I used to let myself get far too angry about far too many things, especially online. (This is the way I frequently felt.) Even when I was right, the angry way I acted often made me wrong. Even worse from my point of view, the rage I felt toward others was eating at me inside. I was hurting myself.
I spent quite a bit of time thinking about why I got so angry and looking into family issues that contributed. (One of my most vivid childhood memories is of the many times my father would be yelling at me so angrily that I’d watch the veins of his neck swell as he yelled.) I had to retrain myself in a number of ways and change some of my ways of thinking — or at least learn how to manage what I was feeling instead of being destructive.
I still get angry with idiots — and sometimes with non-idiots who just rub me the wrong way — but I’m able to remind myself about my priorities and ask whether anger does any good. It’s very rare that I let myself get as angry and combative as I used to.
I’m happier with myself and I think other people are happier with me.
I thought about this a lot over the past couple of days as I watched the collective rage of many people over the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision spill over onto Facebook. Some people were calm. Some people were angry, but measured. And others were raging angry, unable to talk about it without screaming in the virtual sense.
I can’t tell other people what to do. I might not even be able to tell them what’s good for them. But as I watched the rage, I couldn’t help but feel that some of the angry people were hurting themselves — and not doing anything that had any chance of changing anything. I found myself thinking that we all reach a point at which our anger has become like an acid eating away at the inside first.
I get very angry with the authority that the state asserts over me and the things that it does to control me at times. But I’ve learned that the anger doesn’t change anything, and the anger was diverting me from things that could be productive and had a chance to make me happy. I can’t explain how I got to that point, but it’s made all the difference in the world.
One thing that makes it easier for me not to get so angry is that I’ve become realistic about what’s possible and what’s not. If I had high expectations about changing government, I would get much more angry, because I would be constantly disappointed. As it is, though, I understand not to expect much of anything, because that’s what I’m going to get. I frequently quote a line from a very old Steve Taylor song (out of its original context) that says a lot about the way I feel: “Since I gave up hope, I feel a lot better.”
When you feel angry and start finding people on Facebook or somewhere else to yell at — actually or virtually — you’re not doing yourself any good and you’re not changing other people’s opinions. As my friend Chris Hansen said on Facebook Friday afternoon:
“I’m going to change my strongly held beliefs because of what you just wrote on Facebook,” said no one ever.
He’s right. Your angry rants aren’t changing the minds of the people who disagree with you. Your well-reasoned arguments aren’t changing many minds, either. People don’t want to change. They’re just as convinced that you’re wrong as you’re convinced that they’re wrong.
Is being angry about politics worth as much as you’re putting into it at times? Is it worth what it’s doing to the stress on your body? Is it worth what it does to the ways that you end up treating people as a result?
I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can tell you that my life is much better since I don’t let myself get angry and act it out in this way. If you find yourself feeling angrier than you’d like — and you realize that it’s not doing yourself or anybody any good — you might want to find some strategies for backing away from the things that make you angry.
You won’t change the political world this way, but let’s be honest: You’re not changing the political world now. The best part is that you might enjoy life more. It worked for me.