Inside: Anger and hate; Caustic power; Happiness?; This is long
THERE’S A LOT TO BE ANGRY ABOUT
Take cancer, for example. If I could, I would kick cancer right in its effing face and then body slam it into the sun. I’ve lost a relatively young friend, my dog, my father, an aunt, an uncle, and my stepmother to cancer. I have relatives who have struggled to survive cancer and even so, it takes its toll. We probably all have or will have to deal with it, one way or another.
But you can’t blame anyone for cancer — there are so many factors — so it’s more like existential frustration and we’re trying to tilt the statistical odds in our favor in the face of a gnawing stress.
It seems like everyone is angry about something or at someone. The internet can be so toxic. Ranting, cursing, and yelling about politics, racial stuff, the economy, famous people. Even photography, I’ve discovered.
Anger, disdain, and indignation are recreational pastimes now as much as emotions.
Hell. This made me mad today.
It would be so easy to hate hateful people. Check out “Yes You’re Racist” and watch how people treat people who say racist things. I’m all for online public shaming to an extent, but not name calling, childish insults, sexist and homophobic comments, and talk of violence.
That’s almost more frustrating to me than the original racist comments. You can’t unclog a toilet by pooping in it.
I don’t believe in anger, though.
I mean, I don’t believe in anger as a lifestyle. It can be a powerful motivator and drive. Creative types are often fueled by a permeating sense of anger and injustice in the world.
It’s healthy and appropriate to be angry and offended in the face of injustice. When wronged, it’s natural to lash out, seek revenge, and harbor resentment. It may not be constructive but it’s natural.
It’s not healthy to always be angry, to be bitter. It’s not healthy to always be on fire inside, smoldering and ready to take any spark, real and perceived. Even though a person or people may have good reason.
It takes conscious effort, discipline, maturity(?) and a long view to work through, overcome, or live healthily with any strong emotion. I think that it’s choice, ultimately. Not a one-time, momentary choice, of course, but a choice to do what it takes for the better.
Have you ever been jealous? Like, really jealous? I have. It’s a horrible feeling. Jealously and anger are close kin. You can easily find yourself stoking the flames through wandering thoughts of worst case scenarios. It’s completely natural to experience the emotion of jealousy. It’s built into us on a primal biological level to hoard and possess. But even though it’s a natural and biologically healthy (or normal) emotion, it is ugly. It’s an ugly emotion when it turns into possessiveness, anger, frustration, and rage.
You really do have to manage intense jealousy like it’s a smoldering underground fire. You throw cold logic and reasoning on it and stay active in other areas and out of that headspace in order to deprive it of oxygen.
Anger is an elemental fire. It’s heat and energy can be harnessed and used to create change. It burns, though. It destroys. You can’t hold that heat inside over time without paying a price. Anger and stress that can serve us well in the short term cause certain hormones to work overtime.
It kills you inside. The more you use the more intense it gets.
You know what I’m talking about. That feeling you get when you get the chance to tell the story of how X screwed you over or betrayed you. For a brief moment it feels so good, so right. It doesn’t make anything better, but it feels amazing to vomit it up again.
Holding it inside and repressing it infects your soul. Unleashing it in explosive episodes or tantrums is a momentary release very close to pleasure. Then it festers, a smoldering ember.
It’s so tricky.
The internet attributes this quote to Nelson Mandela:
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
SECOND HAND SMOKE
Oh! Before I go on I want to make something clear. I prefer to not spend a lot of time around angry people but not because they’re bad people. I have many loved ones who you could characterize as angry or bitter. They can also be some of the most caring, loving, and generous people you could ever hope to share time on this planet with.
I didn’t realize that there are adults who have tantrums. I mean, it’s obvious that there are. Whether it’s an A-type personality CEO reaming out his subordinates or an abusive person lashing out and assaulting someone. Obviously, it happens a lot but generally speaking I’m not around. There were those memes going around social media: “I may be crazy and have tantrums but I’m awesome and totally worth it.”
I was glad to see an editorial that pointed out that that’s not — that’s backwards.
