Whenever you have a strong urge to do something, lie down and let it pass
My father told me this.  I don't know if it's original to him.

Never Put it In Writing!
My father

People Can Sue For Anything
Also my father

Never write a letter while you are angry.
Chinese Proverb

Never write an email while you are angry.
Me wishing I had read the Chinese Proverb before doing so

Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to misunderstanding
Me before I read the next two quotes

Never attribute to conspiracy that which is adequately explained by stupidity
paraphrase of Hanlon's Razor (fm R. Heinlein)

Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence.
Napoleon

Anyone can become angry — that is easy.
But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time,
for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.”

Aristotle, in the “Nicomachean Ethics”

Introduction:

   When I have acted in anger I have sometimes done very good things such as writing a letter to the editor, donate money to help those who are oppressed and so on.  However in my personal life when I have acted in anger it has almost always caused problems.  And when I have expressed myself in words on paper or in email it has potentially opened me up to law suits besides creating more misunderstandings.  There are many times that I wish I had listened to my father's advice of "Never Put It In Writing". 

   My experience has taught me that what appears to be an appropriate, reasonable and just response to provocation, when I'm angry, is generally not and will generally be harmful to me.  For that reason it is very important to allow enough time to let the anger pass so one can respond in an appropriate way that is not self destructive.  Often the best response to provocation is to discuss the situation with the provoker, often there are misunderstandings involved. The advice "whenever you have a strong urge to do something, lie down and let it pass", is very good advice when it comes to anger.

   Sometimes an angry response may be very appropriate to a provocation.  Another lesson experience has taught me however, is that the provoker of the situation quickly forgets their role in making you angry but remembers for a long time your angry response.  In my experience if someone provokes me, that person, when talking to other people, denies the provocation and paints him or herself as an innocent victim of my irrational angry outbursts  My guess is that I'm not the only one who has experienced this.  It makes sense that people want to think of themselves in as positive a way as they can and want others to think that way also and so rationalize and remember events so that they can believe what they want to believe.. 

   Although there are many negative aspects to anger there are positive ones as well and I start my discussion with those.

Positive Aspects of Anger:

Our Grief Has Turned to Anger and Our Anger to Resolution
President George W. Bush after the attacks of Sept. 11 2001

We cannot allow ourselves to drift away from our resolve
to defeat those who attacked us.
For if we do, we will be attacked again and again.

Letter to the Editor of the NY Post by Walter Gross (9/15/02)

Do not go gentle into that...night...
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Dylan Thomas

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things;
the decayed and degraded state of
moral and patriotic feeling which thinks
that nothing is worth war is much worse.

A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight;
nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety;
is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free,
unless made and kept so by exertions of better men than himself.

John Stuart Mill

    We all know there are negative aspects to anger and I discuss those later as well as how to reduce anger, but it's important to realize that there are times when anger can be of value and we can use our anger to motivate ourselves to make our world a better place. After terrorists crashed two passenger planes into the World Trade Center (September 11, 01) Time Magazine put out an issue with pictures of the disaster and an essay by Lance Morrow called "The Case for Rage and Retribution".  He wrote:

For once, lets have no "Grief counselors" standing by with banal consolations, as if the purpose, in the midst of all this, were merely to make everyone feel better as quickly as possible.  We shouldn't feel better...

A day cannot live in infamy without the nourishment of rage.   Lets have rage.

What's needed is a unified, unifying, Pearl Harbor sort of purple American fury--a ruthless indignation that doesn't leak away in a week or two, wandering off into Prozac-induced forgetfulness or into the next media sensation (O.J. Elian, Chandra) or into a corruptly thoughtful relativism (as has happened in the recent past, when, for example, you might here someone say, "Terrible what he did of course, but, you know, the Unabomber does have a point, doesn't he, about modern technology?"..America needs to relearn a lost discipline, self confident relentlessness, and to relearn why human nature has equipped us with a weapon (abhorred in decent peacetime societies) called hatred...As the bodies are counted, into the thousands and thousands, hatred will not, I think, be a difficult emotion to summon.  Is the medicine too strong?  Call it rather a wholesome and intelligent emnity-the sort that impels even such a prosperous, messily tolerant organism as America to act.

