Anger Management in an Aggressive Society

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that, in an age of self awareness techniques, anger has become the dominant socially-expressed emotion?  Many politicians have given up even the façade of dignified debate.  They push, shove, yell, and scream at the least provocation. Moreover, anger isn’t limited to the political arena.  We hear about the outbursts of a frustrated flight attendant, the road rage of weary drivers, and lewd comments uttered on the social media.

There’s no lack of theories about the origins of a whole society suffering from the ‘terrible two’s’: it’s the bad economy, the day-light robbery of government officials, the apartheid legacy, the lack of stability in the home, the failure of teachers to instil manners in young children, the anonymity of the internet, or maybe the chemicals in our food.

Brain researchers talk about amygdalas (emotion-controlling structures in the brain) that are too large (or too small!), or pre-frontal cortexes (planning centres in the brain) that aren’t sufficiently developed.  Social psychologists point to the role of modelling and vicarious reinforcement in triggering aggressive behaviour.  Personality psychologists attribute aggressive outbursts to weak superegos.  Everyone’s got a theory but no one has a handle on what’s really going on.

There’s never going to be a complete end to violence or anger.  The issue is what are the consequences of our aggressive behaviour?  If there are no obvious costs, the behaviour will continue and eventually escalate.  Perhaps “Miss Manners” will make a much needed return.  Meantime, it’s up to each of us to recognise when we are being inappropriate and put the curbs on our own aggression.  Here are ways that you can contribute to a kinder, gentler world:

  1. The next time a stranger makes you angry, smile at the person. Not only will this disarm the offender, who probably doesn’t expect this, but the stop in the action can put some perspective on the situation.
  2. Take a chill pill. The old remedy of counting to 10 isn’t such a bad idea. Stop, take a few deep breaths, and regain your composure.
  3. Try to understand where your own anger is coming from. Do you get unreasonably mad at people with very little instigation? Perhaps someone treated you badly when you were younger or you felt deprived and thus easily fall prey to real or imagined hurt.  You can learn to control your hostility through anger management.
  4. Refuse to pay attention to aggressive acts. Resist the temptation to contribute to the viral spread of angry outbursts in social media. If a politician screamed and no tweets were sent, would that politician continue to scream?
  5. Take the other person’s perspective. If someone annoys you because that person is giving you disappointing information, don’t assume the person wants to make you feel bad. Customer service agents, for the most part, don’t want to charge you extra, take away things you want, or cause you to wait for hours in the queue. Imagine that you had their job before reacting.
Fr Gilbert Banda SJ

Fr Gilbert Banda SJ is interested in Ignatian Spirituality.

g.banda@jesuitinstitute.org.za @gilbertbanda
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