If you’re an adult, you should not be throwing tantrums and abusively lashing out at people. That’s not healthy. That’s a character flaw at best. Can you imagine?
“Hello. Nice to meet you. I’m fun and down to earth but every now and then, with the smallest provocation, I’ll…
- “curse you out in public at the top of my lungs.”
- “throw a skillet across the room at your head.”
- “use that very personal traumatic event that you shared with me in confidence to degrade you if we have a heated argument.”
- “find whatever is most precious to you and vandalize it.”
These aren’t the actions of a mature, emotionally stable adult. These are the actions of an angry child, which I think says a lot about us. Again, if you are prone to outbursts like this, it doesn’t necessarily make you a “bad person”. We’re all human beings dealing with life and each other the best we can. All of us still have that childishness in us, but if you’re so angry and so hurt that you’re having uncontrollable outbursts — I think that can be and needs to be addressed.
I also know some people who really are total assholes and should be avoided because they’re miserable and they want everyone else to be miserable, too. We’ve all gone somewhere and had to interact with someone who’s attitude is just nasty and is directed at pretty much everyone. You have to wonder, though. What happened in their lives to make them so toxic? What does make them happy, if only temporarily? Can they turn things around? Who do they love? Who loves them?
For me, it’s the same as smokers. I know some. I love them to death. I wish they would quit and I wish I had the words to help them do it. But I hate that smell and even the idea of being addicted to something that will kill someone I love, and I don’t want that ish getting into my system and tearing me up from the inside out. Not in my car. Not in my house. Not around the kids, please. Y’know?
But best of all, I know people who have every right to be the most hateful sumbitches, but instead they choose to lay aside that “right” and live fully, openly, and with love. They treat people as individuals — fellow travelers making their way from birth to death. Despite their own hurt, they see the shared humanity in others. They take the intensity of their hurt and turn it into love and compassion.
Personally, I can’t talk about anger without talking about forgiveness.
I believe that if we can’t forgive, we can’t truly be happy. I’m not saying that we can’t experience happiness or joy. But it’s so hard to live a full, joyful life with open wounds. When the slightest provocation, intentional or otherwise, is intensely painful, or when the injustices happening all over the world (and there are so many, near and far) send us into a downward spiral. It’s easy to take that vicarious pain and use it to stoke our own.
Have you ever mentioned forgiveness to someone who’s angry and isn’t ready to not be? That is a very efficient way to earn an epic eye roll and a “Go eff yourself.”
I think it’s because they conflate forgiving with forgetting. They think forgiving means no consequences or amends.
Most importantly, they think it invalidates their experience. “If you expect me to forgive then you don’t understand or don’t care about how big my hurt is. And if you don’t understand, it’s because you didn’t make the effort. Conversation over.”
It’s a Moebius Strip of hurt.
But forgiving is another one of those choices. It’s something we choose to do. It’s a process we choose to begin. It doesn’t mean our scars magically disappear. It doesn’t mean we never feel hurt, wounded, or violated again. It means we choose to forgive again.
It’s choosing to let a deep wound — an ugly, infected open gash — heal instead of tearing it open over and over so the world can see how badly we were hurt by someone (or some institution). Or maybe because we get a sense of validation from the rush that follows pain.
It’s like … yes, we have a right to be angry, but we can choose to not be.
Analogy: Let’s say you’ve been in a violent accident. The victim of a hit and run. You have every right to be twisted and bent over in pain and to need constant care — it’s a natural consequence — but you can choose to do the rehabilitation and physical therapy so that eventually you can walk straight and true and live as independently and pain free as possible.
I recently rewatched “The Happiness Advantage with Shawn Achor“.
I highly recommend it. He researches happiness. Quantifying it, scanning brains, doing longitudinal studies in different cultures, countries, and economies, and identifying powerful habits that we can all adopt.
There are so many interesting things to think about, but I think it comes down to this.
“Only 10% of your long-term happiness is predicted by the external world”
“90% of your long-term happiness is determined by how your brain processes the world you find yourself in”
Just a little food for thought.
Have a great week.