“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” –Buddha
Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong. Anger can be a good thing. It can give you a way to express negative feelings, for example, or motivate you to find solutions to problems.
But excessive anger can cause problems. Increased blood pressure and other physical changes associated with anger make it difficult to think straight and harm your physical and mental health.
Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Psychology
I’ve known lots of angry people, but haven’t been part of this select group for 99% of my life experiences. Well, that’s changing now. Recently, I’ve felt my blood boil at so many unfair, inequitable things in the world, from class and race inequality to the treatment of prisoners, refugees, and immigrants. I’m mad that America still has racist terrorists, that there are still wage problems for women (women earn $0.70 on the dollar), that big businesses control politics. I’m incensed that gay marriage isn’t legal in all 50 states. I’m mad about Los Angeles’ parking and traffic problems and that our environment is full of pollution and many people still don’t believe in global warming. Those are all systemic, big problems I’m mad about. I’m angry when I call my credit card company that I’m routed to a call center in Bangalore (Americans need these jobs). I’m frustrated that there is so much bureaucracy surrounding everything and it’s hard to get things done because there are policies and procedures that take so much time (try bringing your MacBook Pro to the Apple Store without a reservation and you’ll understand what I’m talking about). I’m annoyed that my neighbors’ children constantly whine and cry and the parents don’t seem to listen to their kids. On a personal level, I’m mad that I was stuck for a year and my life was in a holding pattern. I’m mad that the Buddha, God, and so many “enlightened” people tell me to stop being so mad, and to accept problems, find a new path, and let go.
In recent weeks, I haven’t been able to move forward or relinquish the stronghold on my anger. For all of my life, I’ve held massive amount of compassion and understanding. I’ve been known to be so forgiving, accommodating, and loving. Thich Nhat Than says “when you express your anger you think that you are getting anger out of your system, but that’s not true. When you express your anger, either verbally or with physical violence, you are feeding the seed of anger, and it becomes stronger in you.” In other words, only understanding and compassion can neutralize anger.
Researching anger and Judaism, Rabbi Naftali Silberberg writes, “through the course of life, every person experiences the pain of being treated unjustly by others. Although sentiments of anger and vengeance are counter-productive and often destructive, they are natural reactions to such occurrences.” He’s right that every person experiences pain. However, at this moment, I don’t believe that anger is counter-productive. The way I see and feel it right now is that anger is a fire that’s helping me make changes. There have been times when I’ve been paralyzed in sadness, complacent with contentment, apathetic to problems around me. No more.
Buddhism teaches that “anger is never justified.” The Buddhist practice is to cultivate metta, a loving kindness toward all beings that is free of selfish attachment. ‘All beings’ includes the guy who just cut you off at the exit ramp, the co-worker who takes credit for your ideas, and even someone close and trusted who betrays you. What about entities like institutional racism, sexism, classism?
For this reason, when we become angry we must take great care not to act on our anger to hurt others. We must also take care not to hang on to our anger and give it a place to live and grow.
I spoke to Jeremy Jones, my former CrossFit LA coach and dear friend. His experience with anger is that he’s spent a lot of time building a story around something that really wasn’t true. I realized I’ve been doing the same thing!
I was wronged and thought it meant something about me. I’m beginning to realize that what happened, happened, and has nothing to do with who or how I am. Something happened, and I was involved by virtue of being close to someone. I could have moved on, but I stayed longer (and that’s where I get tripped up in anger). So now, with this new awareness, I have more choices. When I think about it in these parameters, it’s easy as pie. However, I’ve been known to over think (remember my post on thinking?!) and I rarely am able to move forward so quickly. Here’s what I can do now:
I can stay angry, and ruminate on the situation.
I can shout and break things, probably cutting my hand in the process.
I can walk away. Does this mean forgiveness? Or, could it mean devising a plan that is better?
I can brood.This feels like analysis paralysis.
I can tell myself stories that may or may not relate to the facts.
Another friend asked me to consider action. He asked me if I’m going to “do” anything? Well, there’s not a lot to do. I’m certainly not seeking revenge or plotting some crazy, stalking, mean-spirited activity. I’m not also one for impulsive behavior, so really the answer is no. His point is that anger can push people into action. Ang Lee, the film director, states that, “Sometimes you have to get angry to get things done.” So, if I do need to “do” something as a result of my anger, I can devise a plan and execute it with a clear head. Anytime we act in a moment of rage, we are really showing too much vulnerability.
I’m learning that spite and anger are giant motivators in business. The “I told you so” mentality is a great driving force to getting things done. It’s the fire-in-the-belly attitude that pushes us ahead. Anger often drives art and creativity, as is the case now for the this blog entry.
Side note: when googling “anger,” the main search results also have the word “management.” This tells me we are not encouraged to feel our anger or to experience a range of emotions in the human feelings. Ironically, when googling “appreciation” or “joy” there’s not management to be had. Nobody is encouraging me to move through appreciation mode faster because it’s uncomfortable (for them or for me). Instead, one of the antidotes to anger is appreciation. It’s really as if emotions are rated in boxes as good or bad, and the bad ones are to be felt quickly, if at all, and the good ones should be felt longer.
I’ve decided to use my anger as a propeller or motivator to make decisions faster. I’m not quite ready to be done with the anger, but I am ready to allow myself the opportunity to explore what’s in store for me next. I’m trying to relinquish the stories I’ve created that certainly don’t serve me.
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