The Hulk and Healthy Anger

I once had a colleague explain to me that to appreciate opera you have to do homework. You need to know the story before you go in order to understand what is going to happen and then sit back to enjoy the music.

I have to confess that I’ve never been to an opera.

But I know that the advice applies to Marvel films, so I’ve been doing my homework before I see Thor: Love and Thunder.

If you have somehow missed out on the Marvel franchise (who are you??), I’ll explain: these movies build upon each other. Some movies are more enjoyable if you get the references, and others can be incomprehensible without seeing the previous ones.

As part of my homework, I watched the first Avengers movie. This is when the group of superheroes has to work together for the first time, and everyone is figuring out their role.

One of these figures is the Hulk, and, again, if you don’t know the Hulk (maybe you prefer opera?), he is the alter-ego of Dr. Bruce Banner whose experiments went a bit awry (of course) resulting in Dr. Banner becoming the Hulk when his stress levels or anger get the best of him.

His role in The Avengers is to “smash.” Those are direct instructions. When he receives these directions, he’s still inhabiting his human scientist form, and as the rest of the group anxiously awaits his transition into the Hulk, he reassures them it’s no problem because, “I’m always angry.” So he becomes the Hulk and smashes things.

Anger is not bad. It’s an emotion, and emotions are part of being human. However, chronic anger is physiologically damaging to our bodies and can make us metaphorical Hulks as we smash people’s feelings or, taken to extremes, cars if chronic anger takes the path of road rage, for example. It can make us behave monstrously.

This is why Dr. Banner can’t be the Hulk all the time; he’ll lose his humanity. Even if he’s always angry, he has to find a way to control that because no one wants to be around someone who is constantly smashing them.

The Avengers movie provides the answer to this problem. When we first see Dr. Banner in the film, he’s in his Dr. Banner form treating the sick in Calcutta; we find out he hasn’t had an “incident” in a year. He is a man (not a monster) focusing his attention in profound and practical ways on oppression and injustice by nursing those without access to healthcare.

Focusing on helping others is the key.

Chris Peterson, one of the founders of positive psychology, would begin his lectures by saying, “I can sum up positive psychology in just three words — Other People Matter. Period. Anything that builds relationships between and among people is going to make you happy.”

So, in fact, it’s not the case as Sartre wrote that “Hell is other people.” I mean other people can be hellish, which might make you angry. Hell, though, is becoming angry because of other people (over whom you have no control), staying angry, turning into a monster, and smashing things.

Turning our energy toward helping and away from being egocentric can make us happy, which means if we do become angry, we can be angry for a bit, even be curious about it, see how it feels, and then respond appropriately.

We can use our anger like the Hulk, for good. Take that energy and smash oppression. Save the world like the Hulk — one smash against injustice at a time.

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Kathryn Duncan

Kathryn Duncan

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Kathryn Duncan is an English professor and author of the book Jane Austen and the Buddha: Teachers of Enlightenment.