Thursday, September 10, 2009

On anger.

Recent tweets between Justin and me.

Me: Anger is useless.
Justin: Wrong. Anger protects you from pain.
Me: Wrong. Anger causes pain.
Justin: Tell you what. How about we each write a blog post about our views on anger and pain?

The immediate cause of anger is typically an external source that does some kind of harm or poses some kind of threat. A person becomes angry toward something or someone; the feeling is one of indignance, of being wronged, of needing to preserve one's dignity or position or control.

I allow that there might be some natural reason behind the feeling of anger. Perhaps we're hardwired to feel anger, because as cavemen, it provoked our bodies to tense up and prepare to deal with dangerous and often life-threatening situations. Feelings of anger are strong motivations to act against what has harmed us.

It's true, there is no emotion that makes me feel more like an unrestrained animal than anger. In the very few times I have been uncontrollably angry in my life, I respond with a series of uncontrollable reactions: my voice becomes loud, my heart thuds, adrenaline pumps, my hands wave around wildly, my eyes blaze. This is not the picture of a highly evolved, modern, rational, problem-solving human being.

I say that anger is useless and that it causes pain because it achieves nothing, usually exaggerates or exacerbates the problem, and leaves a person more mentally drained than if he had just thought objectively about the situation.

Of course, anger is impossible to avoid completely. Here, it is useful to differentiate between feelings of anger and actions of anger. Feelings often can't be helped, but
the inability to control when feelings bleed over to action can be considered a psychological weakness. I say all this with my recent infuriating experiences in mind. I raged and I screamed into my pillow, but to what end? There was nothing that came of it, and only when my head had cooled could I take useful steps towards solving my problem.

It is difficult to conjure examples of people approaching a situation constructively when angry, and the vast, vast majority of situations in which people get angry are not serious enough to merit the emotion at all.

The floor is open for discussion.


Jon said...

RAGEQUIT. Perhaps the greatest invention as a result of Mario Kart, because it prevents you from doing something stupid by breaking things.

Stu said...

I submit that anger and the actions it produces are cathartic. As you said, anger is inevitable. Having and expressing feelings of anger towards an irritating situation allows you to move on from it, or start to consider the situation from the useful, rational viewpoint.

You say it leaves you mentally drained. I say it leaves you emotionally drained, and at that point logic should be much more potent.

Tim said...

It is never good to act purely out of anger. But I think anger is a useful catalyst for thought and action. There are certain things that should make us angry: social injustice, stupid politicians, creationism in science get my drift. Anger helps us along the way toward righting what's wrong.

justinnhli said...

Interesting that Stu says that anger leaves you drained so reason can take over.

My original point (when I tweeted) was that anger can temporary override reason, so there's an outlet for whatever is causing pain. So although a loved one's suicide might be blameless, anger might let us express our emotions on some physical object - say, the loved one's partner.

I also think anger is a great motivation for self-improvement, in cases where it is caused by our inability to meet our expectations. And like Tim said, where it is applied to larger injustices, it can also propel people to action.

cecil said...

i would rather be an animal than a robot

Faye said...

Humans are often destructively self-indulgent.