Anger: What’s The Point?

“Keep this thought handy when you feel a fit of rage coming on—it isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance—unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.” —MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS,

I’ve never understood true anger or rage. It seems so … pointless.

Anger, is fundamentally a destructive emotion; it serves no constructive purpose that I can see. If anything the angry person loses what control they have over themselves, all the while destroying things around him – sometimes even literally.

Many years ago there was an individual at work who was known to fly into fits of rage if his computer didn’t act as he intended. Not only could he often be heard cursing or yelling at his computer, but he would often physically hit it. I’m pretty sure that he broke more than one piece of equipment in his anger. I never really felt comfortable interacting with him, knowing that he had this potential within.

Similarly, one morning I arrived at work to find a hole in the wall that matched perfectly the landing spot of a nearby door handle. I came to find out that this was my boss’s doing, apparently after a less-than-fruitful discussion with his manager. While he remains one of the better managers of my career, this definitely caused me to look at him a little differently thereafter.

This isn’t to say I’m immune, or don’t understand the potential. When I was a teenager I arrived home one day and suddenly realized that I’d forgotten my mother’s birthday. I slammed the car door so hard that the window shattered. I was, and indeed remain, ashamed of that lapse of control.

Anger is something that we all experience, and I’m certainly not suggesting we should never be angry. The question is what do we do with it?

Uncontrolled anger is scarey. It causes people to take actions or say things that they wouldn’t otherwise. It damages relationships, perspectives, and as above, even occasionally property.

And if you’re properly self-aware, it can damage your self-image as well.

The Marcus Aurelius quote doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion. His alternatives to rage – “gentleness and civility” – are valid, and that “such a person has strength, courage, and endurance” is valuable as well. But there’s more.

When we can avoid anger and rage, we have the opportunity to more constructively focus that energy elsewhere.

Rather than “giving way to anger and discontent”, we can instead take reasoned action to correct, sidestep, or ignore the cause of our potential anger, as appropriate.

We can act instead of react.

Ultimately anger takes away your power and our ability to be rational. It leads to mistakes and often to regret.

Better to let the potential for anger cause you to step back, reflect, and as the situation warrants, respond, instead.