Angry People and their Angry Lives

I’ve encountered fury a few times recently:

  1. A man screeched around my car as I was stopped at a red light, a metre or so back from the line (as always – defensive driving, my friends).  He lurched to a stop beside my car and for a second his face was twisted in fury, shouting something I couldn’t hear through the glass window of his car. The light turned green and he screeched off.
  2. A woman I interact with through work sends me angry e-mails dripping in “don’t you do anything right?” She rarely has any comprehension of what I actually asked her, but she’s always angry about it.
  3. An associate of my mom’s gets up very early to attend an event, but storms off before it starts.  She’s upset because the doors won’t be unlocked and she doesn’t think there will be a seat for her in any event. She doesn’t check the doors. She declines my mom’s offer of help with the seat.  She leaves, shaking with anger.

Each of these people twisted their faces or e-mails or bodies in fury and indignation.  The world, when you’re angry, is just waiting to provoke you – it’s spiny and it trails along your skin and catches in your hair.  We’ve all been there  to some extent or other – you have a terrible day at work, someone spills coffee on you, and then your spouse dumps their wet towel on the ground just to top it off.  It feels GOOD to be angry, sometimes – and anger certainly can be a valuable tool to protect ourselves and our world.  It’s when that spiny universe – the one that plucks at your arm hairs one by one as you’re sitting at your desk reading an e-mail – becomes your usual universe that there’s trouble.

When I was younger (and not old and wise like I am now, at 27.5 trips around the sun) I found these kinds of interactions really shook me.  I’d re-play them in my head again and again while I brushed my teeth and when I woke up at 2:00 AM and when I sat on the bus on my way to school.  They weighed me down – I felt responsible for these people’s anger. What had I done wrong, and what could I have done differently?  Sure, I might rouse a little indignation, but only after a stiff mental pep talk.

I’ve realized recently there’s a courage in facing anger and reflecting back calm.   That courage is centred in the realization that these people’s fury – their readiness for hatred – has absolutely nothing to do with me.  It’s me, or it’s the next driver  or e-mailer or acquaintance.  The source of any kind of courage I have lies in that realization.

Unless you’re related to me, I’m slow to any kind of outburst – much more likely to go silent and fade out of the conversation entirely than let you know I’m upset.  That’s not facing anger, though – that’s just running from it.  

Facing anger doesn’t have to mean engaging – it might, at times, means explaining yourself and your position, even if it means you’re going to get yelled at.  Other times courageously facing anger might mean laughing to yourself and walking away to enjoy your afternoon.  Courage means a lot of things in a lot of different situations, but I think in the context that we’re talking about it can be a very quiet and internal force that just sits there to remind you that this has nothing to do with me.

So, here’s where I am today – having the courage to pick up the phone and call an angry client and give legal advice they don’t want to hear.  Having the courage to roll my eyes at the angry man in the car and turn my music up.  Having the courage to face snappy irritation with cool civility and iron bars around my feelings.  Your fury, oh snarling and foaming people of the world, can’t reach me when I’m twisting just out of your sight, laughing at the joke I heard just before I saw you.  Your fury can’t settle into my bones for replay on replay when I never even heard it at all.

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