The Godzilla Syndrome — Part 3

Expressions of anger

Tim Muehlhoff and Todd Lewis describe Deborah Tannen’s argument culture as today’s communication climate. It is a negative communication climate geared toward a battlefield environment affecting behaviors against anyone who believes differently. Christians have assumed this position causing some Christian academics to label “fellow Christians as the pit bulls of the culture war” (p. 183). This environment of argument seems to pit American against American where they are only “talking at or past each other…What is heard is rather more like loud bellowing, in the clipped cadences of a shouting match” (Hunter, 1994, p. 9). This effectively describes Guerrero’s distributive aggressive description of hostile anger. The passive aggressive factor is usually expressed nonverbally and includes silence, scowling facial expression, or just leaving the presence of the person causing the angry feelings resulting in no resolution (1994). Guerrero also describes integrative assertive as a forceful anger with less exhibited aggression having the intent to be levelheaded, to listen, and to be fair. McPherson and Young point out that context plays a vital role in whether the way expressed anger is perceived as suitable (2004) or unsuitable. In a study concerning the affect of anger upon a receiver, Sereno, Welch, and Braaten (1987) found subjects perceived the nonassertive style to be “more appropriate, competent, and satisfying than the assertive style under low and medium levels of justification” (pp. 134-135).

Effects of suppressed anger

Lester (1981, 2003) enumerates various results of suppressed anger ranging from ulcers to rape to church conflicts. He states “misdirected anger cuts its destructive path through human existence. Christianity cannot ignore its contribution to this destruction” (p. 563). This physiological impact of suppressed anger and it’s relation to pain is supported by the study of Quartana, Yoon, Goodin, Bounds, and Burns (2010). When we suppress anger, we “amplify cognitive accessibility or anger-related thoughts, feelings, and behavioral inclination” (p.212).  Yet, this expression of anger is centuries old. As Lester, Chapman, and many medical and psychology scholars assert, the suppression of anger creates a physical reaction in our bodies related to blood pressure and chronic pain (Burns, Quartana, Gilliam, Gray, Matsuura, Nappi, et al2008), among others. Anger stimulates individuals to perform tasks which would, under different circumstances, be considered too complex to do (Turner, 2007)

Just as McPherson and Young’s study supported the posit students ultimately hold teachers responsible for anger displays in the classroom, society at large holds Christians responsible for the perceived sinful display of anger (Lester, 1981) regardless of the context Christians hold the same view about themselves. McPherson and Young’s study also supported the premise that teachers maintain some control over that perception by how they express their anger in the classroom. Teachers who belligerently showed anger, students found more responsible for their anger than the teachers who discussed their feelings frankly, and even less responsible when the anger was justified according to the cause.

Biblical principles for dealing with anger expression

Jesus knew Christians would continue to hurt Christians down through the ages. He spoke consistently of loving one another, and bearing each other’s burdens, and to warn as well as teach against the propensity toward expressing anger in the wrong way. Matthew lays out the design for forgiveness in Matthew 5: 23-24 where Jesus lays the burden of reconciliation upon the offender, and if the offender is trying to offer sacrifice, to put it beside the altar, find his brother whom he offended and reconcile before offering to God what is God’s. Jesus boldly admonished the people if they would not forgive, they would not be forgiven by the Father in Matthew 6:14-15; and He gave us a formula in how to deal with Christians who hurt other Christians in Matthew 18:15-17 “15 Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Sadly, the love message and the handling of offenses message haven’t been noticeably practiced down through the centuries. Psychology scholars and criminal justice scholars have recognized the validity of this biblical principle, and call it restorative justice which means the victim is openly included in the “justice process” (Winzer, Okimoto, Feather, & Platow, 2007).

Muehlhoff and Lewis point out the dangers of reciprocating tirades when they describe Sally Gearhart’s story as an environmental activist. She would rage with gestures and angry words at whomever she saw as torturing the environment. Those attacked would respond in kind. The cause of making the environment better was lost in anger communication making matters worse (2010). Pouring an accelerant on a raging fire is an ancient problem. As noted above, Jesus pointed out in His famous sermon recorded by Matthew, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye’.” Indeed, the Hebrew people had heard it in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. By Jesus day, this law had been man-handled so that if any wrong was done the offended felt entitled to retaliate in kind to the offender making the law their avenue to mete out personal vengeance.

Communications scholar Anita Vangelisti has devoted years to studying what hurts people, from messages to situations supporting what the elementary kid already knows: words do hurt. While sticks and stones can make the body bleed, acerbic words make the soul bleed. Vangelisti’s studies reveal numerous themes which stir up hurt feelings and rouse emotions. Face threatening themes “include[e]: abilities and intelligence, ethnicity and religion, non-romantic relations, personality traits, physical appearance, romantic relations, self-worth, sexual behavior, and time. She found that comments about romantic relations and non-romantic relations were perceived as the most hurtful” (1994 as cited by Young, 2010, p. 51). “Paul laid out guidelines for accepted Christian belief that have been used throughout history as the basis for establishing Christian orthodoxy, punishing heretics, and creating the foundation of church authority” (Underwood, 2006, p. 72), but hurtful rhetoric, and angry responses within the family of God seem to indicate a complete disregard for Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus refuted the prevalent attitude of give as given by admonishing His people to not only accept the insult but to totally release any right to retaliate, even to the point of accepting more insult (Matthew 5: 39). Humans’ sense of justice makes this command seem abnormal. Some Christians seem to be locked into the harangue-cycle of attack and counter attack unable to break it. Richard Rorty coined the term abnormal discourse.  For this paper’s purpose, the more narrow definition of the term is communication rejecting established patterns such as reciprocating anger with angry retorts, by implementing responses different than expected. It is a scholarly term for the biblical principle “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up trouble” (Proverbs 15:1). One way to do this is to meet incivility with civility with the intent for understanding more than subjugation.

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