On Being Angry

I’m very angry right now. I’ve written four drafts of this entry, all very different. I’ve been angry since Saturday. I won’t say why, and I won’t say at whom I’m angry. I’ve been told that sharing this kind of thing publicly is referred to as “Vague-Booking,” and it’s apparently a faux pas. Oh well. I do have a lot to say about my anger. If you really want to know the in-depth, ugly details, feel free to contact me privately. I may tell you more. I may not.

Here’s the thing: the person I’m angry at is a friend. The reason I’m angry at him is that he has, quite intentionally, hurt many other friends of mine, as well as members of my family. We’ve been losing sleep, pacing the floors. We’ve been defamed an humiliated in public. If I talk about WHO he is or WHAT he did, I’m giving him publicity he doesn’t deserve and I’m giving his defaming remarks a chance to spread further. I won’t do that. He’s spread them far enough.

But I do want to talk about being┬áthis angry, and how I react to being this angry. I think there’s some good advice in here for people who sometimes feel anger. I wish my friend had heard and followed this advice a few steps back. He would have avoided hurting a lot of people.

By the way, my friend would say that it was necessary for him to hurt people in order to effect change. That’s just an excuse he’s making for losing his temper and handling a situation badly, and for putting his personal agenda ahead of the welfare of people who cared about him. He helped no one with his anger. Positive change was effected, yes. But I give my friend no credit for that. Positive change would have been effected without his boorish, bullying behavior. And alongside the positive change that happened, he also did a lot of damage.

But on to my thoughts on anger…

Anger is a very productive emotion. Or it can be.

Trust me, I know all about anger. For many years of my life, anger controlled me. I spent many more years conquering it. I know anger well.

Anger exists for a reason in the human system. It can spur you to action. It can give you the courage to defend yourself or those you love. It can motivate you to combat injustice. As Thomas Jefferson noted in the Declaration of Independence, it’s the feeling that causes you to decide that someone has gone too far, and to take action. Jefferson notes that most people let others go a little too far before anger motivates them to act. I try to let that be true of me. My anger response is pretty hair-trigger, though.

But anger must only ever motivate action. It must not select your actions for you. Anger is a driving force. It is not the tool that is driven by that force.

When you get so angry that you know you must do something, embrace that anger. Accept that feeling. Make your decision to act.

Then stop. Wait. Choose your actions tomorrow. Or the next day. Or next week. Anger is best in the form of potential energy.

I have a reputation for saying things that no one else would dare to say. A lot of people think that’s because I get angry and can’t hold my tongue. A lot of people are wrong. When I get really angry, I get quiet. When I say those things you can’t believe I really said, it is, yes, often the result of anger. But it’s the result of anger that happened a while ago. I try never to let anger choose my words. That’s why, if I’m quiet, it’s time for you to be quiet too, unless, perversely, you want to see me lose my temper. (You don’t. And if you think you have, you probably haven’t. You just have a very sheltered definition of what anger is.)

The person I’m angry at is a bully. He thinks that, if his anger is righteous, he should act on it, and act on it right now. He thinks it impresses people when he acts on his anger. He thinks lashing out and hurting good people in anger is commendable, because the reason he’s angry is so important. He thinks his anger is strength.

He’s wrong.

Anger is not strength. Anger is only energy. Strength is the force you use to channel energy. Strength is reigning in your anger. Showing strength means guiding your anger so that it gives you power to do good.

When you lash out in anger at your enemies, what do you accomplish?

Do you hurt them? Maybe. Often you don’t. Your enemies don’t care that you’re angry. Your friends do.

Do you hurt others who are nearby? Probably. Again, your friends care that you’re angry. And if you direct your anger at them, you hurt them because they’re your friends.

Do you hurt the very people who, in anger, you wanted to protect? All too often, because anger makes you thoughtless.

If someone has made you angry, you probably have good reason to feel the way you do. If you responded to them in anger, you probably screwed up. Don’t congratulate yourself. You didn’t show strength. You let anger control you.

Anger doesn’t make good choices. Showing your anger doesn’t impress people. Venting your anger doesn’t show the justice of your cause. It may feel good. You may proudly say, “I’m good at being an asshole when I need to be.” But who needs to be an asshole? When all is said and done, whatever your reasons, whatever your goals, those who witnessed your behavior are still going to have only one thing to say: “That guy is an asshole!”

Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be proud of what you did when you lost control of your temper. Harness your anger. Use it. Don’t ever let it drive you to hurt people, and then make excuses that your anger was righteous. Nobody’s anger is righteous. Anger is an impulsive response to an unreasonable situation. Make your response reasonable.

Your anger will still be equally justified.

Only a lot fewer people will call you an asshole.

And if you don’t care about being called an asshole, by people you love, by people you hurt in your anger…

Well then, you are an asshole.

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