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Anger is one of the most destructive emotions. It ruins relationships, intimidates co-workers, and creates bad feelings. So it's surprising that it's often an overlooked issue. In some quarters anger is actually considered positive, a tool for getting what you want.
At some point, however, many angry people realize they have to change their tactics. They begin to see how negative anger really is. Weighed against its supposed usefulness, getting mad is unrealistic, impractical, and unhealthy. It’s unrealistic because your anger won’t cause others to change, no matter how strongly you feel they must. It’s impractical because one person’s rage is puny compared to the wrongs and injustice of the world. It’s unhealthy because the upset you feel after is a state of stress that’s harmful to every cell in your body.
Where do you stand on your own anger? Have you turned the corner and seen it for the negative emotion it really is? The NFL's recent decision to take a strong position on domestic violence, after decades of looking the other way, points toward the violence we feel uncomfortable exposing in daily life. Anger is rooted in human nature, no doubt. It runs the gamut from a righteous sense of injustice to petty resentment, fantasies of revenge, bullying, and intimidation—all very common human experiences—before escalating to physical violence, crime, and war. Aggression is something we must all confront either as a victim or an assailant.
Assuming you’ve reached the point where you want to do something about your own anger or anger directed at you, where do you start? Psychologists would advise that you assess the level of the problem and take suitable measures to deal with the issues that come up. But anger management therapy seems to be of little use. It teaches you to be more self-aware of your anger, but this isn't useful when anger decides to explode. The force is too primal to overcome with rational restraint.
The world's wisdom traditions take a different tack, offering two valuable insights:
The first point keeps you from the endless circle of blame, where you look out into the world and spot something or someone who enrages you, thus giving anger its power. The world's wisdom traditions understood that bad things happen, and often they are unimaginably bad. But however vicious the crime, violation, or war, anger is always personal; its seed infects even the best causes. Only by going inward and plucking out the seed can you contribute to the end of violence. This tactic doesn't appeal to anyone who believes in fighting back, of course. Only after you accept the negativity of anger and its bad effects on you personally does it become feasible to test if going inward is the answer.
The second point says that when you do decide to go inward, you’ll be shocked at how entangled your anger is with your entire personality, daily actions, beliefs, and worldview. Every person contains the anger of centuries. The effect is so pervasive that there is no answer on the level of your ego-personality. It believes in anger and is also helpless to control it.
The level of the problem isn't the level of the solution. To find the solution, you must go deeper into your awareness, where you exist as the true self—the level in everyone that is silent, at peace, and content to exist. The true self is the source of the wisdom you want to attain; it isn't passive fatalism. You become empowered with more creativity, intelligence, tolerance, and compassion—the very things that have a chance to end violence in yourself and in the world. It's worth considering whether the journey to the true self is valuable enough to follow. For me, there’s no other answer to the harm anger has caused in everyone's life.