The gates of hell are three: uncontrollable desire, anger and greed. They destroy the Self. Avoid them.
Anger has plagued me for as long as I can remember. Anger has caused me the following: - fractured or ruined relationships, trouble at school, and even stalled career progression. I didn’t really know then why or what made me angry. It was only much later about ten years ago, when I attended a spiritual talk on Anger management by a Hindu teacher, that I started getting clues. This helped me change the way I looked at anger; in fact it was a revelation for me. Here are some of the things that stuck with me from that talk, and also some personal observations of mine. Hopefully my sharing would be of some use for you.
When a man dwells on the sensory experiences, he creates an attraction for them;attraction develops into desire, and unfulfilled desire breeds anger.
Anger results from something or someone not meeting your expectations or desire. Let me elaborate:
- For example, you expect politeness from everyone, but the truth is not everyone is going to be polite to you. So when you meet someone who behaves rudely towards you, it makes you angry, and you react accordingly in a negative manner.
- Another example, I ordered noodles, and told the waiter specifically no bean sprouts in my noodles. The dish arrives and I got noodles with bean sprouts. This makes me mad, as I really hate bean sprouts, and of course I didn’t get what I want. I proceed to take my anger out on the poor waiter.
- One more example, I arrive at a meeting 10 minutes earlier, being the punctual person I am. 30 minutes has passed, no one has showed up and I receive a text message, “stuck in traffic, be there in 15 minutes”. This really sets me off! It was bad enough that the attendees were late, their message was also late, and worse still not even an apology. When they eventually show up, I give them a piece of my mind.
“Manage Your Expectations!” This is a phrase I learnt from my boss. She once told this to a customer who was being difficult to us. If we were to apply this same mantra to our own situations and interactions, dealing with imperfect situations could be a little easier. I’m not saying that we should lower our standards or our expectations. If we paid for a service or product, or if we believe in kindness begets kindness, then we should rightfully get what we deserve. Managing your expectations helps in situations, when something unforeseen or out of your control happens. I leave the house earlier to reach office in time (within my control). The train I took stalls halfway (out of my control) and I reach office late. A million things can go wrong (and sometimes will); we have to keep this in mind. So manage your expectations, because sometimes life will spring up surprises here and there, good and bad. It all depends on how we intend to manage them.
The above are examples that most of us would find familiar in our day to day life. We should not get the wrong idea that one should not react when provoked. It is not whether you should react, but how you can react. With me personally, the trouble starts depending on how I react when provoked. I recall a discussion last year, with my friends on politics that turned into an argument, when one of my friends took things personally and went on a rant. I told him off and we haven’t spoken since, so this adds one more ruined relationship to my tally. Now I could have saved that relationship, if I had reacted calmly and try to diffuse the already tense situation. Better still, I should not have reacted at all. Silence sometimes is also a reaction, albeit a powerful one depending on when it is used.
It's Not the Situation, It's You
In a counselling therapy session, the counsellor will (try to) steer the client away from the problem / situation, and instead get the client to focus on himself. If given a common situation to 5 different individuals, all of them will react to it differently from one another. It's the same with anger. Someone angers you; how will you deal with it? Some individuals will shrug it aside as trivial, some will magnify the situation, some will see themselves as victims and some individuals will simply look for ways to diffuse the situation at hand.
Putting a Value on Other's Actions
Something happened 2 weeks ago that nudged me to write this article. I was driving my wife and kids to school. To cut a long story short, a driver flashed his middle finger at me because I had caused him to slow down, when I turned left onto the main road. His action of course angered me; I showed my finger in return and let out some profanity. All this happened in full view of my wife and kids. My wife reminded me to be mindful of the kids' presence and I calmed down immediately. Later when I had time to clear my thoughts, I realized I shouldn't have reacted that way. I knew I got angry because I placed a value on his action. What possible harm could someone's finger do to me? It's a threat unless I see it as one. If it's a finger which has no meaning or connection to me, then it should not affect me. Of course, in a cultural context we all know what it means when someone flashes the finger, but the point is if you place a value on someone's negative actions towards you, it will affect you enough to react in an ugly manner too.
Finally, getting angry; it is perfectly normal and acceptable to get angry. It's an emotion, and it has to manifest somehow. How we intend to project that anger is the crucial part. As I mentioned at the start, I've ruined several relationships because of my anger. Do I have my anger under control? It’s both a yes and a no. This takes practice, and to be honest, it is not going to be easy. I do notice that there’s a slight improvement, but I've still got a long way to go. Hopefully there is some use of what I have shared, to anyone interested in managing with anger.