Recently someone made me angry. They knowingly or unknowingly disrespected my intelligence and hurt me pretty badly in part of my psyche that was already pretty emotionally beat up. That hurt boils down to a question of openness and honesty and to my own sense of vulnerability. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and got kicked in the proverbial balls as a result.
Now I’m angry and while it doesn’t feel entirely good, it doesn’t feel entirely bad either. Growing up I was always told to control my temper. I know now that my being told that was wrong. My anger is tempered by compassion. When in balance these emotions help me to be a better man. When not…well that’s a different story!
It wasn’t until I was eighteen or so, that I realised that those twin emotions intimidated those around me. I recall being told by a female friend (later crush) that I was physically and mentally intimidating to those around me. That concept left me baffled. At the time (and for most of my life in fact) I’d felt intimidated by everyone around me. It never occurred to me that I could appear intimidating to others.
The reason lay in how I dealt with anger. Since I’d always been told to control my anger, I’d spent most of my life directing that anger inward. At school that anger drove me to pursue academic excellence. I was gifted at most subjects but I was terrible at math and my anger over that and other perceived failings drove me into a state of depression. I never believed I was good enough socially, academically or in terms of personal appearance. Part of me still doesn’t but nowadays (and most of the time) I’m able to shut that part off.
Anger isn’t supposed to be directed inward. Healthy anger is a response to injustice and a reaction to harm directed against the individual angered. Anger is the emotional equivalent of a junkyard guard dog – it’s not necessarily your friend but it will sure as hell protect your shit! Yet invite it into your home and it will kill or maim what’s most important to you.
I know now that not expressing my anger in a healthy way left me vulnerable. My repressed anger gnawed at the pillars of my self-esteem and left my compassionate side vulnerable to being used and abused in a host of personal and professional relationships. These in turn provoked a cycle of personal suffering, culminating in what I’m ashamed to admit were suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, I learned to turn my rage outward and to resist the omnipresent nonsense that drove me to despair in the first place.
Suppressing anger and other emotions is the aim of a polite society. There is a huge distinction between a polite society and a humane one. The two are not synonymous. Politeness is a form of social etiquette intended to support abstract power structures that have little relation or regard for reality. Politeness is a social dialect that obstructs meaningful communication and suppresses imagination. Politeness is for courtesans and another word for a courtesan is a whore**.
Polite people place great emphasis on education and respect. Yet why should a sensible person respect a CEO with an MBA who advocates the destruction of a rainforest in order to maximize shareholder profits? Why respect such a polite, well- educated asshole?
The reason why polite societies discourage emotions such as anger is because the former is big on form and low on content. Apply the fire of reality and the entire structure would go down in flames.
On the other hand a humane society and individual understands the reality of the human condition and accepts it within reasonable limits and common sense. One can be compassionate but still resort to intolerance when that compassion is being manipulated or abused by others. A humane society can be accepting of other cultures and still be intolerant of inhumane cultural practices. The individual can be kind and not be required to put up with other people’s nonsense. The result is a seeking of consensus that is rooted in reality, rather than dogma.
I’ve accepted that I’m an angry person, though I’ve grown less angry as I’ve gotten older. My anger and compassion have been tempered by experience and with those experiences, a little bit of wisdom. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder where I would be now if I’d allowed my passions free rein when I was younger. Ironically I suspect I’d be a lot happier and more successful today.
The truth is that by allowing myself to be my true angry and compassionate self I have derived greater enjoyment out of life and enjoyed greater professional success.
Therefore I’m not advocating for the self-pitying form of anger that inhabits the minds of the average 4Chan troll or White Supremacist. Such people are losers, intent on spending their lives as victims of and handmaidens to those who have power.
Instead I’m arguing in favour of anger in the defense of the individual’s right to be themselves and to be wholly human. I’m arguing in favour of anger in defense of the essential respect for the individual and of a humane society.
As a wise man once told me, if people were as ruthless in the face of wrongdoing as they are in the pursuit of personal gain, it would be far better world.
In a remarkable irony, by being myself I am less angry and have learned to harness my anger for greater good. Perhaps my temper wasn’t the real problem after all!
**A reader whom I hold in great respect has pointed out the dangers inherent in the use of courtesan and whore. Correctly the word I should have used was “courtier.” At the time of writing I was thinking about the behaviour of courtiers in the time of Louis XIV who would employ etiquette, ad hominem attacks and sex in order to obtain petty power around the monarch. I was attempting to equate that use of court politeness with modern society’s concern for managerial etiquette and respect for so-called expertise, even when that expertise causes real harm. In short politeness is amoral, humaneness ethical.
Apologies for any confusion caused.