Friday, February 19, 2016

The Price of Anger

We should restrain not only the outward expression of anger, but also angry thoughts. More beneficial than controlling our tongue in a moment of anger and refraining from angry words is purifying our heart from rancor and not harboring malicious thoughts...When we have dug the root of anger from our heart, we will no longer act with hatred or envy. 
-St. John Cassian (1)

HOW OFTEN have we fired harsh words or over-reacted to the smallest provocation, much to our own embarrassment and surprise? 

Looking back, we'll find that the reaction was based on something that was festering inside for a long time. St. John invites us to periodically reflect, identify anger and address it while it's sm

He continues,
No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul's eyes...Leaves, whether of gold or lead, placed over the eyes, obstruct the sight equally, for the value of the gold does not affect the blindness it produces. Similarly, anger, whether reasonable or unreasonable, obstructs our spiritual vision (2).

Understandably, some may consider this to take the point too far.

Essentially, his thesis may be taken as this: anger -- in and of itself -- is ultimately a bad thing and cannot be justified. I am not so sure that's exactly what he's saying. He seems to be referring to a blinding rage that may in some some way have a rational basis, but clouds reasoning, so that the outcome is ultimately negative. At the very least I think we can agree that, when we are blind and overwhelmed by rage, it's very hard to address a situation properly or even to see it properly in the first place.

I can be right and still play the fool.

In this vein, Seneca the Younger, writing to his buddy Novatus, notes,
Anger is a short madness: for it is equally devoid of self control, regardless of decorum, forgetful of kinship, obstinately engrossed in whatever it begins to do, deaf to reason and advice, excited by trifling causes, awkward at perceiving what is true and just, and very like a falling rock which breaks itself to pieces upon the very thing which it crushes. That you may know that they whom anger possesses are not sane, look at their appearance; for as there are distinct symptoms which mark madmen...(3)
Jospehat Machuka was not pleased.
He adds,
Some think that the best course is to control anger, not to banish it... 
In the first place, it is easier to exclude harmful passions than to rule them, and to deny them admittance than, after they have been admitted, to control them; for when they have established themselves in possession, they are stronger than their ruler and do not permit themselves to be restrained or reduced. 
In the second place, [once reason] mingles with [the passions] and is contaminated, she becomes unable to hold back those [passions] she might have cleared from her path. For when once the mind has been aroused and shaken, it becomes the slave of the disturbing agent. (4)
Again, some may take this as wimpy talk. To me, it's utterly practical. In theory, anger may be "leveraged" for good. But, in real life, it is best to make an emotional habit of keeping anger at bay, so to speak. In a given circumstance, we'll probably find other, less dangerous tools at our disposal.


(1) Philokalia, On Anger
(2) Philokalia, On Anger
(3) Letter to Novatus on Anger, Book I, Ch. 1
(4) Ibid., Book I, Ch. 7


Shenoda said...

I believe we have all experienced this: when thinking positive towards an obnoxious "colleagues", they turn into nice colleagues!
I agree with you that avoiding anger from within is the most practical, and potentially the only possible, way to control anger!

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Truth Not Trump