What shall we do with our anger?

21st October 2022

Everyone in South Africa is angry. This is an opportunity.

The unemployed see their lives slipping away. Young people fear joining them. The employed fight about wages as the cost of living rises. Business people seethe about the failure of the basic services we need to run businesses.

Everyone is fed up with load shedding and water cuts. And now the Transnet strike threatens our capacity to produce goods and/or access markets. Through no fault of their own, entrepreneurs see their dreams and their savings drain away.

And it feels like those who should care just don’t. They seem to care more about selfish intrigues over position than they care about the livelihoods, health and happiness of the desperate millions they purport to serve.

No wonder many people have moved beyond anger to blind fury.

Anger is good if it motivates us to do something constructive. It is bad if it drives us to be destructive. It is wasted, just giving us ulcers and high blood pressure, if we do nothing but rant.

Anger management is good, but tends to focus on reducing our anger and managing its impact on us. A better approach may be to harness anger for constructive action to change the conditions that made us angry.

It takes great maturity to respond assertively. Assertiveness seeks a solution by expressing our views clearly and forcefully while listening openly and accurately to what others say. But the natural response is either to submit quietly and go away, or to fight back aggressively. Aggression insists that I am right and they are therefore wrong, and refuses to listen to their perspective. Both aggression and submission merely invite further aggression, making things worse. So one very constructive use of anger is to practise acting assertively.

When our civil servants or politicians fail to serve the public, especially when this damages the poor and voiceless, we should be angry enough to act. That may include talking to the officials directly, provided we can do so decently, with basic respect for their humanity. It may include joining with neighbours to complain higher up. Most useful would be to mobilize the neighbourhood to step into the gap.

Similarly, when company representatives are dishonest, we have the right, and the duty, to insist on proper service.

If we do nothing, exploitation, lying and greed are assumed to be normal. That is what is happening. So let’s all refuse to allow this. Let’s at least make a commitment to a daily letter, phone call or visit to someone to affirm good work or call out the opposite. Most of us want our public life to be honourable and generous, so let’s say so. Loudly.

And let’s insist on ethical and generous behaviour in our companies and our social circles. One advantage of weak leadership is that it can generate energy and initiative among the rest of us. Now is such a time.

Here is my assertive statement. The job of a leader or manager is to achieve the results you are employed or elected for, even if inconvenient or very costly to you. If you do this, you are a hero.

But if you just don’t care and fail to maintain the machines / infrastructure / service you are responsible for, or leave people waiting in queues all day and night, you are a disgrace and possibly a murderer. If you appoint an incompetent or dishonest person to a position because they will support you or pay you, you are a traitor to our country. If you tilt tenders in favour of your family, you are a thief. You are not just bad at your job; you are destroying the country. Fix yourself.

This is a coaching columns for Business Day, published on 18 October 2022 (https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-10-17-jonathan-cook-what-shall-we-do-with-our-anger/ ).

Jonathan Cook, a counselling psychologist, chairs the African Management Institute. If you’d like to read previous columns in this series or ask Jonathan a question please visit http://www.africanmanagers.org/jonathan-cook

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