A Short Note on Anger,

Dwight Towers recently blogged this quote from a book we’ve both been reading:

When we complain about what someone is doing that annoys us, we are really not complaining about him at all. We are complaining about our own character. We make a fuss about what he is doing, but that is useless as he will probably keep right on doing it. Instead of being annoyed about what he is doing, we ought to be more interested in finding out the answer to a vital question: ‘Why does it bother me?’

page 107 of Beyond Success and Failure
Willard and Marguerite Beecher
1966
Simon and Schuster Books

His comment:

Well, yesssss, but….. While I agree with this excerpt above enough to post it as today’s homily, and while it IS true that the things that enrage us the most are often the things closest to home, the above quote doesn’t make enough space, IMHO, for getting angry at behavior from other people that is actually “in the way” – the persistent smugosphering of those who claim to take “action” on climate change in certain northern UK cities, to give a random example… Or is anger at such self-indulgence and incompetent grand-standing merely a defence mechanism? “Activist, know thyself” and all that…

I wrote the following in response:

If anything they don’t go far enough! Anger is our reaction to the projection we put onto others of aspects of our own attitudes and actions that we are uncomfortable with – period. Full-stop, as you would say. While it is often justified as a “call to action,” as you attempt to use it here, it is in fact in the way of effective action.

Think of a situation in which we don’t feel invested with rage or self-righteous fury, we simply see something that needs to be changed and we deal with it. This can even be so perceptually transparent that we aren’t even aware we’ve “done” anything. A course has shifted without any fuss in part at least because we haven’t turned it into a psychodrama. We haven’t alerted our “adversaries” that we oppose them, so we don’t raise levels of resistance. The amount of power required to make a change this way is on a downward trend towards a lighter touch, the exact opposite of a Battle.

Anger, as with so much else, isn’t something to be “managed.” When we begin to recognize it as a mirror, the combination of shame at such a blunt self-exposure with a growing recognition of its lack of efficacy can wean us away from its infantile “comforts.” This isn’t about being “nice.” It’s about being effective. It requires that we develop our proprioception so as to realize that while we appear to be fighting enemies, we are just caught up in a self-indulgence.

He wrote me back suggesting I post this here. He’s done this before, at least in part as a friendly nudge for me to make shorter and less convoluted posts. I’ll resist my temptation to elaborate, so let’s leave it at that.

For now…

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4 thoughts on “A Short Note on Anger,

    • We tend to discount shame and guilt as means used by a corrupt power structure to maintain control over us. While it’s true that their toxic simulacra are used in this way, underneath all that are genuine emotions that show us we are out of balance.

      The point of shame, or guilt, is not to add to our sense of being trapped. They are signs that we are astray. If we can suspend the fixation on our reaction and proceed to confronting what they are telling us we can adapt.

      One of the most telling traits mentioned again and again in the chronicles of indigenous peoples on encountering their civilized conquerors was an incredulity at their lack of shame.

      So much of what an “elite education” is supposed to provide is shamelessness.

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