Rage is the currency of our times. The internet and its click-happy commerce structure thrives on it; “news” networks exist to grant legitimacy to adults performing grade school shouting matches; all around the world spurious “leaders” have been carried into power on the backs of mobs of people so very angry at…something? Nothing? In a climate of shout first, think never, it’s hard to tell.
Rage sells, rage sways, and it’s become a tool in the hands of so many that fear and dread are always there to greet us each morning, regardless of the weather, regardless of our own sunnier dispositions, and totally uncaring regarding the harm it does us.
Harm and rage filter down from the macro to the micro: when we practice anger rather than love, our daily lives become full of nettles. Perhaps we take out on others our frustration at not being able to escape the blare of rage, or we say ‘no’ quicker and more often to small interactions than we ever would have before. We see our compassion erode and our mental, physical, and spiritual health decline.
The machinery of the Anger Culture will grind us down into raw materials if we let it.
Because more often than not, rage is a lie. We’re not mad at others, we’re mad at ourselves. The journey from rage to release goes through seven stages; seven Rs which can take varying degrees of time to work through – some might get stuck along the way.
That sudden red haze in the brain is a strong stimulant. It makes us feel as if splitting a mountain with our bare hands is not only possible, but is our right, and there are few mental states more addictive than a feeling of entitlement. We deserve attention, but someone ignores us? Rage. Someone offends us when all we wanted was the peace of going about our day? Rage.
Even when anger is justified (such as over the innumerable actual injustices afflicting the world), it’s too toxic to be allowed to linger. It must be released to allow for more effective, beneficial modes of being.
After the onset of anger, the urge to retaliate is extra strong. We feel wronged and we want to punish the wrongdoer. Punishment can be physical (a fight), emotional (an insult), tangible (withholding goods or services), or psychological (all of the above). The precise mode isn’t as important in the heat of the moment as the fact that we act, we “stand our ground” because – as far as we’re concerned – the perceived transgression was against all that we are and hold dear.
This, of course, leads to resentment.
Punishment is never enough for the rage-fueled. A cut that goes as deep as one’s DNA demands the self-righteousness of “How dare you make me be this way!”
When a friend betrays a promised trust, resentment erases the sense of companionship that led to one’s weakness in opening oneself to said situation in the first place. Resentment is every “I hate you!” lobbed at a lover. It is the predator’s balm every time he looks in a mirror, placing blame at an offender’s feet minus any need for self-reflection.
But resentment burns off unless it is constantly fed anger. After a while, one sees that resenting someone for an uncomfortable situation is way less helpful than actual analysis of how the situation came to be in the first place.
Which leads us to resignation.
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It happened. It might have been intentional. It might have been unintentional. It might be indicative of deeper issues. It might be systemic. Whatever it is, is anger doing any good, or is it like the proverbial poison in the situation of a person drinking poison in the hope someone else dies?
Resignation is the state in which decisions begin to form. Rage and resentment might have zoomed us here, but resignation slows us enough to see the landscape all around us, not merely the tunnel vision enjoyed previously. Forests of cause and effect. Lakes of intent. Highways and byways full of psychological underpinnings.
Resignation asks: “What are you going to do?” Most of us truly do not want to be addicted to rage. Anger might jumpstart us, but we quickly realize it does so by leeching power from our other vital systems, systems such as compassion, reason, self-reflection, honesty, and even our reserves of forgiveness, and so we give ourselves permission to (1) learn from the experience, (2) change our circumstances to prevent reoccurrence as best we can, and (3) grow. If anger plants any sort of seed whatsoever, it should be one that permits personal and social growth, otherwise it simply serves cycles of addiction.
This is where we realize perhaps it wasn’t that serious at all. Or that things could have been handled better all around. Or even that our ire was totally fake. Reasons creep inward. We screamed at our child not because he failed another test, but because the work day was particularly hellish. We supported hateful political stances because complicit guilt is too much to bear every morning. We wanted to lash out at someone because we felt no sense of control over anything, even the things we know aren’t right but that happen all the time. We feel so alone, so helpless…in our love lives, families, jobs, communities, duties, inner journeys…and rage feeds heartily on that sense of isolation.
And that hurts. That hurts a lot.
But we can stop that pain.
Anger is so often a manifestation of self-dissatisfaction. We resolve this by adopting the mantra that everything changes, and that we must also change ourselves – a liberating notion because it frees us from the static chamber of guilt and allows, if we’re fortunate enough, grace to see the world once again, but without the filter of the red haze.
That final dip of a stone into the water after skipping on a pond is always pleasurable, but do we really know why? A return to flow, perhaps? Anger is like that: it flings us headlong at the surface of an issue, person, or event, and watches us bounce, bounce, bounce – but it is we who, ultimately, must allow for the pleasure and grace of re-becoming part of the flow, of being agents of change rather than accomplices to harm.
Giving in to release is a liberating exhalation against the unconscious ways in which we hold our breath in response to the world. It’s not necessarily acceptance, because there are things in the world that deserve our anger as fuel to remove them rather than accept them as status quo.
However, if we don’t release anger’s jolts of adrenaline, we begin to think we need anger to effect change and are reluctant to let anger go, but the prolonged doses of anger create virulent tunnel vision. A passionate response can be a great motivator, but, ultimately, must be tempered by the reality that this world must be shared amongst us all.
Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. – Aristotle