The importance of anger

On friday the 22nd of July 2011 in Norway a right wing radical drove to Oslo and parked a van with a car bomb outside the government building that housed the office of the prime minister and the labor party that was in power at the time. He then took off; armed and wearing a police uniform. As the bomb went off he was driving the 40 minutes to Utøya, an island that was hosting the labor party youth camp for 650 children. He took the ferry over, and the first shot killed a security guard. Three minutes later the police in Oslo are informed about the shooting. An hour and ten minutes later, he is arrested. Hundreds are injured and 77 people have lost their lives.

Every norwegian remembers where they were that day. Everybody has a story of that day. I was at home with my daughter who was 5 years old at the time and I thought I heard thunder. I looked out the window and saw blue skies and thought nothing more of it. Shortly after my stepmother called and asked if I was okay, since I lived not far from the bomb site. I got on twitter and saw tweets from kids who were being hunted on the island. Live tweeting the massacre. I hugged my daughter so tight and stayed glued to the updates.

The government building after the bomb

The prime minister Jens Stoltenberg spoke to the public on several occasions with sadness and shock. And stood by the importance of not letting these acts shake the norwegian democracy and values. Our values of humanity. The following monday they announced they would have a rose (the symbol of the labor party) parade for the victims. 150,000 people showed up with roses and flooded the city. The parade had nowhere to go, so we just stood still. A quote by a young girl was shared thousands of times saying “if one man can show so much hate, imagine how much love we can show together”. We cried and raised our roses, we filled the streets with candles and flowers and sang songs to our country. We held each other and united under the slogan “never again july 22nd.”

It’s been 10 years and I visited the 22nd of july center and spoke with a survivor of the bombing, also called a witness. He told his story about being in the building as the bomb went off. He was angry. Angry at the fact that we saw this coming, but bureaucracy had delayed the closing of the road that led up to the government buildings. Probably the only country in the world were you could drive up to the government building, park outside, take the elevator up to the prime minister’s office and knock on his door. No security. That was Norway, folksy and naive. He said they were working on closing the road to avoid a scenario like this, but they couldn’t agree on who was in charge of making the decision, the city or the government. So I guess it got lost in the paper mill as so many things are. He was also angry at how we as a people forgot to be angry afterwards, we were too busy holding hands and singing kumbaya.

A sea of people with roses flooded Oslo in sorrow

Being angry is seen as a pessimistic and an unwanted emotion, when it’s actually a completely normal and healthy reaction to something that pushes our buttons or crosses our limits. It is how we manage that anger that is the factor that determines if it’s healthy or not. Anger isn’t behaviour, it’s an emotion. If we punch the wall or scream at people then that’s behaviour. We need to separate emotion and behaviour since they are not necessarily synonymous. Being angry does not mean you will punch a wall. Anger can just as easily motivate you to change or fix what is making you angry. 

But not being allowed anger can be very damaging. Why is it that we always try to suppress our anger? Why do people always tell us to calm down if we express it? Anger is protecting us against injustice because it’s how we know we need to say stop. It is the driving force for inciting change. If something annoys you, you might brush it off, but when you reach your limit and anger is triggered that’s when you say stop and things need to change.

The prime minister said in his speech during the rose-march “our country is so small, every fallen is a brother or a friend”. It’s hard to unite that quote with the words of the first speech after the attack where he said “we must never give up our values” and “the answer to violence is more democracy and even more humanity”. These were great words that I ate up for sure, but when someone kills 77 of your friends you also want to be angry.

Roses in the water off Utøya