Anger is one of those emotions that, at the time, feels perfectly justified, but soon after can feel wrong, or at least excessive. Apart from the serious interpersonal damage — if not violence — that a fit of anger may cause, most people do not like losing control of their emotions. Of course, not all anger is something negative. Aristotle argued that there exists “righteous anger,” and saw its value in preventing injustices. Apropos is Eric Hoffer’s notion that “Anger is a prelude to courage.” Anger, therefore, is not, in itself, the problem. It is only a problem when it is excessive, uncontrollable, and chronic, i.e., when it is a person’s predominant mood, his or her fundamental way of handling all of life’s difficult situations.
|Man displaying slight feeling of irritation
There may be an infinite number of situations that can incite a person to anger, but all situations have the same basic story line. It is: “I was happy until a certain person (group, people, organization, company, etc.) deliberately destroyed my happiness!” Of course, there may be various degrees of truth to the angry person’s belief. For example, I may have been told that the telephone repairman would be at my house in the morning, but he never arrived till late afternoon. Consequently, I had to stay home all day, rather than go on a picnic. That is certainly an inconvenience. But the angry person regards the incompetence of the telephone company as an insult that has been deliberately directed towards him alone. At least that is how it feels emotionally. Furthermore, the action of the telephone company symbolizes to him the insensitivity and egotism of the entire world. Anger always has that symbolic quality, which magnifies the significance of any particular incident.
Consider another example. I am driving along and suddenly someone cuts in front of me. The perpetrator, who may have merely needed to change lanes, causes me to slow down. The only possible practical consequence is that I might arrive at my destination a second later. How, then, can I understand my road rage? Here again, the emotions view situations not rationally, but through the filter of a symbolic scenario: on my journey through life — people like him are always delaying or preventing me from arriving at my real destination in life, which is… paradise! This unconscious scenario always gives any particular incident — as trivial as it might seem to an objective observer — its quality of universality, of ultimate significance, which is why one takes it so seriously.
The angry person, then, is impatient. His impatience is due to a certain puerility of spirit, a refusal to acknowledge that as a finite, mortal being — limited in power and knowledge — in a world populated by other such beings, he is always going to encounter obstacle after obstacle when it come to effectuating his plans. That has been the nature of the game, since Adam and Eve got expelled from Eden. And that is why anger is one of the seven deadly sins, for it is founded on the arrogant claim to be absolute and a concomitant refusal to acknowledge and accept one’s finitude. An angry person can accomplish great things, but, like Moses, he will never enter the Holy Land.
What, then, is the angry person to do? Grow up and accept his limits as a human being? That is certainly necessary, but there exist potential benefits that can more than recompense the loss of his childish claims to omnipotence. One of life’s great joys is comedy. It is founded on life turning out contrary to our desires. Comedy, after all, is about disappointment, upset, calamity, failure, humiliation, pain, and utter frustration. Anyone can joyously laugh when he sees it happen to a character in a film. But, as Baudelaire, in his essay on comedy, points out, it takes a philosopher to laugh when disaster comes knocking at his own door.
Laughter is not the only form of transcendence. There is also wonder, amazement, and awe at the human condition, and at that cosmic irony known as “Murphy’s Law.” But all forms of transcendence have this in common: They require that a person gain a certain distance from his situation. Distance can be cultivated, such that frustrating and annoying people and situations fail to significantly disturb our equanimity. We then become not only less prone to anger, but also less susceptible to depression and other dark emotions. And we become more prone to laughter. That is why Dr. Dillof philosophical exploration of chronic anger, and his counseling in general, is essentially a form of laugh therapy. Insight into the human condition, coupled with the cultivation of philosophical distance, or transcendence results in laughter. Laughter is indicative of a liberated spirit. Philosophical counseling cannot change the fact that you are going to suffer life’s frustrations and defeats. But it can help you react to them with a Buddha smile.
Feeling angry? Dr. Dillof offers philosophical counseling, by phone and in person. For information, call him toll-free at: 1-888-737-5724 or local at: (502) 458-7171 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The telephone can allow for an intense conversation. Why, then, drive to a session — in the rain, snow, cold and dark — spending money on fuel? No matter what part of the globe you inhabit — from New York City to Los Angeles, from London to Tokyo, from Binghamton to Ithaca , from Louisville KY to Indianapolis IN, from Lexington KY to Cincinnati OH, from Paris France to London England— distance is no barrier to an illuminating talk with Dr. Dillof! FREE 15 minute telephone chat with Dr. Dillof and assessment. Call today! Our telephone/office hours are 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, Eastern Standard time, everyday, except Saturday.