The Human Condition:

Anger is a Weakness – January 30, 2022

Angry businessman

On the business channel, CNBC, I recently saw an advertisement for an on-call flight service using private jets. It featured a frustrated businessman whose own jet had broken down. He was stamping his feet and shouting that he would be late for his “important business meeting.” Later, on having arrived at his destination, he was screaming for someone to tell him where all the taxis were. The point was that, if he had only signed up with the advertised service, he would always have a perfectly functioning plane at his disposal and a chauffeured vehicle waiting when he arrived.1

The reason I mention this is that, despite having his own private airplane and an important meeting to go to, this sample businessman came off as a ranting fool. His portrayal was presented as an object of fun, rather than an example of a serious business problem. After all, what is funnier than a red-faced man giving in to his anger? Or a woman with her face screwed up giving vent to her unhappiness? These are stock characters from the human comedy: the fool and the shrew, Punch and Judy.

The person who gets excessively, visibly angry or upset is a person out of control. Their emotions have gotten the best of them, temporarily overriding their reasoning mind and, to use a phrase from another culture, denying their “Buddha nature”—that is, their real, underlying sense of self. Worse, anger and upset are reactions, letting events and insults control you instead of controlling your own causal, social, and emotional environment.

On the flip side, what is more inspiring or calming than a person who can nod and smile and even laugh at adversity? These are the gestures and the disposition of someone in control of their surroundings and sure of themselves. The smile and laugh suggest that the person was wise enough to see adversity coming and to probably have a plan for dealing with it.2

Anger also makes you foolish. When taken to extremes, it can make you hasty and careless. You can overlook the lessons you’ve learned in the past, rush into action you’re not ready to take, and leap at conclusions about which you have not thought or deeply considered. Then you will have more to be angry about—anger at the situation, and angry with yourself for being a fool. Anger compounds weakness and destabilizes your life and your relationships.

The confident man or woman remains in control of emotions. They reserve anger for the true evil that should be righteously opposed, then use it as deep motivation in planning and executing right action. They love, but only when it is appropriate and may confidently be expected to be returned. They laugh, but only when the incongruity of the situation evokes shock and merriment, and then never hysterically. They don’t laugh when the shock and loss happen to another, because then the hurt is real and not at all funny.

We all admire a measured confidence. Not the confidence of the fool who has never been tested and knows no better, because that is truly sad. But the confidence of the person who understands life, expects it to both buoy them up and weigh them down, and who has a plan for either eventuality. When I was growing up, we called such a person “cool.”

Cool is not cold and uncaring. But it is the lack of heat, of visible anger or upset. The cool person moves through life dealing with crises, prepared with skills and reflexes that are appropriate to their situation, with knowledge and perspective that makes shock and surprise more difficult, that shields their inner nature from feeling wrong-footed and foolish.

In my day, this was the coolness of the secret agent, the undercover operative, the James Bond or Derek Flint. This was the person who functioned according to the words of General James Mattis: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” Maybe our admiration for such a person—someone who was living an intentional lie, sometimes with criminal accoutrements and intent—was misplaced. But we did aspire to the operative’s capability and general air of unflappability.

Giving in to anger is a weakness. It is a sign of the unprepared mind. It is small-minded and, to those of us watching from outside the situation, inherently funny. Moreover, it is physically and psychologically dangerous.

1. The ad never mentioned how much all this would cost, but I’m betting that I and my modest travel needs are not the target market. A fleeting glimpse of a screen shot suggested five figures, which is way too expensive for me.

2. Even if you don’t have the foresight to anticipate and plan for this particular adversity, the superior mind always expects some measure of trouble from some dimension. People of such a mind always have a backup plan, a work-around, an if-this-then-that on hand. They are seldom caught out by events. And they don’t get angry when events catch up with them.