What Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee Knows for Sure About Anger
As told to Leigh Newman
December 07, 2011
Leymah Gbowee helped stop the civil war in shattered Liberia by leading the women of the country in a protest for peace—a movement which included denying sex to the men of the country until the fighting ended. In her personal life, she has survived domestic abuse and alcoholism, both detailed in her poignant new memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers. This week, a few days before she accepts the Nobel Peace Prize, she talks with Oprah.com about one of humanity's most powerful emotions. Anger is Not Bad We've placed so much emphasis on the negativeness of anger that people see anger as evil. It is not. How you respond to anger, however, will determine your future. Anger drives the villains to create problems in their community, and anger drives the heroes to constructively look for change.
Consider Your Container Anger is fluid. Like a liquid. Whatever container you decide to pour anger into is the shape that it will come out as: bad or good. I have realized and recognized one thing about my anger: I have to channel it into a peaceful and positive container and get out there and meet with those people who are causing the problems.
Never Deny Your Rage When you can't feel your anger, you sometimes get this feeling of helplessness. I've been there in my life. A few weeks ago, when the capital of my country descended into riots, I walked into a local hotel and just climbed in one of the beds. I was there from 1 p.m. till 8 p.m., and I was like, "I can't think. I can't talk. I'm just tired." But then I woke up at 2 a.m. that morning, and I knew what I was really feeling: rage. I just cried. Then, I called everyone who I felt would listen to me cry, and I just cried. Then, the next morning, I felt good. Everyone needs a release.
Anger is Inspiration Martin Luther King did not do everything he did in America because he was happy. He was angry at the state of the black people. He was angry at the level of suffering that they were going through. Gandhi, too, was angry, and Mandela. People do not go into fighting injustice because they are so content.
Sometimes You Must Fight In 2003, all of my colleagues, the men that I worked with, kept saying about the women's movement, "It's not structured. It's too spontaneous. It's not going to work." Deep down inside, I felt like I was on the right path. So, then I became very stubborn, and I would not listen to advice, and I just kept going.
Sometimes You Must Not Fight There are bigger things to do than to fight the mediocre things. A lot of the places you get exhausted in this life are when you try to deal with things that you can't change. For example, someone wrote that I was [the] ex-girlfriend of Charles Taylor [the ex-president of Liberia accused of war crimes]! Do I want to spend my energy on those things when we have a whole community of misguided young women who are looking for people to mentor them into a bright future? Then again, did it bother me? Yes! So, I picked up my Bible, read some scriptures and prayed.
Anger is Opportunity Anger, wars or conflict—these things themselves are not bad because they are an opportunity. For example, if you have a spouse and you two are having serious issues, you say, "Oh, this is an opportunity for us to get to the place where we can now start talking about issues that we would never talk about when it's peaceful." Your ability to manage these feelings is what allows some good to come out of it.