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Rainbow Margay Mage
I went to an excellent panel on anger in fiction at Loncon. They started with a quote from Abigail Nussbaum, who said there is an "increasing prevalence of vengeful victim characters, who are condemned not for the choices they make in pursuit of revenge, but simply for feeling anger..." (emphasis added)

My first reaction on reading that quote was, Wait--that's not fair! Anger is an emotion. Sure, it's a powerful one. It's a reaction to bad things happening, but the emotion itself isn't bad, and feeling it doesn't make you a bad person. Sure, anger can inspire you to do bad things, but so can any emotion, including "good" emotions like love. And it's just not right to punish people for their feelings.

I have long maintained that anger is a powerful emotion, and potentially a strong force for good. Anger is the energy that says "this is wrong and has to change". Sometimes you need to move past anger without making a change--for example, if you are dying, no change is possible, and you have to move on in the grief cycle.

But other times change is both possible and desirable; the challenge then isn't to eliminate the anger, but to find ways to channel that energy constructively rather than destructively.

The panel itself was interesting; people said you need to separate the emotion from the consequences; it was clear that they were recognizing that when you feel anger, or another emotion, you have choices to make not only about whether to express it but how to express it. I would have said you need to separate the emotion from the action, and also the emotion and action from the consequences. That might seem nit-picky, but I have run into problems in the past where one person assumed that the only possible reason for an action was his reason for that action, and he condemned someone else not for the action, but for what he thought was the motive for the action.

Another thing that was discussed by panelists is something I could rephrase into the old cliche, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." You have to speak up to initiate a change, but sometimes merely speaking up isn't enough. Sometimes you have to be loud and persistent to be noticed. (Of course, sometimes being loud just gets the people you need to listen to shy away in fear or distaste. Other times, it locks your desired audience into a closed defensive mind-set where they are too busy defending against a perceived or real attack to really hear your words.) But that doesn't change the fact that sometimes yelling is needed to convince someone to listen.

Panelists also mentioned things I hadn't realized, for instance the fact that if a minority expresses dissatisfaction with the status quo, no matter how politely or calmly they speak, they are perceived to be angry. This was a big "aha" moment for me, since I've been bewildered at the reactions I've gotten from white men at times--them believing I was making an angry attack would explain things nicely.

This also (in my mind, anyway, though I don't remember any one panelist stating this conclusion) may explain why we are taught that anger is a negative and harmful emotion--it's a force of change, and the people in charge want to stay in charge. Anger is dangerous to them not only when it is expressed destructively, but even and perhaps especially when it is expressed constructively.

Anger might lead to real change, after all.

And there's certainly things that need changing all around us.

So, if you're angry (and I hope you are, at least some of the time), be careful. How you express your anger matters. If you're not careful, you could destroy things you value, hurt your friends and alienate your allies. You could make the needed changes harder.

You've got to remember that the goal isn't merely expressing your feelings. That's important, but it isn't nearly enough.

So if you're angry, consider what your bigger goal is, consider your audience, and act carefully. Good luck making the changes you need manifest in your life!


And now I'm off to consult with certain of my characters, because I suspect some of the stuck-bits in my stories have to do with not identifying or clearly showing their anger. I wonder how many of them will heed my advice? Will they make changes or dig themselves in deeper? You know, from a writing perspective, this is exciting stuff!

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
seekerval
Aug. 20th, 2014 10:49 pm (UTC)
Insightful post. That must have been a lively panel.
wyld_dandelyon
Aug. 20th, 2014 11:21 pm (UTC)
It was a great panel. I'm not at all sure I did it justice. I think there were other points I wanted to make, and I also wanted to give a better summary of what was said, but when I opened my computer right after the panel, I learned that a musician friend from St. Louis had died unexpectedly earlier that day of a heart attack, and I was more than a little distracted by that.
seekerval
Aug. 20th, 2014 11:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, my dear girl, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. My sympathies to you and your friend's family.
wyld_dandelyon
Aug. 20th, 2014 11:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you. He wasn't someone I knew well, but I loved singing harmony with his songs and wanted to get to know him and his wife better. I hope she will stay involved in the filk community. I bought their first album (a CD of love songs) at their album-party at Chambanacon last November.
filkferengi
Aug. 24th, 2014 06:46 pm (UTC)
It's so sad about Bari. What's the name of that album you bought? I'm not sure I have it.
earthspirits
Aug. 21st, 2014 12:29 am (UTC)
A very wise and insightful post, thanks for sharing this with us. All good stuff to know.
wyld_dandelyon
Aug. 21st, 2014 06:15 am (UTC)
Thank you and you're welcome!
mount_oregano
Aug. 21st, 2014 08:22 pm (UTC)
That explains some things I've been puzzled about. Thanks!
wyld_dandelyon
Aug. 22nd, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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Rainbow Margay Mage
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