A Case for Anger

July-August 1998By David C. Stolinsky

David C. Stolinsky, M.D., who is of the Jewish faith, lives in Los Angeles. He is semi-retired after 25 years of medical school teaching at the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Southern California.

Some time ago, the media carried the terrible story of a 10-year-old boy who was kidnapped at knife-point while playing near his home in a small California town. Neighbors and police mounted a massive search. Sixteen days later his naked body was found in the desert, his limbs bound with duct tape. The townspeople turned the search for the boy into a search for the murderer, but they were urged by the victim’s mother to avoid anger and get on with their lives.

This advice would be echoed by many persons, from amateur psychologists to certain religious leaders. But is it good advice? Clearly, relatives and friends of the victim should do anything that lessens their pain. If avoiding anger at the killer, or even publicly forgiving him and praying for him, serves to mitigate their suffering, by all means let them do so. Let the relatives plunge into their work or withdraw from it; let them mingle with others or seek seclusion -- whatever helps.

But what about the rest of us, who were not close to the victim? Should we avoid anger and just get on with our lives? What is the proper response of civilized persons to violent crime?

I believe we have confused the proper response of relatives and friends with what everyone else should do. We have confused what is psychologically best for the relatives with what is morally best for the rest of us. Psychology is a fascinating discipline that can do much to sort out emotional constrictions, but it has nothing to say about moral behavior.

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