We make a lot of assumptions about anger, like when we are on the receiving end, and how terrible some people are when they are angry at us. But if we were to explore the reasons for people’s anger, we may be surprised to learn the source of it.
The cause of much anger is sadness or fear, and certainly unconscious to the individual.
Tracing back the reasons for a person’s anger, we always find there is a reason. There is some cause deeper down that explains the effects of people’s behaviour. Not that this should warrant anger, and the caustic affects of such aggression, but we can rationalise why.
Empathic Responses to Anger
It takes a fair degree of insightful compassion to understand much of other people’s anger, particularly when we are hurt by it. But when we understand it is often sadness or fear, deeper down, which drives the angry outburst, empathy is more of a—okay-I-get-you—sort of straightforward response.
It may mean we are fearful, because in times of aggression and abuse there is very real cause for fear. When we understand there is a reason for the anger, that it’s not just about us, there is room within us for a semblance of peace, where resentment has less of a place.
Empathic responses to anger are best for all concerned; chances are the person angry at us will make a bid to redeem themselves—to apologise. If we were to resent their outburst, we might lash back at them, and the relationship would therefore be no better; in fact, it could get a lot worse.
Empathic responses to anger not only give the other person a second chance; such poised responses give the relationship a second chance, too. Where we show the empathy of caring, because we assume a person’s anger comes from their fear or sadness, and we have compassion for them, we exemplify God’s grace. We have been forgiving towards them on the spot.
Grace and Forgiveness Gets Them Thinking
Having grace in our interactions with people and, indeed, forgiving their transgressions—whilst it doesn’t implicate us to trust them again—facilitates the angry person’s self-reflection. Where there is no resentful anger returned, and a void of emotion and judgment is presented, it leaves the angry person with something to think about because of the absence of conflict.
Grace is space. That’s how we should think about grace. The forgiveness in grace is the beauty of compassion to disregard the offense without challenge. Such relational space in grace is so foreign in day-to-day human relationships it strikes the angry person as distinctly odd; bizarre; a cause for great subliminal reflection.
When we understand the fear or sadness involved in much of people’s anger, it’s not hard to feel more compassionate. Compassion drives the extension of grace. And grace is space; for the relationship; and, for the angry person to reflect. Grace is the ability to accept an apology without needing to return fire.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.