Saturday, October 6, 2018

Buddhism and Professionally Angry People

I've learned a lot about myself thanks to Buddhism.  Some of these lessons have been uncomfortable, but they're valuable nonetheless.

For example, my practice has helped me realize that I have an anger problem.  It's not something that I'm proud of. 

However, I know what my mind looks like when I sit on the cushion, and it's not always pretty. 

My fight or flight instinct is geared heavily towards fight, and my instinctive response to life is rage.  Thanks to Buddhism I've learned to control these emotions.  No, that's not correct.  I don't control my anger.

I've learned to not let my anger control me.

Sometimes, this means I have to smile when I really want to smash someone's face in.  Other times, it means I have to sit quietly when I actually want to scream.  This is difficult at times, but a little self-control never hurt anyone.

I don't do this because I think anger is a bad thing.  In fact, I usually find that my anger is perfectly justified.  Sometimes, those reasons are mundane; a co-worker who  doesn't do their part of a project or a loved one who lies to my face.  

Other times, the reasons are more serious.  Racism, sexism, environmental degradation... These are all perfectly justifiable reasons to be angry.  These are perfectly justifiable reasons for me to "burn it all down", in the hopes that civilization 2.0 will be better.  There's just one problem.

These things have existed since the beginning of time, and they won't go away overnight.

Buddhism has taught me that I have a choice.  I can be angry, pissed off, and exhausted for my entire life, or I can practice acceptance.

To be clear, acceptance is not surrender.  Rather, it's a recognition that there is only so much that I can do with one body, in one lifetime.  It's an understanding that life is filled with suffering, and the only thing I can control is how I react to it.

So, I do what I can within the confines of my own life, and I accept that other people will make other choices.  I accept that I may not like those choices, and that anger may rise within me as a result.

But I choose to experience that anger in the same way I experience pain during meditation.  I notice it, I take a few deep breathes, and I continue with my day.

This is important because there are a lot of angry people in the world.  My Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with passionate rants made by people who have perfectly justifiable reasons to be angry.  And then there are other rants made by other people who want to show that they are even more angry about the injustices of the world.

The end result is a strange performance art where people show their goodness by demonstrating how angry they've become. 

So, a group of professionally angry people get riled up over things they can't control.  They cause suffering for themselves, they cause suffering for others, and the world keeps turning exactly as it did before.

I accept that these people exist, but I choose to walk another path.

In the face of injustice I ask myself, "Is there direct action that I can take to solve this problem?"  If there is something that I can do that will actually solve the problem or alleviate my part in the ill affects, then I do it.

For example, I'm opposed to the environmental harm caused by factory farming, so I practice veganism.  Factory farms won't disappear overnight because of that choice, but it's an action I can take within the confines of my own life to reduce suffering.

Other people will make other choices, but other people aren't my concern.  I can only be responsible for my own life. 

This is also true of politics. 

When I look at all of the professionally angry people on my social media feeds, it seems like they want to be responsible for other people's lives.  It's like they want everyone else to think, act, and speak the way they think they should.  And they respond with fury when this doesn't happen.

But people will always think, act, and speak differently than we would like.  That's how samsara works.  The only choice we have is in how we respond.

Buddhism and Professionally Angry People


  1. When fear isn't really a factor anymore (like former Marines) anger seems to be the next tool in the emotional tool kit. Eye contact and a smile works for me. It calms frustrated angry people, and scares the hell out of bullies. If that approach doesn't work there's always a punch to the throat.

  2. Thanks for this perspective, I needed it.

  3. Who are these "professionally angry people"? A granfalloon? To me, it sounds like the language of Trumpism.

    1. Yes, I remember Rush accusing Democrats of being hysterical. I've seen that anger expressed by liberals and the alt-right. Communists, fashists and dictators are all great at it. Some commentators make a living off of it. Great work if you can stomach it. Mostly I see far too much of it in myself to worry about it in other people, except to steer clear.

    2. When you write a piece that describes current events, people get angry. Times are frightening and confusing. It's a natural reaction. When one writes to make people angry, one isn't spreading truth. It's just trying to cultivate a demographic and get more clicks.

  4. > it seems like they want to be responsible for other people's lives.
    The irony here is that the converse is true: if you tried to control their lives, they'd be resentful.

  5. and the world keeps turning exactly as it did before....