What do you do with the mad that you feel?
It turns out Fred Rogers and I have something in common. Growing up, we missed an important life skill. We never learned how to be angry. Productively.
There’s a new Fred Rogers documentary I hope to see before it goes straight to Netflix. It’s called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and the timing couldn’t be better. If Fred Rogers was an unlikely hero in the 1960s and ‘70s, he’s approaching saint status in these cynical days. As a child in Pennsylvania, he was sickly, pudgy, and occasionally the target of bullies. Is it any wonder that later in his career, as his vocation became a children’s TV show, he penned this song in 1968?
“What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right?
What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go?”
Whoever the psalmists were, they understood anger. Lamentation is the pretty and official word for it, but I would choose other words. Words like bitter, rageful, passive-aggressive, resentful.
In the psalms, anger can show up out of nowhere. For example, Psalm 139 is my favorite feel-good psalm. At least, the first 18 verses. The rest is a brew of bitterness:
“O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.”
Sometimes when I’m reading the angry psalms, I want to groan that the psalmist should break up with whatever God he’s mad at. It’s not a good relationship. And other times, when I’m in a more expansive—or angry—mood, I appreciate every bitter note.
Fred Rogers spent his lifetime encouraging children—and adults, if they listened—to become more emotionally honest and expressive. No matter how little or big we are, our feelings of anger are wonderful barometers pointing us to things that need to change. Mr. Rogers believed the feeling is always fine. And, as with so many things, it’s what we do with what we have and hold that counts.
“What a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.”