Inspired by Love and Anger

Inspired by love and anger, disturbed by need and pain,

Informed of God's own bias, we ask him once again:

"How long must some folk suffer? How long can few folk mind?

How long dare vain self-interest turn prayer and pity blind?"

I first heard this hymn during a chapel service at university. I think our chaplain included it in services as often as he did because he wanted to remind students at a privilege-filled university to use the opportunities they were given to help other people. But in any case, it’s stuck with me ever since.

We don’t acknowledge anger very often, especially not in a positive way. It’s considered unprofessional and irrational to be publicly angry, even if you have a good reason.  We don’t talk about how anger can motivate you to stand up against injustice, or how it can get you places that being quiet can’t.

Being motivated by anger always reminds me of a line from Legally Blonde: The Musical. A friend is attempting to motivate the main character, Elle, to start focusing on her own success instead of trying to flirt with her ex (it’s a long story, watch the film), and as she gets visibly frustrated by his blunt criticisms, he says ‘what, are you angry? Good, so get angry!’ He recognizes that she needs something more than love to get her through. She needs to get angry. A few lines later Elle acknowledges that being ‘smiling and sweet’ has gotten her nowhere. And later, when people try to take advantage of her, she fights back. She stands up for other women as well, helping them ‘get angry’.

Now, I’m not just bringing up Legally Blonde because it’s great and I love it, although both of those things are true. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing on disability, especially neurodivergence, as part of this job. And Elle Woods has been cited by some young autistic women as an ‘autistic-coded’ character who helped them to understand themselves better. It certainly explains why I loved her so much as a teenager.

I think a lot of the people who see Elle as an autistic character identify with her attempts to be ‘smiling and sweet’ and fit in by creating a mask, and also with her subsequent realisation that she is allowed to be angry at unfairness and injustice, and that it can actually help her to make positive changes in the world. I certainly remember doing my best to fit in, to be smiling and sweet no matter the situation, even when my brain was screaming at me. Autistic people frequently have very strong senses of right and wrong, and are extremely frustrated by unfairness. I spent a lot of time squashing down that anger because I learned from a young age that it was socially unacceptable.

But as I’ve matured into a (young) adult (I’m only 23!), I’ve realised that my frustration can be channelled into actually trying to right the injustices that bother me so much. One of my autistic friends has had immense challenges receiving reasonable adjustments from universities and workplaces, which she quite reasonably has found infuriating. And now she works in EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion) policy-making. I’m very frustrated by Christians who don’t seem to actually want to share God’s love with everyone, and now I write a lot of blogs.

And now I have a secret to share with you. This blog was inspired by anger. I was reading a book about disabled saints and getting increasingly frustrated at the way people were described. It emphasized over and over again how serene people were while living with largely untreated chronic illnesses, how cheerful they were in the face of abuse for their disabilities. How they were fonts of light and peace and never experienced any negative emotions despite everything they went through. Somehow, I doubt that’s true.

And it shouldn’t have to be true today either. We tell people to follow their passions to find causes to support, but maybe we should try following our anger as well. What makes you angry? What can you do about it?

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, check out the SCM Social Action Directory!