Anger can be a force for good that tackles social problems like homelessness – Ewan Aitken

The Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh tells of a monk who decides to meditate in a boat in the middle of a lake. After a few hours of silence, he suddenly feels another boat hitting his.

Constructive anger about homelessness can be used to end it for good, says Ewan Aitken (Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Constructive anger about homelessness can be used to end it for good, says Ewan Aitken (Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

With his eyes still closed, he feels his anger rising and, when he opens his eyes, he is ready to shout at the boatman who dared to disturb his meditation.

But when he opens his eyes, sees it is an empty boat, floating in the lake… at that moment, the monk achieves self-realisation, understanding that anger is within him; it simply needs external provocation.

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After that, whenever he meets someone who provokes his anger, he remembers: “The other person is just an empty boat. Anger is inside me.”

We are all capable of being angry. It is an emotional energy driven by our reaction to the world around us. Other people don’t make us angry. We choose, consciously or subconsciously to be angry in response to our experiences.

What’s interesting about the energy of anger is how we use it. It can be constructive or destructive. The question is, how do we use it constructively? By choosing what to be angry about, being constructively angry can be the driver of real change.

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One of the angriest people I ever met was a woman who had fostered more than 60 young people over a period of three decades. Not every placement had worked out but her anger had changed many lives.

Yet if you asked those young people she had fostered, even those whose placement with her had broken down, they would tell you she was the calmest person they had ever met.

She told me she felt real anger at the way the young people she fostered had been treated by people who should have been caring for them. What she chose to do was channel her anger into energy which helped her never give up, even when things were very difficult and she felt like walking away.

Many of the things we work on in Cyrenians just shouldn’t be happening. We should not live in a country where, in the 21st century, 21 per cent of children in its capital city live in poverty even though 70 per cent of them live in families who are working.

We should not live in a nation this rich with people still going hungry or not knowing where their next meal is coming from. We should not still be in a situation where there are still 4000 people in Edinburgh living in temporary, insecure accommodation and many will be there for up to two years because we don’t have enough affordable housing. The list could go on. The challenge is what to do about it.

In Cyrenians, we work to tackle the causes as well as the consequences of homelessness. If we don’t try to prevent homelessness as well as support folk when it happens, we will never really bring the kind of change which will end homelessness forever.

In all we do, we try to turn what are often seen as negatives into positives by helping folk be in charge of how they feel about their situation, even when it makes them, and us, feel angry.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of homelessness charity Cyrenians

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