   Neil Kressel, the author of Mass Hate: The Global Rise of Genocide and Terror also wrote a piece about the value of anger after the attack on the World Trade Center called "Getting Mad: Not Just Healthy, But Vital (New York Post 10/26/01) in which he wrote:

In the end, the biggest danger to our present war effort is not overreaction, but underreaction.  With the citizenry angry as hell, the government is more likely to err in the right direction.

   A year later Eric Fettman in an OpEd called Where's the Anger (New York Post 8/29/02) wrote:

...what has happened to our anger?

The acute rage, the white-hot fury that nearly all Americans felt in the immediate aftermath of the horrifying murders of 3,000 people seems to have dissipated.

And, with it, the resolve that saw Americans united on the need to utterly demolish international terrorism...

I'm sorry, but I don't want to see mournful processions and bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" over and over. I want to see a rekindling of the unrestrained anger we once felt...

Yes, taking drastic action on the basis of unrestrained emotion can be dangerous. More often than not, it's necessary to step back a bit and gain some perspective.

But it's just as dangerous when the pendulum of emotion swings to the opposite extreme - and we forget what and why we are fighting.

Rod Dreher wrote an excellent article for the National Review called America, Be Angry.   A website created after Sept. 11 is called www.stillangry.org.  Darryl Worley wrote an excellent song after 9/11 called Have You Forgotten which is embedded below.  In that song he sings:

They took all the footage off my T.V.
Said it's too disturbing for you and me
It'll just breed anger that's what the experts say
If it was up to me I'd show it everyday

 

After a suicide bomber killed young people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester England, The New York Post posted an editorial titled "Stay Angry After Manchester".  They wrote:

But the greatest danger rests in the push for complacency. BBC anchor Katty Kay, for one, told MSNBC that “Europe is getting used to attacks like this. They have to, because we are never going to be able to totally wipe this out.”

Sorry: The answer is not to stop being enraged at meaningless slaughter and those who perpetrate it. ...  There’s no more self-defeating response to terrorism than to normalize it.

 

 

In the section "Painful Emotions are a Valuable Warning" I mention how negative emotions can be a useful warning.  If we find ourselves becoming angry at someone that is a warning that, that person may be mistreating us in some way.  I have been in a situation where I was angry at someone but that person claimed that my anger was invalid and that she had done nothing wrong.  In relationships I often am not sure if I'm right yet it is important to take one's anger into account.  It must be there for a reason. 

    In another section, Painful Emotions are Valuable Motivators I mentioned how anger can a beneficial emotion that can help motivate us to improve our situation.    If I'm angry at someone I might be motivated to communicate with that person about it.

    There are people who believe that emotions such as anger are inherently evil.  As I have argued above there are times when anger can be good.   I think there is a time and a place for everything.  This was expressed in Ecclesiastes 2:26: and was made into a song.  Some of the stanzas from that song follow:

 

To everything, turn turn, turn,
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything, turn, turn, turn,
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

To everything, turn, turn, turn,
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

   David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale wrote an OpEd in the New York Post (They Just Won't Get It, 9/10/02) in which he made an argument similar to the one made in Ecclesiastes.  He argued that the proper response to the attacks of 9/11 was not to try to be understanding of the hijackers grievances but rather to be enraged and to hate them.  He wrote:

Sometimes revulsion or rage or hatred is the only decent emotion to have... Sometimes if you fail to hate, or even kill, you are failing in your duty as a human being.

Benjamin Shapiro wrote an article titled In Defense of Anger (wnd.com 5/12/05) after Jerry Hobbs murdered his daughter Laura who was 8 years old and her friend Krystal who was 9.  He wrote:

As a nation, we've come to believe that there is something wrong with reacting with rage against evil. As Christina Hoff Sommers puts it in her wonderful new book, "One Nation Under Therapy," "Too many Americans have been convinced, for example ... that nonjudgmentalism is the essence of kindness, that psychic pain is a pathology in need of a cure."

But rage in this sort of situation is perhaps the only proper emotional outlet. Certainly the families should feel rage at the murderer of their children. But as a society, we should feel rage at the brutal slayings of two innocent young girls. We should respond as Zion Police Chief Doug Malcolm did: "It was a crime not only against those kids, but against all of us."

Instead, we turn on "Good Morning America" to watch grief counselors tell us how to deal with our anger, how to turn fury into something "healthy." There is nothing healthy about stifling moral condemnation. Moral condemnation isn't only cathartic – it's the only way we can improve our society.

