Friday, March 2, 2012

Thoughts on Anger

Excerpted from The Bastard on the Couch (27 Men Try Really hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom). Edited by Daniel Jones.

My Problem with Her Anger by Eric Bartels

One night, as a patron at someone else's bar, I watched a bartender momentarily capture everyone's attention with a loud fit of pique. He was slamming the cash register, cursing it out, and then he turned away from the bar and kicked over a garbage can. And I realized something: that the many witnesses to his antics, including myself, saw the whole thing as somewhere between laughable and pathetic. We didn't care what was bothering him. We were having drinks and a good time. Too bad he wasn't enjoying himself, we though before turning away. Too bad he was such a child.

It was a revelation for me. Anger, justified or not--if acted mostly as a release without the clear-cut agenda of provoking change--is selfish and juvenile, obnoxious and unattractive, and it got you nowhere. No matter how determinedly this guy sought the empathy of others for the bullshit he was enduring, he wasn't going to get it--at least not this way. For the first time, I understood that the kind of behavior he was exhibiting was nothing more than an indulgent plea for attention that people weren't interested in hearing.

Was the guy under a lot of pressure? Yes. Was he being frustrated by all manner of impediments to his ability to do his job? Almost certainly. Did anybody care? No.

I did a lot less kicking doors and throwing things after that. Which is not to say I never lose my temper. But it becomes clearer to me every day that our reactions to circumstances are exactly what we permit or deny ourselves. It's dangerous to embrace the notion that anger is something we've earned a right to express and that it takes expressions of anger to earn respect. Lashing out angrily is less an expression of emotion than enslavement by emotion. And to believe otherwise is damaging to ourselves and especially damaging to those we love.

Submitted without comment, whilst wishing I had heard this 20 years ago.