Thursday, July 14, 2011

Anger Kills:

I disagree with this article in the Huffington Post insofar as it claims anger is ever good for us. No anger has never gotten a bad rap; it deserves all the bad things we can say about it and then some. Though the article does feature great quotations from philosophers arguing against anger in every circumstance.

Medieval Christianity decreed anger as one of the seven deadly sins. Buddha teaches that anger side-tracks enlightenment and is rooted in illusion. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna regards anger as a sign of ignorance that leads to perpetual bondage. And the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a source of Judaic law, advises, "Anger is a very evil trait and it should be avoided at all costs. You should train yourself not be become angry even if you have a good reason to be angry." Even current medical research conducted through the American Heart Association lists its negative health consequences, including anger as a trigger for heart attacks.

Indeed, these sources -- ancient wisdom -- are right and the author shouldn't presume to know better.

But why the qualified defense of anger?

Anger is a hard issue because it's something human beings seem universally subject to, some more than others. Because of its universality, the "everyone does it" excuse temps the human ego. While I can't speak for the non-Judeo-Christian sources of ancient wisdom, Christianity rightly answers the "everyone does it" excuse with the doctrine of original sin or all human beings falling short of the ideal; everyone does it means everyone is guilty, not excused. And the folks who indulge in this poison more than others are the guiltier parties.

The author properly notes anger is built into human DNA as a survival mechanism. Indeed, all mammals emotionally react with anger and fear when their physical survival is threatened. But, this mechanism did evolve in the brute state of evolutionary nature. What separates humans from animals is our ability to rise above our animal nature. Think about it: since humans stopped being cavemen and became civil, especially in modern times when the prospect of needing a burst of adrenalin to fight off a tiger seems ever unlikely, fight or flight emotional reactions became useless and superfluous, indeed things that make us into badder, less pleasant to be around, less happy people.

Some argue anger and fear can usefully motivate to accomplish good; but -- and this is an "aha," wake you up out of the Matrix discovery -- whatever good outcome anger or fear can motivate you towards can be done without them. Can and SHOULD. Whatever one needs to accomplish, anger or fear are likely to get in the way, fluster you or make you overreact and not handle the situation properly. In short, you have to do the right, effective thing IN SPITE of the emotional reaction.

Nothing a person can do to you justifies you getting angry. And this is true as much if not more so for your sake than theirs.

Folks unaware of this discovery sometimes think not getting angry means being a wimp and letting people get away with things. To the contrary, in many ways it means "winning" (as Charlie Sheen might put it) without getting the heart attack that killed Howard Beale.

When folks wrong you, they always deserve to be stood up to; though prudence may dictate silence. For instance, an armed gangster who rudely shoves you out of his way on a public sidewalk deserves to be stood up to; but it might get you shot. Sometimes folks deserve to be straightened out; they may deserve a punch or even God forbid a bullet. But in the ideal, these ought to be done, not in a state of emotional reaction, but in a state of emotional detachment. If someone directly and imminently threatens your life or the lives of your loved ones, they deserve a bullet. So when I say, "don't get angry at them" it's obviously not for THEIR sake but yours.

I hope never to be in a circumstance of having to use deadly force; but if I were, I know if I could totally emotionally detach myself from the circumstance and not get angry or upset while using the deadly force, I would be spared from the misery of post traumatic stress disorder and happily go on with my life. If I got emotional and upset, I would need therapy; the past trauma would consume me and make me miserable. I would also almost certainly better handle the situation if I did not get angry or upset (see below for what I mean).

Yet other times, not getting angry IS for other people as well as for you. Someone who overreacts, gets irritated and takes his or her anger out on other folks for little or more moderate transgressions is generally not well liked or pleasant to be around. And if you are not in a position of power or authority over someone you are likely to be told off (or worse!) by a stranger or ruin a friendship when you get angry at someone and take it out on them. What's more, taking out your anger or frustrations on someone is just a rotten thing to do. And unfortunately, bosses, parents, and partners-spouses do this way more than they should (in the ideal they never would.) And then when parents get old their adult children give it back to them with the parents left scratching their heads asking "what did I do to them?" You took your anger and frustrations out on them while they were subject to your authority and it's coming back to haunt you.

Because I am detached from the circumstance I can laugh at Buddy Rich, Casey Kasem and Alec Baldwin overreacting and taking their anger out at those under their authority; but honestly they all acted as rotten human beings when they did this.

Now in each of those circumstances, the other party -- Buddy Rich's band, Alec Baldwin's daughter, and Casey Kasem's subordinate worker -- may have done something wrong that triggered the emotional reaction. But their misdeeds didn't merit the overreaction. "He started it" or "you did this" doesn't excuse the anger-overreaction.

So how much do you give someone when you reprimand them for their misdeeds? Only in a calm, emotionally detached state will your intuition instruct you on the proper words and tone of voice to use. Anger practically guarantees bungling the conflict.

Let me end with a more serious anecdote to illustrate this rule. A tragic story of two lives ruined by anger. 59 year old pharmacist Jerome Ersland was victimized by a gang of armed robbers. A lawful gun owner, he reacted legally and morally by initially shooting the robbers in self defense. After one robber was already shot and subdued, but still alive, "Ersland [fired] five shots into the unconscious teenager's abdomen that killed him."

The robber morally deserved the initial shot that left him subdued, but did not deserve the five shots that killed him. And the moral bullet was also legal; the five immoral bullets were illegal. The immoral bullets were the result of anger which caused the overreaction. Ersland could have still done the right thing, in SPITE of his anger, and resisted the temptation to fire those additional bullets. But, if he did not get angry, his intuitive sense would have instructed him, effortlessly with no temptation, to stop firing after he subdued the robber.

Anger kills and ruins lives.

In subsequent posts I may follow up on strategies for not being subject to anger. I know all of this is easier said than done. But the first step in an enlightened understanding is giving up the egotistical justification for ever getting angry. When the ego self-righteously justifies the angry state (as in "I am angry because X did this or caused it") it becomes almost impossible to let go. And ultimately that's what you need to do with your anger; let go of it. Never indulge it. Don't suppress it; don't indulge it. And here the author of the HuffPo article and I agree. :).

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