Attacks on our basic morality should breed anger – anger breeds action. Throughout our history, Americans, driven by moral rage, have done right.

Although Benjamin Shapiro is right it's important to point out that it was rage that motivated Jerry Hobbs to kill the girls in the first place.

Hatred:

   Anger and hatred are two different things, we can be angry at our loved ones and still love them.  As the verse in Ecclesiastes states however, there is a time even for hate.  Menachem Begin, former Prime Minister of Israel and the former commander of the Irgun which fought the British because they blocked the Jewish escape route to Palestine from Hitler, wrote the following about this subject in his book The Revolt.

Was there hate in our actions in our revolt against British rule of our country; and is that emotion expressed in this book written by the man who bore the responsibility and subsequently wrote about the facts of the revolt?

To such a question the sincere answer is "Yes."

But was it hatred of the British people as such?  The sincere answer is "No."

It is axiomatic that those who fight have to hate - something or somebody.  And we fought.  We had to hate first and foremost, the horrifying, age-old inexcusable utter defencelessness of our Jewish people, wandering through millennia, through a cruel world, to the majority of whose inhabitants the defencelessness of the Jews was a standing invitation to massacre them.  We had to hate the humiliating disgrace of the homelessness of our people.  We had to hate - as any nation worthy of the name must and always will hate - the rule of the foreigner, rule, unjust and unjustifiable per se, foreign rule in the land of our ancestors, in our own country.  We had to hate the barring of the gates of our own country to our own brethren, trampled and bleeding and crying out for help in a world morally deaf.

And, naturally, we had to hate all those who, equipped with modern arms and with the ancient machinery of the gallows, barred the way of our people to physical salvation, denied them the means of individual defence, frustrated their efforts for national independence, and ruthlessly withstood their attempts to regain their national honour and restore their self respect.

Who will condemn the hatred of evil that springs from the love of what is good and just?  Such hatred has been the driving force of progress in the world's history - "not peace but a sword" in the cause of mankind's advancement.   And in our case, such hate has been nothing more and nothing less than a manifestation of that highest human feeling: love.  For if you love Freedom, you must hate Slavery; if you love your people, you cannot but hate the enemies that compass their destruction; if you love your country, you cannot but hate those who seek to annex it. Simply put: if you love your mother, would you not hate the man who sought to kill her: would you not hate him and fight him at the cost, if needs be, of your life?

This is a fundamental human question in the violent and stormy world of today.  Let every decent man search his soul and decently answer.  Because ultimately the hope of every people lies in the readiness of its sons to stake their live, "for their mothers," - for freedom which man loves, against serfdom which man hates and should hate in the name of his love.

Dealing With Anger:

   Lauren Manning is a woman who has a lot to be angry about.   She was burned over 82 percent of her body during the World Trade Center attack and has had a long and painful time recovering from it.  Readers Digest (Mar 2004) quoted her as saying:

I'm angry absolutely, but I don't live with it.  I don't want to give the terrorists any more time than they've already taken from me.  I'm grateful to be alive.

   I think what Lauren means by not living with it is that she doesn't dwell on it.  She focuses on other things like her child and on being grateful for life.  There is a lesson here for all of us trying to deal with anger.

   Anger hurts the angry even in cases where it motivates the angry person to do what needs to be done.  It destroys our peace of mind, it wrecks our happiness and it creates stress.  This raises the question, is there a way to channel anger so that it motivates us to do what needs to be done without eating us alive?  After 9/11 President George W. Bush said "Our grief Has turned to anger and our anger to resolution."  We need to turn our anger into resolution to carry out a plan and then keep our minds on other things.

    I don't know how general this problem is but sometimes I get irritated at my family even though they haven't done anything intentionally wrong. The way I deal with is simply to try and love them instead of being angry at them. 

Understanding Anger:

    Anger is a motivator to harm another.  Why do we have such an emotion?

  Consider an  organism.  When an organism grows and multiplies it encounters obstacles.  Those obstacles may be other organisms competing for the same nutrients.   One way to cope may be to destroy the competing organism. 

  I read once about a fascinating animal that does resort to this.   It is a subspecies of tiger salamander.  I think it is the East Tiger Salamander and have included a picture below. 

images/ambytigr.jpg (28097 bytes)

    When food is in short supply the tiger salamander morphs or monstrifies.  It's head becomes larger, it's mouth becomes wider and its teeth longer.  It becomes a cannibal. 

