The power of an emotional response to tragedy

Righteous anger - a voice within us that tells us to do something - comes because we see things we know are wrong

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Gerry ChidiacCan anger be a positive thing?

According to an article published by Greater Good at the University of California, Berkeley, those with the best physical and emotional health have “emodiversity.” They aren’t necessarily happy all the time but they experience the full range of emotions.

Although I tend to be a very positive person, I decided to try to become aware of my anger.

I recently watched the film Shake Hands with the Devil, the story of the Rwandan genocide and Canadian Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire’s experience leading a doomed UN peacekeeping mission there.

I found myself getting very angry. The story brought back many memories.

I remembered the greatest job of my life, helping to run a home for street children in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), from 1991 to 1993. As a young missionary, I was in regular contact with the most downtrodden people in one of the poorest countries in the world, and representatives of the most powerful and richest countries in the world.

We were doing good work and western embassies were quite supportive. The French, for example, fully paid for summer camp for children living in our home, children living on the street and children from grossly-underfunded, state-run youth correctional facilities. It was a wonderful experience and several of us were invited to the French ambassador’s residence for Bastille Day celebrations. I was overwhelmed with where I was. I couldn’t believe the people with whom I was rubbing elbows.

What I didn’t know was that these same people were quite aware of what was going on in the country next door, Rwanda. They knew about the hateful radio broadcasts directed toward the minority Tutsi. They knew about the training of militias. They continued to supply weapons to the Rwandan Armed Forces, the army behind the genocide. They may have even thwarted efforts to prevent the genocide.

An informant told one of Dallaire’s men that there were weapons caches throughout the capital, but Dallaire was ordered by UN headquarters to leave them. Significantly, France is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

These are the people I accepted gifts from. The people I shook hands with. The people I felt giddy to be with.

Just the thought of it leaves me feeling guilty, dirty and angry, even though so many years have passed.

The genocide in Rwanda erupted after I returned to Canada. I followed it every day in the news from April to July 1994. I wanted it to stop but I felt impotent. I wrote to my MP, I donated money, I talked to people but nothing I did made any difference. I am still embarrassed to admit to my students that this happened on my watch. I knew it was happening and I wasn’t able to do anything to stop it.

Holding on to anger, science has proven again and again, can lead to serious health issues. So how do you deal with anger and guilt effectively?

Righteous anger comes because we see things that we know are wrong. It’s a voice inside us that tells us to do something, to be an agent of change. We don’t control the past, but we do control our present responses and we can influence the future.

This is the source of the passion that moves me to teach about genocide. My work then fills me with joy because I know that I’m a part of something much larger than myself.

Yes, I’m angry. But that anger moves me to a purpose and in that purpose I find joy.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

© Troy Media

emotional response

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