Last night a wise friend gave me some sound advice. The phone conversation went like this.
Friend: What are you doing?
Me: I'm trying to decide if I'm so upset I can't eat or if I'm so upset all I want to do is eat.
Friend: Of course you want to eat. Who doesn't want to eat?
Me: (trudging my pathetic corpse to the kitchen for ice cream) Okay, I'll eat. I'm just so mad!!
Friend: Good. Be mad and stay mad. You have a right to be mad.
I nearly cried for joy (until I remembered I was supposed to stay angry). And at some point during our conversation, I began to believe him. I traded the soggy, melted, soppy ice cream for crunching crackers, because--let's face it--ice cream is just not an angry food. A bottomless box of Cheez-its? Now that's angry food.
I've spent most of my adult life trying really hard not to be angry or ignoring my anger or apologizing for it. I never wanted my anger to make someone else feel emotionally uncomfortable. In fact, I got so good at disguising my anger that usually the people I'm angry with think I'm joking.
Just ask my kids. They laugh at me when I'm mad. Truly laugh at me. Which only makes me madder which makes them laugh harder.
A few years ago, my alma mater adopted the motto Play Angry!
I'm not sure what the Wichita State University Shockers were angry about, and I'm not sure it mattered--as long as they were angry and stayed that way and played that way.
Their Playing Angry has served them well. They played angry enough to get them to the NCAA Men's basketball final four. They played angry enough to complete an undefeated season. They played angry enough to earn the respect of many naysayers.
And that's the thing my nice little apologetic mad moments were lacking--respect.
One of my favorite movie scenes comes from Terminator 3 when John Conner is lamenting over the fact that he is chosen to lead the world against the rise of the machine. The movie came out like 10 years ago, but I've always remembered the message of this scene.
Anger is a more useful emotion than despair. God, it's so true isn't it? What does despair do for us but dive us into gallons of ice cream and ruin our mascara and make us proclaim pathetic, embarrassing, abusive self-talk? Anger IS so much more useful and powerful.
I've always told my children that they have a right to their emotions. The best way to handle emotions is name them, claim them, process them, and move on. Looking back, I wish I had followed my own advice. I was too busy justifying others' emotions and apologizing for my own. Come to think of it, that kind of makes me mad. And I should be mad! I have a right to be mad! Anger is a perfectly good emotion and I've been ignoring it, wasting it all this time!
Time to take my own advice. Time to take my friend's advice. If it's good enough for The Terminator and the Shockers, it should be good enough for me. Besides, you know what they say about nice guys? Playing nice gets you last place. Playing angry just might help you save mankind or get you a shot at the title or maybe some deserved respect.
Or in my case...at least a good laugh.