There is a famous quote attributed to the Buddha that compares holding onto anger as holding onto a hot coal with the intent to throw it at someone else. You’re the only one that gets burned. There is a lot of anger around these days. That’s no surprise. There’s a lot that one could be angry about. There’s a global pandemic on, politics, money, religion, all the old favorites, take your pick. And with the way social media and the news cycle feed into it, there’s always something new. Yes, if someone wanted to, they could be angry 24/7. A non-stop parade of rage, with a fresh source every day.
If you wanted to, you could hold that coal so tightly that your hand burnt off. And so many of us do. I’m no exception to this. My favorite subject to rage about is capitalism. As regular readers know, I’m a leftist with strong views about how things should be run, and my regular Facebook doom-scrolling keeps me fresh up with new things to be angry about if I let it.
When I was young, I had a horrible temper. We didn’t know it back then, but it was a symptom of my bipolar disorder. It was one of the first things to manifest. I would fly into blind rages over the smallest of things. And I mean literal blind rages. The red mist would go down and I wouldn’t remember a thing until I came out of it a few minutes later, usually with things strewn everywhere and people (usually including myself) bleeding and crying. I would always break down and cry afterward because I was so upset that I had hurt people during these times. I had no control over them and it caused myself and my parents no end of distress.
So I learned a lot of anger management tools. Meditation, self-hypnosis, learning to recognize those moods that would lead to a breakdown and removing myself from those situations. I got very good at dealing with my anger. For a long time, I just wouldn’t get angry. It has only been in the last 5 or 6 years that I have let anger back into my life. It was about when I got back into politics that I started getting angry again. It would never get to the point of rage, but I felt those heady surges that I had almost forgotten.
I told myself it was a good thing. That I was using it to drive my actions. That was a lie. It’s not motivating me. I don’t need anger to motivate me. My motivation is to do the right thing. That’s always been my motivation. Altruism is my motivator, not anger. Anger just burns my hands. And worse, it gives the enemy power.
Anger allows someone else a measure of control over your actions. When you are angry about something, you have allowed someone else to dictate your feelings. And if you use those feelings to drive your actions, then you are playing into their hands. Anger is the tool of the fascist and the hate-monger. The right uses anger to manipulate both their friends and their enemies. It is worse than just holding a burning coal, it’s grabbing the wrong end of a red-hot poker. They can control where you go and you’re still getting burned.
So what do you do? If anger isn’t the answer, then what is? Action is the antidote to anger. Anger is a reaction to an unresolved situation. If you have some control over the situation, then take action to resolve it. If you cannot resolve the situation, then you must accept it as is, even if it sucks. Radical acceptance is a form of resolution. Even if you cannot change it, accepting the situation as-is will allow you to move on from your anger, and release the other’s control over you.
In this day and age, this is a hard pill to swallow and can seem like a position of extreme privilege. “You expect me to take all this racist/sexist/ableist/homophobic shit and just accept it?” Well, yes, for now, if you can’t change it. If you can change it, then change it. If you can’t change it, then accept it and take action to move the day forward until it can change. But all that anger is doing is stressing you out and letting someone else push your buttons. Don’t get angry, get busy. Let go of that coal and make some change happen.