the friendships we are talking about, there would never have been any nations to fight wars in the first place. That is a straight anthropological fact. One can see it as soon as one asks what it took to have a city, back in the days before refrigerated food and electronic surveillance and suchlike.
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written by Tony Esolen, December 30, 2011
God did not make us slightly different. He made us gloriously and comically and wonderfully different! We are just too used to the differences even to notice them, and too ungrateful, each sex for the other, to care.

Trivial example: You are walking towards a street corner, and hear someone whistling an aria from Puccini. You turn the corner and see that it's a man. No surprise: it is always a man whistling Puccini. I have no idea why this is so, but in my life I have always found it to be so. My wife can whistle a little bit, but she would never be in that situation ...
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written by Grump, December 30, 2011
Tony, I always whistle Puccini (and Verdi), but Wagner is unwhistable.
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written by Charles E Flynn, December 30, 2011
A priest once made these three points in the confessional while discussing the difference between sinful anger and righteous indignation:

1. The essence of masculinity is gentleness.

2. We should seek to imitate our Lord at all times.

3. But, I suppose you did not have ready access to a whip!
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written by Tony Esolen, December 30, 2011
Same topic -- and thinking of what Manfred has said above:

I'm not claiming that the Italians get everything right (they don't), but there's a reason why rape is basically nonexistent in Italy. Girls still have brothers and cousins and fathers, to administer the Fate Worse Than Death....

If only, if only there had been a few publicly known cases of a father or big brother beating the living daylights out of a pederast (whatever the profession) ... I don't think I've ever heard of one ...
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., December 30, 2011
Thank you all for this discussion. The humor has lightened the burden of hearing the news that the woman I mentioned earlier passed away yesterday. I hadn't meant to say that I had been in contact with either of them but that they had not been in contact with each other. The one fighting cancer allowed me to pass her contact info to the other, once a very devout Catholic but now a so-called freethinker, but the freethinker never followed through. Anyway, Grump, you can whistle Wagner. It's great fun to start with the Prelude to Tristan and have say that you're out of tune and then tell ask them how they know. Again, thanks for some welcome mirth. Happy New Year to all!
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written by Ars Artium, December 31, 2011
Just for the record: My closest friend and I engage in [intellectual] combat as a matter of course. Our friendship began with a provocative question, one about Catholicism. Our sparring match and our friendship continues. She is a worthy opponent. I have reason to believe that she finds me one as well.

I was surprised to discover in reading these comments that the male writers should feel in any way threatened by the fact that friendship between "worthy opponents" exists between women as well. It is true that our contests do not require boxing gloves.

A Happy and Blessed New Year to all.
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written by Ars Artium, December 31, 2011
To complete my comments on this subject: Perhaps the word "threatened" [previous comment} was a poor choice. Something like "do not understand" would have better served the point.

Also,I am fundamentally committed to the traditional understanding of men and women as two halves of one life-giving entity in marriage. Manliness as expressed by all men of good will is a God-given good. Yes, we are different. We achieve goodness and show forth the virtues in different ways. For Catholic women, the model is Marian. Like Mary we keep many things "in our hearts and ponder them." I do think that those of us who believe this is true must phrase our arguments carefully lest we provide fodder for those who would make us competitors or opponents in a battle for power.

It is true that I cannot whistle. I, like many women, have no desire to serve on the battlefield except in a medical support capacity.
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written by Grump, December 31, 2011
Thomas, after an agonizing hearing of Wagner's Ring Cycle, I do not recall one memorable tune. But, I suppose as Mark Twain once said, "Wagner's music is not as bad as it sounds."
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written by Austin Ruse, December 31, 2011
Thanks to all. The comments were much more interesting than the column itself!
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written by Rosemary, December 31, 2011
Austin! You really are a silly man! You just did not learn to negotiate with your parents first as a child. Did you scream at them when you did not get what you wanted? Of course not.

Men cannot read faces the way women can. Once my husband and I missed a flight due to the crazy route our driver took. When the airline person could not get us on the next flight, my normally-dear husband began to pressure her, really pressure her. I could see her face get very tight. Thank God for the little voice in my head that said, "Negotiate!" I smiled, put my arm between my husband and the counter and told the airline server that we will take whatever is the next available flight. She smiled now, too, but made no promises because we were now on standby. We did get on a flight within the hour and made it to my husband's meeting in plenty of time. We have to let go and let God!
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written by Phil, December 31, 2011
Been reading the Catholic Thing since the beginning and have never commented. Love your every-man approach, Mr. Ruse, and am thankful that you and the others are able to put to words what I know to be the truth. God bless and keep on doing what you're doing.

I think Jesus with the whip is my image of the "God-Hero" Isaiah talks about. Take it to the bad guys!
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written by Austin Ruse, January 01, 2012
Rosemary,

Did I scream at my parents when I did not get what I want and was it effective? Darn tootin'!

What you describe is a fundamental difference between justice loving men and manipulative women. Of course, one can take a more measured approach and get your way! But then all you get it your way. You do not deliver justice. This difference is evidenced in males and females from the earliest even embryonic stages!
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written by The Ranter, January 01, 2012
I do believe that most mothers have that 'mama bear' instinct that is their righteous anger on behalf of their children. I, as a mother, have felt that righteous anger and don't feel a bit of guilt for it. It is my job, my vocation, my duty to be protective of my children. Unfortunately, I also believe most modern mothers have had their 'mama bear' instinct effectively spayed...which is why I believe that you see many more cases of abuse by teachers/priests/those in positions of authority, because mothers have stopped feeling righteous anger on their children's behalf. (I also think that women being submissive to men other than their husbands have something to do with it to, but that's for another time.
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written by Divine, January 02, 2012
He who angers you controls you

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