by Marsha Rakestraw

There’s a popular axiom: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!”

Anger tends to be a frequent companion of activists and changemakers.

When we learn about suffering, injustice, and destruction, we naturally get angry. We want to make it stop.

Anger can have great power.

It can be an excellent personal motivator to spur us to do something about wildlife trafficking or vanishing wilderness or displaced native peoples.

But it can also become destructive and counterproductive.

Coping with our activist anger in meaningful ways is essential to our wellbeing and to our effectiveness in manifesting positive change.

Use resources like these to learn more about how to deal with our anger meaningfully and to bring anger to bear in useful ways.

“Anger as Inspiration.” by Sami Awad. Global Oneness Project.
Peaceworker Sami Awad talks about how he uses his anger at injustice and oppression as a vehicle for working for peace, rather than turning to violence against himself or others.

“Anger: A Powerful Force for Empathy and Change.” by Susana Rinderle. 29 July 2015.
The author discusses the importance of useful anger and how anger used well can lead to positive changes.

“Anger, Humor, and Advocacy.” by Matt Ball. Vegan Outreach.
Ball says, “I believe that our inability – individually and as a movement – to deal with our anger in a constructive manner is one of the greatest hindrances to the advancement of animal liberation.”

“Coping With Animal Rights Stress.” by David Sztybel, Ph.D.
Sztybel discusses some of the toxic thoughts animal protection activists can struggle with, the cognitive errors that can perpetuate those thoughts, and some useful alternative thoughts and actions that can help us be healthier, happier activists.

“Healing Anger, Nurturing Compassion.” by Dr. Stephen Kaufman. Animals Agenda. 2001. (Retrieved from
Dr. Kaufman outlines the importance of managing our activist anger effectively and suggests tips to help do so.

“How to Make Peace? Get Angry.” by Kailash Satyarthi. TED. 2015.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi talks about his own journey using anger and about the importance of transforming our anger into positive action. He asks, “Why can’t we convert our anger for the larger good of society? Why can’t we use our anger to challenge and change the evils of the world?”

“How to Turn Your Brain from Anger to Compassion.” by Paul Gilbert. Greater Good. 4 September 2013.
Cultivating mindfulness and compassion can help us “break out of the anger loop” we can get stuck in and confront and alleviate pain in ourselves and others.

“Is Anger a Motivator for Change?” by Hildy Gottlieb. Huffington Post. 21 June 2015.
Gottlieb offers some important questions for us to ask ourselves (and our society) about the usefulness and purpose of our anger.

“Non-violent Protest: Love-Based Versus Anger-Based Activism.” by David Sztybel, Ph.D. 2012.
Offers a chart comparing the components of love-based vs. anger-based activism.

“Our Voices, Our Movement: How Vegans Can Move Beyond the ‘Welfare-Abolition’ Debate.” by Melanie Joy. One Green Planet. 1 October 2012.
Framed around conflicts in the vegan movement, Joy’s essay has profound wisdom about changing our process to reflect “liberatory consciousness” and discussion, rather than debate and divisiveness.

“Shaming Vegans Harms Animals.” by Melanie Joy. Vegan Strategist. 5 October 2015.
Another powerful essay by Dr. Melanie Joy, which emphasizes the devastating and counter-productive effect of vegans shaming others – including other vegans.

“Who Gets to Be Angry?” by Roxane Gay. New York Times. 10 June 2016.
In this opinion column, Gay highlights who gets to be angry, how anger can be perceived in different contexts, and why we need to concentrate on “useful anger, the kind that can stir revolutions.”

“Why Black Anger is Necessary for Peace.” by Fire Angelou. 11 April 2016.
Fire talks about the restrictions others want to put on black anger and how “anger is an appropriate response to racism” and an important tool for social change.

Anger should be a tool.

It can help motivate us to action. It can help us persevere.

But the real source of our motivations must come from love and compassion and respect. As the Dalai Lama says, “Where anger is motivated by compassion, it can be used as an impetus or a catalyst for a positive action.”

Your Turn:

  • How have you transformed your anger into positive action?
  • What practices do you use to keep from being overwhelmed by negative emotions?