Moderate: The goal is not to manage anger; it is to make anger subside.
Stringent: The goal is not to cope with anger; it is to ensure that anger doesn’t arise.
What is Anger?
Anger is the belief that someone has (1) deliberately harmed you and (2) that retaliation (in thought or deed) is justified.
How we do make it subside?
Consider the second part of the definition: that retaliation (in thought or deed) is justified. We might say that retaliation is justified only if you were John’s intended target. But were you his intended target?
Questions to consider:
- Imagining otherwise. Could there be another plausible reason why John acted this way? Imagine that possibility.
- Thinking recipocrally. Might you, in a similar situation, have acted the way that John did?
- Cultivating sympathy. Can you trace out a story of John’s day (or life) that might have led him to act this way?
- Imagining cruelty. Suppose you do retaliate. Consider the look on John’s face. How will that make him feel?
- Considering consequences. If you do retaliate, how likely is it that this will make the issue go away and that it will make you feel better? Or, on the contrary, isn’t it more likely you you will feel worse afterward?
- Taking time. You want to respond quickly. Pause. Take 24 hours and then see how you feel. Or write an angry email and then save it as a draft.
- Distracting yourself. Are there other cares and concerns on your mind at the moment, other projects you need to complete? Try attending to these and then see whether you feel the same way about John later in the day.
How do we ensure that it doesn’t arise?
Consider the first part of the definition of anger: John deliberately harmed you. Did he deliberately harm you?
Thoughts to consider:
- Did John deliberately harm you, or does it only appear that way? Could it have been an accident?
- Might John be unaware of his harming you? Could he be ignorant?
- Might John have developed habits for doing things unbeknownst to how others may take them?
- “But he bumped into me on purpose.” “Or he didn’t see you. How can you be so sure?”
A Brief Vision
Being at peace with yourself is only possible after you’ve learned how to let go of anger.
Seneca, On Anger