Monday, September 17, 2012

Constructive Anger: Maybe An Oxymoron, Maybe Stupid

Jacob Van Loo, Melancholy.  Via Wikimedia Commons.
They say depression is anger turned inward.  Do you think this is true?  a) Always b) Sometimes c) Never d) All of the above.

Sometimes I feel bad:  melancholic, blue, sad, weighed down.  Sometimes it feels like being depressed, but not always.  Mostly it's like "the world is so fucked up," "what is the point of this exactly?" and "couldn't this whole human experience thing be better arranged?"

Of course, the world really is so fucked up, and life really doesn't have a point, so it's not like having these thoughts is evidence of some kind of problem.  Frustration with the paleness and stupidity of the human experience isn't really depression.  It's more like discontent -- something you don't hear a lot about in the modern pscyho-counseling establishment.  If you're just discontented, I guess you're supposed to just suck it up.

But I got thinking about the whole anger-depression thing after I read this book Monkey Mind, which is a funny memoir about a guy's experience with anxiety.  (Sample situation:  at 16, guy has sex with woman he doesn't really like and isn't really attracted to -- then becomes VERY ANXIOUS about it for A LONG TIME.)

Reading the book, I realized that my bad feelings are really not typically anxiety.  It's not like I'm a worrier.  I'm not worried about the future.  I'm depressed and discontented NOW.  I remembered the whole anger->depression idea, and I asked myself, Do I do that?  Do I turn anger inward?

The objective facts suggest maybe Yes.  I have a hard time staying angry at individual people, even when anger is justified and appropriate.  I get angry for like one second, and then somehow my mind always flashes to thinking about how the whole situation is going to seem ten years from now, at which point it will seem ridiculous and far away.  When you've lost your cool, haven't you always felt stupid later?  I've always thought my approach a pretty rational one, actually.  But maybe it's "turning anger inward."  Who knows? 

Following this line of thought, I asked the next question a philosopher would ask, which is "Well, what is a constructive way to express anger?"  I mean, clearly no one is better off becoming more the kind of person who shouts and throws things and makes mean cutting remarks.  Duh.  So what are you supposed to do exactly?

The google tells me the following things.  When expressing anger, talk directly to the person you're angry with.  Speak in a calm and caring way, and make eye contact.  Use "I" language:  instead of saying "Hey, you almost ran me over you stupid inattentive piece of shit!" say, "I know you mean well but I really feel nervous and vulnerable when you run the yellow light and almost kill me with your car."

As I thought about putting this into practice, I noticed a huge obstacle.  The vast majority of what I'm angry about has nothing to do with the people around me, and has everything to do with the state of the world, with money, with war, with politics, with environmental degradation.  Who am I supposed to look in the eye while I deliver my "I" statements if I'm mad about impending war in Iran? 

What do to?  Maybe I should write a letter?  Let's give it a shot, shall we?

Dear USA,
The absurd and immoral wars and other violence you are initiating and perpetuating around the world are an outrage to decency, you self-important ignorant bully...

Oops, scratch that!  Let's start over:

Dear USA,
I think you mean well, but maybe you didn't realize well over 100,000 civilians have died as a result of the Iraq war.  Have you considered -- wait, scratch that! I often think about them and their families and ... let's just say it makes me feel upset and sad, OK?  I just wanted to let you know.

Dear People of Banking and Finance,
You guys are completely beyond the pale with your lying, fraud, gambling, foreclosure misbehavior and other shenanigans.  Who the fuck do you think you are? 


Dear People of Banking and Finance,
I know you're doing your best, but I think you've developed a few regrettable habits lately, and I was hoping you'd take a moment to consider things from our point of view.  I felt really sad and upset when I read about Wells Fargo destroying the home of these people who didn't even have a mortgage.  The effects of the economic collapse of 2008 mean some people are unemployed and I think that makes them unhappy, which makes me unhappy.  If you ever need to talk, I'm here, OK?

Dear Forces that Control the Universe,
WTF is wrong with you?  Disease, hunger, death -- and for what?  Do you just like to see us suffer?  I think you suck.


Dear Forces that Control the Universe,
I've heard it said that you have ways that are beyond my understanding and my paltry powers of reasons.  I don't know.  I just wanted to make sure you knew that things are difficult.  We humans need love, food, warmth, companionship, and when we don't get those things - it's like really hard on us OK?  

Conclusion:  I don't think this constructive anger thing is going to work for me.

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