How to Respond to Expressions of Anger

By Greg Baer M.D.

December 18, 2017

On October 19, 2017 white nationalist Richard Spencer delivered a speech at the University of Florida, amidst a state-declared condition of emergency and screaming voices of fear, hate, protest, counter-hate, and counter-protest. Security on the campus was greater than had ever been seen before.

Among the comments:
“The students are scared.”
“Many students have left town.”
“It’s basically a powder keg right now.”
“Everyone’s scared right now. We don’t know what to expect.”

Responding to Expressions of Anger

I did not personally attend the speech, but what I read and saw on the media indicated that there was more anger and hate expressed toward the white nationalists than was expressed by the avowed proponents of hate speech and racism.

In no way am I defending the position of the white nationalists, but I am saying that throughout history we have consistently seen the result of fighting hate with hate—like fighting a forest fire with gasoline.

I’m also not suggesting that all hateful or aggressive acts should be ignored or met with kisses. History agrees, for example, that there was no peaceful way to respond to Hitler’s invasion of surrounding countries. But in the case of people who simply speak hate, do we really have to respond at all?

More directly, why can’t we respond by not even attending such events? There was once a march of the KKK down the main street of the town where I now live, and people asked my opinion. “Just don’t go,” I said. “The march would die from lack of interest.”

How to Respond to the Anger of Children

I have helped thousands of parents raise their children, and I can state with certainty that if parents respond to the tantrums of their children with even bigger tantrums of their own—easy for a parent who is both larger and more experienced—the result is never good.

Angry children are always communicating something, and some response is often necessary, but it is just as common that no response at all is best. A mother once brought me a child who had previously been labeled as autistic and diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder.

As the child kicked and screamed on the floor, I gently suggested that the mother sit still while I quietly told the child I would gladly listen if he expressed his desires in English. The screaming stopped.

Similarly, I once had a man scream his political views at me, much as the purveyors of hate do at their rallies. I raised my hand in the universally-recognized communication to stop, and when he quit spewing words and spittle, I calmly summarized the polemic views he’d been repeating loudly. “Do I understand you correctly?” I asked. He nodded, and the tirade was finished.

In response to the Spencer address, the Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student Center planned a “good deed marathon.” Now there is an appropriate response to hatred.

There will always be, in the words of Gandhi, “tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always.” Mostly they fall simply from the accumulating weight of their own fury and selfishness.

So why get upset about them? If they invite us to listen to their irrationality, why go to listen? Just don’t go.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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