An Open Letter to American College Students, Part 1: What Shall We Do With Our Anger?
It’s becoming a common occurrence on college campuses. A public speaker is scheduled to address an unpopular topic in an open forum. Students who oppose this viewpoint find out about the upcoming event. Word spreads. One of two things will likely happen:
- Members of the group offended by the topic will ask the school administration to stop the event. The administration may cave to the pressure and cancel the event, because (1) anyone can claim to be the victim of a “micro-aggression,” in which merely the perception of being offended is enough to force the issue, and (2) they are already running ragged in trying to keep students happy and calm. Or,
- The event is allowed to proceed. A protest rally is organized. Signs are made. Voices are raised. Before you know it, it’s an all-out anger fest with students shouting not only at the guest speaker but also at fellow students. The speaker may talk but no one can hear it, or they give up and leave.
As a college student, at some point you will get angry at your roommate, your teaching assistant, or even the pizza delivery guy. Not to mention peer pressure to conform to the popular standards, and the fear of friends getting angry if you don’t. These are certainly instances of anger worth addressing, but this article targets the timely topic of politically-induced anger.
There are a lot of political issues that make our blood boil today. Should we allow illegal immigrants, and should they even be called illegal? Should anyone interfere with a “woman’s right to choose?” Who are we to judge someone’s gender? Is our president good, or is he a creep? Would socialism be better than free enterprise?
Does even the thought of talking about these subjects make your temperature rise?
Please honestly think about these points for yourself:
- I have witnessed, been part of, or read about a campus protest where indignation turned to anger and anger turned to chaos.
- I felt myself getting upset because the mob was angry, and it really had nothing to do with how I felt about the topic.
- Our angry reaction was unfair to the students who wanted to hear the topic.
- It took quite a while to calm down afterward.
No, it’s not just you. There is an angry mood in our country today, and a great divide which has become evident especially in the last five to ten years. You actually can’t remember a time when there weren’t at least two opposing opinions screaming at each other on television or on the internet.
But anger accomplishes nothing except more anger, leading to exasperation, maybe violence, or the other end of the spectrum - apathy. Yes, you can start caring very little about anything. At that point, you become easily controlled by other people. We’ll discuss that more in Part 2. Here, we'll discuss how anger might affect you and the crowd.
The effects of anger on an individual:
Anger often results from disappointment, frustration, rejection, fear, or perceiving that you have been offended or judged. Without going into too much of a clinical discussion, anger affects the brain which in turn activates the adrenal glands. The body releases too much adrenalin and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol inhibits your functions that can be essential in a “fight-or-flight” situation. It signals the parts of your brain that control mood, motivation, fear, anxiety, and stress. The release of too much cortisol also decreases serotonin, one of the hormones that make you happy.
So, anger actually changes the brain. It can keep you from making good decisions and from being content.
You are already under a lot of stress at school to write lengthy papers, study for exams, and ultimately, to graduate. Stress manufactures anger and anger manufactures stress. This in turn impacts your physical health. Ongoing anger, or repetitive stressful situations that make you angry, can lead to chronic heart health problems which can change the immune system, digestive system, reproductive system, and even the growth process.
The effects of anger on a crowd:
Did you ever come away from a campus event that turned bad, or after watching some political rally on the internet, thinking “Gee, how did I get so angry?”
This could be due to what psychologists call the “face in the crowd effect.” Clinical studies demonstrate that angry faces are easier to find in a crowd than happy, calm faces. This could be one thing that contributes to, say, a Secret Service person being able to spot someone who presents a threat at a president’s speaking engagement. However, it also means that anger can be the dominant emotion in a crowd setting which provokes further anxiety and anger among the crowd.
Public speakers often know this. No matter what side of an issue you are on, even if you like the speaker, it's possible they are also playing a part in making the crowd angry. On purpose. They know that anger may incite more anger. But ask yourself: Do I need to give in and take part in the crowd's emotions? Do I need to let the anger walk away from the event with me? Should I leave now, before it gets any worse?
What does the Bible say about anger, and how can it help?
Oh, but you say, “The Bible couldn’t have anticipated the heated culture of the modern college campus!” Watch for some of the things we’ve talked about in the following Bible verses, and see if they can be applied to situations in which you can reject anger:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
(Remember this when you hear the beginning of angry shouting at an event. Someone is trying to stir up anger.)
Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.
(Mocking the speaker, or the attendees who oppose you, stirs everyone up).
1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
(Can you react gently and respectfully in a way not to dishonor others and become angry yourself?)
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
(Can you walk away without staying angry?)
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
(What does it benefit the crowd to stir up anger or participate in anger?)
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
(Do you care about being considered an “upright,” respectful person?)
Now Continue on to Part 2: "Does College Really Let You Think for Yourself?" to see how it relates to anger on campus.
Ratio Christi has over 150 chapters on college campuses that meet to discuss the validity of the Christian faith through history, science and philosophy, and how to gently defend the Christian viewpoint with others. Check out https://ratiochristi/about-us.
-National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, “How Anger Affects the Brain and Body,” c. 2017, http://www.nicabm.com/how-anger-affects-the-brain-and-body-infographic/ retrieved 8/3/18.
-Mayo Clinic, “Chronic stress puts your heart at risk,” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037, 4/21/2016, retrieved 8/6/18.
-US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, “The face in the crowd effect,” 2/10/2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20141311, retrieved 8/6/18.
-Bible verses used are NIV.
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