Thursday, April 25, 2013

How To Be Angry

I have to apologize. When I read about the bombings in Boston on April 15, 2013, my mind turned angrily to politics. I know. But the attack was so separate, so distant, it happened so far away from me I knew I couldn't do anything and assumed everyone at the scene would go above and beyond to help—and so to pass the time my internal dialogue got political. I'll spare you the details; suffice it to say, I jumped to the conclusion that this amount of human sadness would be used, exploited, by the slick-tongued rascals of American politics. And in doing so, I exploited the tragedy for my own purposes in the exact same way. And so, Boston, I'm sorry.

When the bombs went off at the tail end of the Boston Marathon on Patriot's Day, killing three and injuring almost 300, we were collectively confronted with the logic of chaos. Two and two no longer made four. Insanity (or "reason dazzled," according to Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization) splashed the face of our clean, rational community, rearing its ugly head to suggest that "civilization" is still losing the battle to nature in many different ways. The sheer nonsense of the attack made us, as a culture, feel cheated. We have come a long way to build a community that is in many ways far more peaceful than it was even fifty years ago. So rightly, we got angry!

In far less extreme examples, anger occurs on a regular basis in many forms. Forget the bombs for a moment and consider your day-to-day. We often plan for things to run smoothly, as a clock. And we value our freedom and independence above all else in a world where we have control over very little. Your car won't start; your rent is going up; it's pouring rain on your only day off; when was the last time you got angry?

  The Metropolis and Mental Life 
by Georg Simmel
[The] modern mind has become more and more calculating. The calculative exactness of practical life which the money economy has brought about corresponds to the ideal of natural science: to transform the world into an arithmetic problem, to fix every part of the world by mathematical formulas...the conditions of metropolitan life are at once cause and effect of this trait. The relationships and affairs of the typical metropolitan usually are so varied and complex that without the strictest punctuality in promises and services the whole structure would break down into an inextricable chaos...The passionate hatred of men like Ruskin and Nietzsche for the metropolis is understandable in these terms. Their natures discovered the value of life alone in the un-schematized existence which cannot be defined with precision for all alike. From the same source of this hatred of the metropolis surged their hatred of money economy and of the intellectualism of modern existence.

How To Be Angry
  • Turn off your phone
  • Words aren't going to work right now: don't even think with them. Just breathe.
  • Recall the worst thing that's ever happened to you. How does this compare? 
  • If you've started an inner dialogue, turn it off. Focus on how the anger feels. 
  • Identify the problem: was it something obvious, or something deeper? Is it even in your control? 
  • Make a decisive plan of action in the opposite direction: 
    • Has someone wronged you? Act like their opposite.
    • Is something broken or dysfunctional? Act like its opposite.
    • Is something out of your control? Focus on its opposite: what is in your control?

The hardest thing to come to terms with during times of anger is the fact that it's healthy. Anger is essentially the realization that something is off balance, something that can no longer be ignored. While it's dramatically unhealthy to act or speak while you're experiencing anger—there is an inevitable snowball effect, and the results of acting in a literal state of insanity could haunt you for a lifetime—you might have needed the wake up call. 

Think of anger as an instantly jarring transition out of a comfort zone. Once you've calmed down and found perspective, you are a new person. Now see if you can help the situation; and if you can't, hopefully you will find peace in that realization.

"But," says Belligerent Bill, "This is so wishy washy. If I'm really angry it's for a good reason, and I'm going to let it be known. The idea of 'turning off' thoughts and just sitting there is for pacifists and hippies."

You're right, Bill, anger is often for a good reason, and decisiveness is a form of strength. It's a crazy world where ugly things happen everyday, and we need as many fixers as we can get. But today's article is dedicated to those of us who have acted thoughtlessly out of anger in the past and regret the effects of the tantrum. Plus, it never hurts to remind ourselves that there are certain things we simply cannot control.

So are you experiencing righteous anger, or are you just pouting? I like to think of righteous anger in terms of the just war theory. In City of God, St. Augustine wrote that "The wise man will wage just wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars." So the anger you're feeling is probably the need for some sort of change: let it flow. But let it flow in solitude—do not act until it has settled and put you in a new, enlightened place.

Post Script:
Learn to distinguish between pain that leads to more pain, and pain that leads to no pain. Do you feel worse than you felt three hours ago?

1 comment: