Among Christians, anger is one of the seven deadly sins. For Jews, too, it is a major vice. Contemporary secular culture also takes a negative view. It commonly views anger as something to be controlled if not extirpated, if only because it disrupts social life and interferes with the smooth operations of a service-based economy; hence the proliferation of “anger management” programs in our workplaces.
Anger is not without its defenders. Some hold that in the guise of indignation it becomes a virtue. Anger in this form becomes an engine of positive social transformation or helps empower women and other oppressed groups. During the glory years of Freudianism, we were taught that ventilating anger is physically and mentally good for us. Expressing our resentments and outrage was seen as forestalling a dangerous buildup, the way letting off steam is necessary to prevent a pipe from bursting. Today, the “hydraulic model” is out. We have come to recognize the aptness of the tenth-century Jewish philosopher Saadia Gaon’s observation that people who plan revenge for wrongs suffered are not liberated from their resentments but, to the contrary, sink into preoccupation with them.