Be angry. (Here’s how)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By HeatherAsh Amara

On optimism, compassion, and fuel for change

I’ve had a small book sitting on my shelf for the past two years, written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It’s called Be Angry.

An unlikely subject for a man who has won the Noble Peace Prize and is a global representative of deep compassion and active kindness.

But the Dalai Lama shares an important distinction between anger that brings energy and focus vs anger that burns us out or creates more anger.

He shares:

Anger brings more energy, more determination, and more forceful action to correct injustice.

To be angry on behalf of those who are treated unjustly means that we have compassionate anger.

To be angry toward the people in power does not create change. It creates more anger, more resentment, more fighting.

Here the issue is how to deal with anger. There are two types of anger. One type arises out of compassion; that kind of anger is useful. Anger that is motivated by compassion or how to correct social injustice, and does not seek to harm the other person, that is a good anger worth having.”

I believe now more than ever we need to weave together our spirituality, prayer and stillness with our compassionate anger and sacred action. This will allow us to be energized, motivated, and vision new possibilities. For this we need to be sustainable and use our energy mindfully.

I recently had a conversation with another wise elder, Great-grandmother Mary Lyons. Great-grandmother Mary is an Ojibwe native whose entire being radiates a sense of peace, positivity, and child-like play. Like the Dalai Lama and many other deeply spiritual activist leaders I’ve met her joy does not come from an easy life or a trauma-free background.  It comes from well-watered roots and relentless dedication to supporting and nourishing her people. She shares her hard-earned wisdom freely.

On the day I talked to Great-grandmother Mary I had a fiery rage burning within me. Without me asking, she spoke directly to my heart.

People often say, ‘I need more energy!’ She said to me. And then they get angry and try to make the anger go away. “But that anger is exactly the energy you asked for! Now go use it to make change.”

How can you harness the fire of your anger into a steady flame of sustained action? Small, consistent steps. Keep facing your discomfort. Speak up. Creatively protest. In each of us as individuals and as a collective it took years to create the internal and external structures of fear, judgment, hatred, discrimination, and power over. So many of us are infected with viruses of low-self worth, competition, fear, division, and self-sabotage. This will take time to undo.

Remember, every action counts. Channel your fire to create inner and outer freedom.

We must be ready to be in for the long haul. This means cultivating grounded gratitude, playful joy, and endless love while we dismantle what no longer serves. Build a slow, steady fire within you dedicated to fierce love and wild compassion. Listen for what you need to keep your own inner fire burning.

Keep protesting. Keep supporting. Keep praying. Keep loving. Keep listening. Keep cultivating stillness. Keep raising your voice. Keep laughing. Keep learning.

Keep on, dear ones. Let your fierce love burn bright.


“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

“The moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.” ~ bell hooks

“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” ~ Malcom X

“I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change…I’m changing the things I cannot accept.” ~  Angela Davis

“Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference. Religion, ethnicity, language, social and cultural practices are elements which enrich human civilization, adding to the wealth of our diversity. Why should they be allowed to become a cause of division, and violence? We demean our common humanity by allowing that to happen.” ~ Nelson Mandela

There are so many stories being shared right now. For some of us this means listening and letting the anger rise. For some of us this means speaking and sharing our experiences. For some of us this means finding good support. For all of us it is time to take sacred action from compassion to change what is not serving the creation of a just, sustainable, equitable, and loving society.

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Footnote:  So many ask: how do you channel your anger at injustice into something useful? There are so many ways. Here’s one story to tangibly illustrate how every action counts.

Apartheid in South Africa was an entrenched system of White domination of the Black majority by the “Afrikaaners” or Dutch settlers.* In the 1980’s protestors started actively rallying for all U.S. companies to divest from South Africa in order to end of apartheid. But it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that apartheid ended and 1994 that a new constitution and government was put into place.

My friend Jesikah was part of a small group that managed to take over and occupy the main administrative building at UC Davis. Their demand: For the UC Regents and all University of California campuses to divest from South Africa. Long story short: After weeks of negotiation the UC Regents agreed to divest, and within a short time apartheid ended in South Africa.

Now, that one act of protest did not end apartheid. But that one small act was part of thousands of actions by thousands of people and companies around the world that did end apartheid.

Every action counts.

Protesting works.

Individual actions create global change.

Protesting is one of our basic rights to affect social reform.

Protesting can get messy, and the truth is change is sometimes messy.

Protesting is not just being out on the streets, though that is a critical part of creating change.

Protesting is also about educating yourself about the injustices and struggles beyond what you learned in school.

Protesting is about supporting those in the streets.

Protesting is listening deeply to voices you don’t normally hear.

Protesting is about voting to change the system.

Protesting is about art, and love, and community.

Let’s using our compassionate anger, our voice, our creativity, and our resources to affect change both inwardly and collectively.

* For more insights on South Africa, apartheid, and racism in the United States read the excellent book, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.