Over a week ago, the thought occurred to me that I was angry. About a lot of different things. Personal things, professional things, political things, even some things that didn’t fit into a category that started with the letter “P”. I figured I could turn that idea into a post. The post was going to be a listing of all the things lately that make me angry.
I even started working on this post. As the list lengthened, I decided that, since I was going to be posting this publicly, where in theory some of the people and institutions mentioned on the list might see it, I should try to make it more effective. I decided that I was going to add, to each item, what would have to happen in order for me to not be angry about that item anymore.
Constructive, see? Honest and direct. “Hey, buddy, if you would just do this one thing, I could stop being angry and we’d both be better people.”
It was a beautiful dream. I was finally laying it out there for anyone to see. Baring my soul and hopefully shaming some folk into shaping up.
At least, it felt honest…
But I had, in the back of my mind, some reservations about posting this “Anger Wish List”.
As a side note, let me say that, a lot of times, anger is funny. Think about the funniest comedians; they’re all angry, angry people. Some may display a cool, collected exterior, like Jerry Seinfeld or vintage Chevy Chase. But for most of them, the anger is like a raw, exposed nerve: Sam Kinison (damn, I miss Sam); John Belushi; Rodney Dangerfield (I’m just listing my favorites here so it might just be my perception). Even Ben Stiller or Adam Sandler, with two completely different approaches to their humor, share that bedrock of anger that makes them, well, damned funny. And, apparently, when I get “rant-y”, especially about something that I find very serious, like governmental abuse of power, my friends’ reactions are often to… laugh. Which sometimes makes me angrier (and therefore, funnier), and sometimes I see the humor and the spell is broken.
And that connection between anger and laughter started to shine through the items in my list. Or maybe it clouded over it. I’m not sure. But at a certain point, I started seeing the list in a whole different way.
For one thing, I started to wonder if my goal in writing the list and trying to shame people into making me not be angry anymore wasn’t, well, funny. Would that even work? Would I be able to feel my internal upset-O-meter read lower and lower levels of angrions until I was at peace with the universe, as I checked items off the list? “OK, she apologized for the lies… great, that makes me 15.3% less angry!”
For another… well, I was putting a lot of power into other peoples hands. Power over me, and my thoughts and feelings. And, considering that these people have pissed me off and therefore make them almost be definition my enemies, means that they are probably not going to treat all this power as a great responsibility, to be approached with caution and respect, now, are they? No, more than likely, at least some of them are going to start yanking on that anger lever even more, trying to see if they can jack up my anger levels until I literally explode… or, worse, trying to see if they can sustain the anger levels at a high point, just below where I would burst, trying to prolong the process…
OK, maybe not. That could just be my anger and paranoia talking. But, honestly, to a certain extent, it’s true: I was ceding control of my happiness to people I don’t particularly like.
After pondering this for several days, I knew I needed a fresh approach to this list. I think the initial impulse was good: to try to figure out what I was so angry about, to put it all into one place, to ponder it all and see if there was a pattern, and to give it all a name.
But the other parts, pushing the solutions off to anyone else but me, and to make it all public? Not the right choice.
I asked myself, “Self, why are you angry about [X]? What was it that made you angry? Was it a failure on their part? Or was there some expectation you had that wasn’t met? Where did all this freakin’ anger come from, anyway? Could there be an upside to anger? Is anger automatically negative, or is it neutral or even positive? Does it depend on the circumstances? Which parts do I control and which parts are out of my control?”
Yeah, I had a lot of questions.
I don’t have a lot of answers yet, but this is the place to which I’ve arrived: Anger is the flip side of passion. If I’m angry about something, it’s because I care about something that doesn’t seem to be going well, or started out going well but took an unexpected turn, or I just thought it was going well but I was really fooling myself. Or maybe all of the above, or parts of the above, or none of the above. I. Don’t. Know.
What I do know is that for every angry-making-thing on my list, there is or was a corresponding passion. And instead of blaming the event, person, institution or thing for betraying my passion, I’m going to try to re-connect to that original passion, to figure out why I felt that way, and if it was reasonable for me to feel that way, and if it’s reasonable to now modify my expectations to bring back that passion.
Doesn’t mean that the passion is still going to be attached to the same person, event, institution or thing, mind you. What is past will remain in the past. But the qualities or ideas that I recognized at the time, and became enamored of, may now continue to bring a smile to my lips and a light in my eyes, instead of a grimace and a dull angry glint.
I’m going to work to convert my anger into a positive force again. I’m going to use the emotion as a signpost that says, “You’re feeling this way because, dammit, you LOVE TOO MUCH.” Like seeing pain as a positive signal for change, I’m going to try to use my anger in the same way.
…I just hope that I remain funny in the process.