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Hot under the collar

There are plenty of reasons to feel anger today, but it's what we do with it that counts

By David Wilson

Some of the dumbest things I’ve done have occurred under the influence of anger. I slam a door for dramatic effect and crack an antique glass windowpane. I hit my thumb with a hammer, then fling the tool across the room and knock a big hole in a new plaster wall. More often than not, acting out of anger simply creates new problems to get angry about.

I think we’d all do well to think about how we handle anger as individuals because anger seems to be shaping how we behave collectively these days. The Tea Party movement in the United States is gathering steam, fuelled by anger over everything from trillion-dollar bank bailouts to plans to build an Islamic centre near Ground Zero in New York City. The mood is showing up closer to home, too. In the city where I live, a councillor known for his foul-tempered outbursts harnessed civic anger over taxes and traffic in his quest to become the next mayor.

As Patricia Clarke notes in her Generations column, and Larry Krotz observes in his essay on trust (print edition, page 14), there are plenty of reasons to feel hot under the collar today: political leaders seem more interested in scoring ideological points than securing the common good; corporate leaders collect huge bonuses while their companies fail and the economy freefalls; the planet is sick but no one has the political will to do what needs to be done to heal it.

The issue is not anger itself, but what we do with it. I’ve learned the hard way to ask whether my anger over something isn’t partly anger at myself. (It bothers me that I’m not a very good carpenter; hitting my thumb with the hammer only aggravates a sore point.)

Holding up a mirror to collective anger might be a good idea, too. Those who rage at bailed-out financial institutions might recall that they elected the governments that made the plunder possible — and that they probably enjoyed some of the spoils themselves in the form of cheap mortgages and overheated stock portfolios. Anger is no substitute for responsibility. Nor, in theory, should it override one’s own best interests. But it does, all the time.

Perhaps this is a good time for us all to take a deep collective breath and get a grip on this anger of ours. And perhaps heed the author of Ecclesiastes, who seemed to have our era in mind when, more than two millennia ago, he cautioned: “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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