By Deb Avery
We are constantly exposed to many emotions in our daily lives, and they can either make our lives richer and enhance our experience of the world around us, or they can make us become bitter and angry.
Of all emotions, anger can be one of the most destructive that we can experience. When felt regularly, it can eat away at our hearts and minds until all that is left is a burning hole where love and compassion used to be.
One thing that makes anger so destructive is its insidious nature; it can creep into our lives almost unnoticed. It begins with a little snide remark here or listening to a juicy piece of gossip there. And when exposed on a daily basis, it spreads out like an infection. Unchecked it can spread from one person to another just like a contagion, causing a rampant pandemic of hostility.
While we may think that we are fine and in control, simply fitting in by being sarcastic or fashionably badass, it’s easy to forget anger’s insidious nature until we find ourselves becoming angrier and more hostile as time goes on. This is why we need to remain awake and mindful of our thoughts, words and actions. By doing so, we can make a conscious effort in our conversations and interactions with others to always be kind and cause as little harm as possible.
One thing we have to understand is that we cannot get angry at ourselves for being angry. Anger is not the enemy and we are not our anger. We are human beings with emotions and anger is simply one of many of these. It is the holding onto anger, the fanning of the flames, that can cause so much damage to ourselves and others.
Anger can help us recognize where we are stuck in life.
It can show us what we need to work on. Sometimes it might be patience, at other times it could be we are simply tired and need to step back and breathe before responding.
Sometimes the response to fear is with anger. What we fear is easy to hate and what/who we hate tends to come from the insecurities we feel and the weaknesses we see in others that also exist in us on a deep basic level. With a little—okay, make that a lot—of practice, patience and understanding we can learn to step back from our first reaction to be angered and instead, practice what we preach. And hopefully what is preached is kindness, tolerance and peace.
But there are times when anger is necessary, as is the case with so-called “righteous” anger. This is often felt when we (or others) are being threatened, mistreated or suffering from an injustice. One only has to look at the situations and issues the world over to see all of these on a daily basis. This kind of anger, if used correctly and mindfully, is extremely helpful in bringing about changes to those injustices and the inhumane actions in the world around us.
So what makes one type of anger useful and another destructive? On a very basic level, that can be answered by asking yourself one question:
Does my anger cause harm to myself or others, or does it help bring an end to the suffering or harm of myself or others?
I know this is a very simplistic view, but then, I am a very simple person. I think we all are at our basic human level. The thing is, anger is much like everything else in life—it can be used for good, or to harm. We can perpetuate hate and anger or we can be instigators of peace, both for ourselves and for others.
I have felt the hot burning coals of anger in my life. I too have been guilty of keeping the embers burning and fanning the flames. I have also felt the burn from the fire that flamed out of control from these smoldering embers. And this is what I have learned from those experiences.
If we hold onto anger we will be consumed. Not only will we suffer greatly, we will cause suffering to others—even the people we love the most.
Holding onto anger allows it to insinuate itself into every aspect of our being. It’s impossible to feel anger and gratitude at the same time. Our attitude will become one of negativity. Our thoughts, words and actions become sparks that fly out and ignite the anger in others.
We have all had experiences with the instigator—those people who are always trying to get something started, who thrive on chaos and hostility. And they attract drama like a fly to rancid meat. Their aura of anger permeates everything around them, all they do and say. These people are living in misery, and they believe that everyone else should be miserable as well.
While we can’t make another person work through their issues, we can refuse to get caught up in their misery. This is where being mindful and not reacting to anger with even more anger, can keep our minds and hearts from reacting to another person’s emotions and issues.
When we learn to let go of our need to react to anger, whether it’s our own or the anger of someone else, we can keep the flames contained until they can be extinguished by our own mindfulness and compassion, or by removing ourselves from the instigators.
One need not be Buddhist or follow the Noble Eightfold Path to work with right view, right speech or right conduct. Simply ask yourself if your attitude, words and actions are harmful or helpful. This works with all religions, no religion, atheists and everyone who dislikes being labeled. In other words, it works for everyone.
Causing harm or being helpful is a universal choice. And it’s as easy as taking a deep breath, being truthful with ourselves, and speaking and acting in a way that brings about the most good and causes the least harm.
In a world drowning in hate, anger and fear—let us be a beacon of love, compassion and hope. Let us be instigators of peace.
Editor: Dana Gornall