A SLEEP-DEPRIVED mate woke at 3am recently to hear possums playing loudly near his carport.
Furious his sleep had been disturbed, he went outside and hurled a rock at them. It missed and shattered one of his car windows. Even more furious, he aimed a kick at his garden rockery — only to realise too late he was in bare feet.
Some of our emotions can be powerful and painful. Especially anger. You see it every day on the streets of a city that obviously has more cars than parking spots, in a culture where revenge is said to be sweet and children are taught forgiveness is for weaklings or masochists.
You sense the cold prickly blanket of anger in the gangs of youths who travel our streets looking for someone — anyone — to pass it on to.
Anger is probably the most commonly exhibited of the seven deadly sins. It’s a universal experience. Some people like being angry. But, as writer Maggie Scarg said, getting angry can sometimes be like leaping into a wonderfully responsive sportscar, gunning the motor, taking off at high speed and then discovering the brakes are out of order.
Even Jesus showed anger. He was angry at the religious leaders who cared more for religiosity than God, angry at his disciples when they tried to turn away children from his presence and furious at the merchants at the Jewish Temple. He was “deeply moved” by the pain of those he encountered.
There is certainly righteous anger. If we cannot feel anger at evil acts, or feel grieved at the seeming injustice of the world, we are not truly alive. Anger can motivate us to make the world better.
Aristotle said: “The man who gets angry at the right things and with the right people, and in the right way and at the right time and for the right length of time, is commended. But it’s not easy.”
But there’s another side to that emotion. We have all said things in anger to those we care about and then we realised we can never take back those words. We have all felt the hurt that turns to anger and sometimes we take it out on the world, on ourselves or on God. Anger and grief are not all that different.
We are all going to be unfairly treated, but the test is how we react to that. The Buddha was right. He said: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” And Confucius advised: “When anger rises, think of the consequences.”
Elvis Presley should have taken that advice. He once bought an Italian sportscar which would not start when he wanted to take it out for a spin. He pulled out a gun and shot the car three times.
During a world tour, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst allegedly flew into a rage and threw a microphone at a lighting technician. The roadie filed a $5 million lawsuit, which Durst later settled for an undisclosed amount out of court. The name of the band’s tour? Anger Management.
A study at Duke University found 40 per cent of an average person’s anxiety is focused on things that will never happen, 30 per cent on things about the past that can’t be changed, 12 per cent on criticisms from others and only 8 per cent on real problems.
Factors leading to anger problems included nursing a grudge, preoccupation with past mistakes and self pity. The least angry were found to be those who recognised that no one gets through life without some sorrow, did not expect too much of themselves, had something bigger than themselves to believe in and cultivated a sense of humour.
When US President Abraham Lincoln had to write to someone who had irritated him, he would often write two letters. The first letter was deliberately insulting. Then, having gotten those feelings out of his system, he would tear it up and write a second letter, this one tactful and discreet.
“If you don’t want to be angry, don’t feed the habit,” he said.