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The Angles of Anger

by Gini Cunningham

posted in Self Improvement

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A fascinating article in the New York Times by Matthew Hutson entitled "The Rationality of Rage" grabbed my attention as I mulled over this strong, explosive emotion. Noting anger as "primal and destructive emotion" ending up in "irrational discourse and inflaming illogical passions", the author's word choice alone incited my instincts and piqued my curiosity. I have implemented and received blasts of anger, but I had never considered it in such a caustic and damaging light or as a potentially positive action. After all, when I blow up I sink into depression as I fret about my words and so I am not thinking about the rage that may have risen up in the subject of my diatribe. When people detonate on me I am usually in such shock that again I withdraw as I replay, rewrite, review every word, phrase, facial expression, and bodily threat. Then again I sink into depression as I relive my misdeeds and false steps. Whether I actually said or did the dastardly deed described, I heap on guilt as I run through the would have, could have, and should have angles of every situation.
That "kick me while I am down and then kick me again" is a very poor attitude and a demeaning stance. My mousy reaction solves nothing and as Hutson points out, "anger also has its upsides... [and is a] known tool for negotiations." It is knowing when to use anger productively that counts. Researchers noted three types of negotiations: cooperative; competitive; balanced between the two. When you are supposed to be cooperating, hostility is inappropriate. Heated argument spreads tempers thin. In a competitive setting, however, anger helps you express how you feel including a sense of being undervalued. Others realize that you mean what you say and so they sit up and listen. They may not agree, but at least they are a party to your thoughts as they consider your words and a new respect may develop. The study also goes on to express that the anger must be real for it to be useful. Faking it lacks genuineness and that makes the situation more entangled and confusing.
It is far too simple to think that anger by itself solves problems or resolves issues but it is certainly worth contemplating. If anger draws out compromise it may also create a desire for retaliation. You cannot just give in to an angry coworker and then bash him/her in the break-room. There has to be a feeling that the outbreak has meaning and can be seen as an opportunity to bring agenda items out into the open with honesty not snarled in the corner with contempt. Anger may clarify boundaries, needs, and concerns as those within its realm are forced to reflect and respond.
Anger is often viewed as a loss of control but there is a time and a place when anger applies to the situation and helps alleviate pent-up stress and misunderstanding. It can work as long as you stay within the rules. Even in, or especially in, anger there are spiteful words that should be withheld as they serve no purpose in explaining ideas and beliefs. They simply are devised to ignite. Anger can actually have some benefits when used within reason and rationality. I certainly feel the ideas of the article are worth some thought. I rarely become angry, but I have seen it work well for others. And even when the anger was out-of-place and has reverberating aftershocks, at least it is out in the open, on display, and available for dissection.
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