After a recent experience in a place with abysmal customer service, I have found it healthy to re-evaluate my relationship with anger. Fortunately, I did not succumb to it, and many of the thoughts that flashed through my mind remained as fantasies, well behind the borders of imagination land. I was acutely aware throughout the whole episode how every thought I had as a response to somebody acting badly towards me was right and just. This in turn terrified me, because in these moments, life seems to become so clear, the required behavior so obvious, and there is a burning drive to act. The only problem is that anger induced responses are intimately linked to aggression; verbal, emotional, and physical, and even if you don’t express it immediately, these can manifest in passive aggressiveness or fostering a plan for vengeance.
Personally, I think these feelings are primitive survival instincts that do not have a place within contemporary standards of morality. There are very few circumstances where being aggressive against others is a permissible behavior. I would only defend physical aggression against others if you or your friends and family are being physically assaulted (or in the boxing ring, octagon, or on the mats). The obvious reason that aggression is never okay against others is because it can be seriously damaging and leave the victim forever changed with long lasting depression and misery.
I realize that there are degrees of aggression. Yelling at someone for cutting you off, making a sarcastic response, or even just refusing to talk to somebody are hardly in the same league as punching somebody in the face (although, in the times I’ve had people go behind my back, I would’ve preferred being punched in the face. Maybe there’s an important difference between honest aggression and cowardly aggression?) Still, if there’s one thing we know about aggression, is that it can quickly escalate. Remarks in passing when the other party leaves earshot or personal space can become viscerally incendiary if it turns into confrontation.
There are a number of philosophical directions you can take anger. We’re sometimes frustrated by the lack of action over particular issues, and anger leads one to act. Confrontation, although uncomfortable, can lead to closure, and despite the negativity, you at least know how the other party feels about you (honest aggression?); is this ‘healthier’ than angry remarks in passing with people you never see again? And finally, is it ever okay to defend one’s actions by stating that they were done out of anger?
What I have really taken away from my recent experience is that I don’t like feeling angry. If there’s anything I know about the world, it’s ridiculously complicated, and even the asshole that nearly sideswipes you, is somebody’s son/husband/father. If you’re experiencing a moment when the only conceivable right thing to do is to pick up a vase and smash it over somebody’s head, you are the one with the problem, and you are the one that has departed from reality. I wouldn’t mind betting that those who seem to strive on anger have become addicted to the sense of righteousness and power that comes with it. To somebody who suffers low esteem, these feelings could nourish them into a raging beast (bullied children gravitating towards careers of authority?)
During times of anger, especially in the absence of threat, it’s probably better to turn your attention on yourself, and do what is needed to come back down to earth. With all that is amazing in life, who has time to be angry? I’ll take blissful confusion any day.