Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I'm mad as hell and ... am gonna talk with myself?

Anger is everywhere these days.  From what I read, I understand that cable television news is pretty much about anger and hate.  Heck, there are angry people even in my own neighborhood.  We humans are strange.  We are easy with public demonstration of negative feelings like anger and hate, but find it difficult--even in the privacy of the home--to tell another with that same ease how much we love and appreciate the other.

I get angry, of course. The anger when wronged means that I neither forgive nor do I forget.  But, the anger does not mean that I seek payback.  I do not care for any just punishment.  Because of a very simple reason: The punishment to the one who did me wrong will not bring back what I lost.  Time moves only in one direction and the wrong deed permanently alters the sequence of events later on.

Martha Nussbaum--yes, that polymath public intellectual--has a new book about anger.  She writes:
Aristotle says that anger is a response to a significant damage to something or someone one cares about, and a damage that the angry person believes to have been wrongfully inflicted. He adds that although anger is painful, it also contains within itself a hope for payback. So: significant damage, pertaining to one’s own values or circle of cares, and wrongfulness. All this seems both true and uncontroversial. More controversial, perhaps, is his idea (in which, however, all Western philosophers who write about anger concur) that the angry person wants some type of payback, and that this is a conceptual part of what anger is. In other words, if you don’t want some type of payback, your emotion is something else (grief, perhaps), but not really anger.
Is this really right? I think so.
So, if I don't care for payback, then I am not really angry?  How interesting.  It makes sense to me.  Maybe that's why my blood pressure is normal!  ;)

As a kid, I wanted payback whenever I got angry.  But, at some point, I saw the merit in my mother's approach to life--if you don't like a person's talk or action, then simply move away from them.  Of course, moving away from people who wronged me is also how I have ended up living in an ashram as, in the words of the friend, a gregarious hermit ;)

Nussbaum writes:
The struggle against anger often requires lonely self-examination. Whether the anger in question is personal, or work-related, or political, it requires exacting effort against one’s own habits and prevalent cultural forces. 
Lonely self-examination.  Aha, the story of my life!  No wonder the friend says that I am not a geographer or an economist or anything, but that I am a philosopher.  But, if lonely self-examination is all that it takes, then why don't more people do that?  Every religion has even structured that into the life of a believer in the form of prayers.  Prayer is not about uttering mumbo-jumbo believing that it will cause some effect.  Prayer is nothing but a time for honest self-assessment against the ideals, the perfection, that is represented as god.  A true believer can then make appropriate course corrections in life.  Seems so simple to me.

After discussing Nelson Mandela as a case study of sorts, Nussbaum concludes:
Whenever we are faced with pressing moral or political decisions, we should clear our heads, and spend some time conducting what Mandela (citing Marcus Aurelius) referred to as ‘Conversations with Myself’. When we do, I predict, the arguments proposed by anger will be clearly seen to be pathetic and weak, while the voice of generosity and forward-looking reason will be strong as well as beautiful.
Go ahead and have conversations with yourself. Don't be angry at me ;)

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