  This sounds like it came out of a horror movie and it gives me the shivers, but is it so bad?  If the tiger salamanders didn't monstrify they might all die of starvation.  Tiger salamanders monstrify to fight off competition and stay alive.

   Lets consider an even scarier organism, the human being.  He also monstrifies to fight off competition and threats.  His head doesn't become larger but he creates weapons to destroy those he is angry with.  If he is justified then that may be good, if he's not justified it's bad. 

   One source of anger in relationships is when one partner thinks negative things about other.  Both are likely to be angry in that situation.   If one is in a relationship where the other person feels that way about oneself and one is angry what should one do?  I have been in this situation and reacted to personal attacks on me by counterattacking by telling the other person how they were at fault.  That person is enraged and it appears that she will not forgive me for a long time if ever.  What should I have done?  I think my objective should have been to a) consider if there was any truth to the other person's negative viewpoint about me and b) tried to understand why the other person felt that way whether rightly or wrongly and c) tried to convince the person that I wasn't such a bad bloke, if as I do believe, I'm not.  So how can we persuade someone to feel differently about us?  One principle stated on the persuasion web page of this web site is that it is much easier to persuade someone if one is friendly to them than if one is hostile.  If one is angry because of unfair accusations on their part it is very hard to act friendly, but if one doesn't act friendly, I don't think they'll be convinced to change their mind.  On the contrary, expressions of anger toward them is likely to reinforce their negative view.  If they have a high opinion of you they are more likely to listen to you.  Unfortunately in the above situation they already have a negative opinion of you.  Sometimes the person who has a negative opinion of us is blaming us for something that is really their fault.  If we state that fact we are unlikely to convince them because that will make them perceive that we are being unfriendly and in addition because it is an attack on their self esteem.  I would guess that one would try to address the negative points of view of the other person simply by explaining one's actions and trying to the utmost to avoid expressing negative views toward that person.  Also expressing that you have a positive opinion of the other person, and that you mean well, while doing this is likely to help.  Also trying to ask them to put themselves in your shoes might help.

If we become angry enough we may act without thinking things through and regret our actions later.  Baltasar Gracian once said:

It is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterward.

    Anger is a very dangerous emotion that can get out of control.   A clever quote that says this is:

Anger is only one letter short of danger.

    Anger leads people to say very hurtful things when they are angry toward their loved ones which their loved ones may take a long time too forget.   An evil word uttered in a split second of rage is likely to haunt the man who spoke it for a long time afterwards.  Many terrible things have been done by people whose judgement has been clouded with anger.  Sometimes people hold their anger in and let it build and then strike out at others later. 

    Before one strikes out an anger  it's important to remember that the person being struck is likely to strike back in some way.  It's rare that the person one strikes at reacts with "I did something wrong, I'm sorry." 

    A study of personal relationships showed that expressing wounded feelings is often better for relationships than expressing anger because it causes the other person to react with empathy instead of defensiveness.

   Anger can cloud one's judgement.  Before becoming angry at the people who are hurting us we must be sure we understand why they are engaging in that behavior.  My favorite saying is "Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to misunderstanding".  It's probably my favorite saying because I made it up.  In my experience it has often been true.  Aaron Beck in his book Prisoners of Hate writes that:

Most people seem to operate on the dubious assumption that, until proven otherwise, any act they perceive as noxious is deliberate.

    It's interesting that this approach is exactly the opposite of the "innocent until proven guilty" approach of the United States judicial system.

    Hypothetically anger's ability to cloud our judgement may sometimes be a good thing.  If we see someone being abused  our anger might overcome our fears so that we strike out at the abuser.  Although there may be hypothetical situations where clouded judgement is good in my personal experience it has always led to negative consequences that I didn't want and regretted later.  I think one of the most important things to do when one is angry is think about the possible negative consequences of whatever actions one plans to take not only to one's target but to oneself.

   My wife and have rules about getting angry at each other.

  1. Ask yourself if your spouse did the annoying action on purpose.
  2. Ask yourself if your spouse did it to hurt you.
  3. Ask yourself if you're thinking worse of the other person than you should be.

