Scratching the Surface of The Philosophy of Anger

“When angry, count four. When very angry, swear.” Mark Twain

It doesn’t take a lot of anger for me to swear, it is one of my many shortcomings as a person. Seeing this quote above made me laugh and it went along with what I have been thinking about lately.

Over the past year a lot of things have been happening which have brought about sadness, disappointments and of course that little rascal anger. On top of dealing with anger towards religion and stupidity, this year has not disappointed when it comes to fresh wounds. I have tried to look at everything squarely. Tried to find balance. And that can be a hard thing to do when it feels so good to be angry, especially when you feel justified in your anger. It’s a powerful thing, this single emotion can make you feel like you are the biggest person on earth, the one with all the right answers, it is akin to a great drug, you find yourself bathing in it  when it presents itself and chasing it when it threatens to be forgotten.  And then, if you open your mouth when you feel the great A burning, well…”Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” (Ambrose Bierce) We have all done it.

I find there are three schools of thought on this subject. There are those like Maya Angelo who take the view of anger as a powerful and good tool, she says “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” Then there is this view by Toni Morrison, “Anger…it’s a paralyzing emotion..You cant get anything done. People sort of think it’s interesting, passionate or an igniting feeling-I don’t think it’s any of that-it’s helpless…it’s an absence of control-and I need all my skills, all of the control, all of my powers…and anger doesn’t provide any of that- I have no use for it whatsoever.”

So who is correct? Is all anger bad and is some proper? There have been times in my life where my anger was not properly guarded and therefore, misdirected. My husband, my children, my family and even some of my friends bore the burden of my wrath, all because I was pissed but hadn’t taken the time to think logically about it. Lesson learned from this, Alone, anger is not logical. For anger to be productive in a positive manner, logic must be applied and then, you have to be willing to let go once it’s served its purpose. If not, it will hold you where you stand, and though it is not stronger than you, it will kill you.

This brings me to my third train of thought on the subject of anger. Aristotle wrote one of the wisest things on anger I have ever read . He wrote, “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.”

Perhaps this is what is called righteous anger-the ability to know when to be angry and for what rightful purpose and for how long. No matter how justified I think I am or I may actually be in a situation, how long can I carry it and to what consequence? Secondly, is it worth carrying?

“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems-not people; to focus your energies on answers-not excuses.” William Arthur Ward

Maybe above is the best advise of all. I have struggled with doing this, situations that involve the hurt feelings of people I know and the over all feeling of injustice will inevitably bring me back to anger. And somehow in a dark and sick way it will make me happy for a moment until I wake up and realize that it isn’t just me that my wrath has affected, but those around me as well. My anger will keep my family from growth, it will teach my kids ignorance and come between myself and those I love. As is said, One bad apple spoils a whole bunch… Let go, it’s not worth all of that spoil. 

I recognize that anger has it’s place, it’s own justification in certain circumstances, as Maya Angelo suggested. However, I like the way Aristotle and William Ward put it, it seems more on the mark. What are the justified situations for anger? Certainly there are many, Rape, Cancer, Death, the whole burning and slaughtering of a people group or village. And yes we should be angry when verbally abused, however holding on to anger, no matter the vast offense, is not the wisest, as Jane Austin wrote in Pride and Prejudice and I am taking a bit of liberty with the wording as I am too lazy to look up one more quote, “Angry people are not the wisest of people.” How can one expect to make good decisions when they are made out of anger? You can’t, it’s like trying to steer a ship on a broken rudder.

My daughter just came in and I read her this little blog. She very wisely said to me, “I think anger can be good, it can help you stand up for yourself but you have to know how to control it.” Ladies and gentlemen, my daughter and her wisdom at 12.

In closing, since I have quoted several people, my daughter beinhg the best, I feel the need to quote myself, so in summery I will give you two of my own savvy (or lack there of) quotes.

“Anger is two sided. On one hand, it can set you free. On the other, it can ensnare you. Be careful choosing which side you are focusing on.” Myself

And finally and most honestly,

“Anger sucks.” Myself

May anger not find you today and if he does, may you be quick to control and then dispel the rascal.



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