The Illusive Nature of Anger

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

Like bad weather, lying politicians, the drudgery of Monday’s, or the social benefits of Corporate ambition—anger seems to be a topic that just keeps coming around. And well it should. Anger is a powerful emotion…capable of souring relationships, perverting logic, and arousing violent and hurtful reactions in even the most respectable of people.

These days, it’s an especially prevalent feeling. There’s no end to reasonable excuses for a little bit of righteous anger. The ongoing injustices of police violence, the stripping away of rights, securities and freedoms, and the decay of our democratic processes are just the tip of the iceberg.

There is little cause for doubt—anger may be the defining emotion of our modern day.

But what I’ve really been wondering about specifically of late is that noun: emotion. Is anger really an emotion? Despite the ingrained teachings of our youth, my experiences recently have had me questioning this classification. Upon reflection, I’m inclined to believe that anger is not in fact an emotion, at least not an independent one.

More accurately, I think anger is most often a reaction. When we talk about anger, we’re most often describing a series of visible actions or results: screaming, violence, reduced reasoning skills—all of these are ubiquitous and familiar indicators of anger.

But what’s the root cause behind them?

I can think of very few—if any—examples of anger as the root cause of an anger reaction. More clearly, imagine if you will a situation in which someone might act in an angry way, with no other emotion besides anger being the cause. I don’t think this is a common occurrence. In fact, I’m not sure it happens at all.

At the root of any such anger reaction—you will consistently find other emotions acting behind the scenes. Fear, frustration, jealousy, insecurity, and guilt are just a few of the most common culprits.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, when we try to process emotions, the first and most important step is to accurately label what it is we are experiencing. When we can define and put into context what’s causing our reactions, we’re better able to process them in a rational way, and thus solve our problems.

But when we describe ourselves as ‘angry’, I would contend that we’re describing only our emotional reaction—not the root emotion. This means that while we can give due warning of the madness which we might soon engage in, we are doing very little to effectively process our experience.

Secondly, like any good biological system, emotions exist essentially to solve problems. Just as hunger tells us that it’s time to eat, or pain warns us to protect ourselves, emotions give us feedback on social or environmental situations, and heeding them is key to improving our station.

If we feel jealous, we might work to achieve the object of our desire. If we are lonely, we might reach out to others for support. But is we are simply angry—we find ourselves stuck. We know we might make a bad choice, and certainly we will view ourselves with a victim mentality, but little is done to change the situation. More often in fact, our actions when angry serve only to worsen our plight.

If we’re able to step back and examine the base causes of our anger, only then are we able to make progress towards improving our situation. People protesting police brutality and racist court rulings are angry, for certain, but owning that emotion alone will get us precisely nowhere. Behind this anger lies fear, betrayal, a sense of isolation and injustice, and most importantly I believe—disappointment.

The world right now is an especially disappointing place, and it’s terribly rare to find examples of people—particularly those in power—living up to our expectations. Decency is something all but the most cynical of us were raised to expect. The basic decency of our fellow-humans might even feel like a natural right. But if so, it’s one long neglected.

And so as we watch banks get bailed out, workers forced into slave-like conditions for unlivable wages, the militarization of the police, and the complicit ignorance of the media, we may certainly feel angry. Perhaps even a good bit of rage. But it’s important to step back from this, and remember that there are many wheels turning behind the machinations of our fury.

We must expect better from people. But in the midst of our vehement objections, it is imperative that we remember its true cause. People, we believe, are fundamentally better than they are acting. No matter how angry this might make us, we must remember in the end to demand not an end to our anger alone, but a return to the days where we could rightly expect the best of each other.

-Brad OH Inc.

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