Anger Vs Empathy
By Mike King
‘We are living in unprecedented times’ is the phrase we’re all loving to throw around right now. It peppers political speeches and attempts to infuse articles with grandiose meaning and importance. In a short space of time, platitudes such as this
have become trite. They’re clichés.
And the reason they have no meaning is that no longer will society be willing to listen to fake, empty statements without action being taken. In 2020 the world is afraid, and watches from the comfort of its global armchair as a vicious pandemic burns through its populations and leaves most of its leadership clambering to make the right decisions for the wellbeing of its people. Not to mention a deteriorating climate and natural world.
We are entering an age of anger. We are becoming enraged at how governments could be so ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic. We are furious at the lack of equipment to support frontline healthcare workers or funding to support those left without medical insurance, those without jobs, homes or even families. On top of this, our economies sit on a cliff-edge while highly successful and wealthy business leaders choose to approach our governments for bailouts and financial support.
Anger is the first emotion we usually feel when we know we’ve been unjustly treated. And anger is a valid emotion. But how do we know?
The American Psychological Association defines anger as a good thing, something that ‘can give you a way to express negative feelings, for example, or motivate you to find solutions to problems’.
And anger, as an emotion, is something that has been gladly accepted as the leading attribute of men. Men — more than women — have been allowed to become angry. They’ve been allowed to express their anger to a point that often evolves into aggression, confrontation, sometimes violence.
As we begin to see traditionally unhealthy paradigms of manhood fall away — to a greater or lesser degree (rightly) manifested by pro-women movements such as #MeToo — can we still claim this to be the right way for men to be?
All of us are entitled to feel angry about what is happening in the world. We will all need to let this emotion rise up to the surface and acknowledge it when it comes. It will be best for our mental and emotional wellbeing. But when it subsides, will we also be able to seek out our own feelings of empathy, kindness, and forgiveness? How will we know when it’s appropriate to deploy these feelings to our worldview, to ensure our responses are balanced and appropriate?
Displaying appropriate levels of anger is something I have personally struggled with, for most of my life. In recent years I’ve found the strength to learn how and when to show that I’m unhappy with the actions of someone else, and to demonstrate this by taking action in a way that both acknowledges the emotion, asserts my personal boundaries and keeps the relationship in a healthy state.
Recently, though, I took a test which showed me to be high in empathy. Looking back, I can see how empathy has been an emotion that usually came naturally to me. I wasn’t the jock, I was picked last for the team and I always avoided a fight. And I am aware that this is unusual for a man.
Or is it?
If we consider the left brain/right brain theory (and yes, I know the science world has thrown the reality of any biological differences between brain hemispheres out with the bathwater, but go with me on this) I recognize myself to be almost 100% right-brained. My thought process is holistic, I trust my feelings, I can easily recognize emotions in myself and others and I have many creative talents including music, theatre, literature, and cooking (if I say so myself).
I am also nice. And we know where nice people finish, right?
There is little doubt in my mind that the world is dominated by left-brain thinkers. The logical lefties try to force upon us their academic, analytical principles from an early age and expect us to process things in the way they see fit. But could it be that the lefties have also allowed society to overlook the negative side of anger? Could their reign on society have let anger slip into, aggression, conflict and male dominance? This is a theory, of course.
If we are living in a left-brained world, what happens in the age of anger? What happens when we start to realize that — in the end — there will be no-one left to blame. That there are too many problems to address and that, maybe, we’ve just all been doing it wrong for too long?
This is when I believe we will move into the age of empathy. This is when I believe that those of us who are naturally empathetic — who have spent years of their lives attempting to crowbar their natural selves into an angry, aggressive world of logical thinking and conflict — will be better able to show others how to find a balance between the two.
And we will be stronger for it. The right-brained empaths have spent so long trying not to be nice. We have tried to be cut-throat, backstabbing, competitive and egotistical so we can succeed in this competitive world. We have tried not to be who we are, not to let our talents show or to be nice for fear that we will be seen as weak or incompetent. But maybe, in the new worlds, we’ll soon be entering, when all that we’ll have left is each other, we will see that caring for each other is all that we really have.
And until that time comes, can we at least acknowledge that while men and women certainly have biological differences, it doesn’t always mean they will come with behavioral differences. Men can be kind and creative. Women can be strong and assertive. And between us all, can we appreciate the need to find a better balance between our anger and empathy? It will be better for us all, whatever world we end up in.
This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.