   We also made a rule that if the other person apologizes that should be met with forgiveness.  I've also advised her that when I'm enraged the best response is not to say "go away and leave me alone" which only enrages me further but rather to ask "What can I do to help you become less angry?" 

    Sometimes people regard another person's disagreement as an attack on their self esteem and perhaps as an obstacle to their getting their way.  Aaron Beck in his book Prisoners of Hate writes about a patient who became angry when people disagreed with him.  The thoughts going through the patients head were:

   He disagrees with me -> He doesn't respect me ->I need to show him he can't get away with this.

   Ironically the anger reaction led people to respect him less and so created a vicious cycle as shown below:

 

Other person doesn't respect oneself Believe other person doesn't respect oneself

images/acycle.gif (14544 bytes)

Temper Tantrum Anger

 

   If one has low self esteem to begin with one is more likely to interpret the behavior of others as being due to their negative attitude toward oneself and so one is more likely to be angry at them.  Of course the more angry one is at them the more of a negative attitude they will have toward oneself. 

 

Low Self Esteem

Others react to one's anger with a negative attitude toward oneself

images/acycle.gif (14544 bytes)

Interpret the behavior of others as resulting from their negative attitude toward oneself.

Anger at Others

 

Controlling Anger

    I once read that sadness comes from one perceiving one's situation as being a lot worse than one's desired situation and one believing there is no hope for improving one's situation.  Anger also can result when one perceives one's situation as being worse than one's desired situation.  This is illustrated in the diagram below.

    How can we control our anger?  We first need to evaluate what is causing it.  According to the diagram above if we can either increase our perceived state or lower our desired state we will feel less anger.  We can increase our perceived state by trying to be grateful for the things we have. 

    Are we angry because something or someone is interfering with our getting what we want?  If someone is in our way we need to ask ourselves, is the person is deliberately trying to interfere or not?  If the person is not deliberately trying to interfere we need to ask ourselves if it is fair to be angry toward them?

   According to Dr. Aaron Beck in his book Prisoners of Hate, trying to feel empathy for the object of one's anger is often helpful in reducing it.   That's another way of saying one should put oneself in the other person's shoes and try and understand their behavior. 

    We have a certain ability to reduce our anger by just trying  to feel less anger.  It's been my experience that my anger grows as I think about a situation that is bothering me and that it's much easier to reduce it before it grows.

    If we view anger as a possibly useful warning that something is wrong we can ask ourselves what that something is and what steps we can do about it.  Once we take that course of action than it is no longer to our advantage to be angry and reminding ourselves of that and trying to be happy with things the way they are may help alleviate the anger.

According to the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness in order to deal with anger it's good to

Prepare ahead of time by constantly working toward building inner contentment and cultivating kindness and compassion.  This brings about a certain calmness of mind that can help prevent anger from arising in the first place.  And then when a situation does arise that makes you angry, you should directly confront your anger and analyze it.  Investigate what factors have given rise to that particular instance of anger or hatred.  Then, analyze further, and especially whether it is constructive or destructive.  And you make an effort to exert a certain inner discipline and restraint, actively combating it by applying the antidotes: counteracting these negative emotions with thoughts of patience and tolerance".

    The approach of "counteracting these negative emotions with thoughts of patience and tolerance" can be considered a form of positive displacement.

    If someone is angry most of the time it may be that they are suffering from depression.  I have known two people who fit that description, both of whom became pleasant people after taking anti-depressants.  I asked a therapist why that was true and she answered me "Why me?".  She explained that people who are suffering become angry that they are being hurt by the world.

Fueling Rage:

    One problem with trying to communicate with someone about something unfair that they have done to oneself is that they are likely to respond with anger to the criticism.  That in turn is likely to get oneself angry.  Here you're trying to communicate how the person is being unfair and they react with anger and criticism themselves instead of apologizing.  When you complain or react angrily the other person may get even angrier and you have a vicious cycle that fuels ever increasing rage. 

    One thing to do in these situations is break off communication for a while until both sides calm down.  Another thing to do is remember that what people say in anger is not necessarily what they will feel the next day and not to take what they say to literally or as what they really believe. 

    One woman wrote in an article that the way she diffuses the increasing rage cycle is to say "I'm sorry you feel that way, let's talk again when you're more calm."

 

c o p y r i g h t   ( c )   1 9 9 9 - 2004 Karl Ericson Enterprises.  All rights reserved

Table of Contents