It is like a secret club.
I know another one immediately when I cross paths with them. I can see it in their facial expressions and hear it in the things they leave unsaid. It is a sad recognition, because it isn’t like I can run to them with open arms and embrace them as a brother or sister. There is a secret shame to being this way, and it isn’t something the great majority of people are comfortable talking about.
It isn’t the illuminati or anything, I’m just talking about angry people. Angry might not even be the right word for it, perhaps “bitter” or “cynical” might be better descriptors. There are a lot of angry people who you don’t know are angry people, unless of course you are or have been an angry person yourself—in which case these people are like a beacon you feel drawn towards.
Intelligent people, people who talk too much, drink too much, people who lack much diplomacy or graft, who probably don’t have great relationships and find it hard to work in a place with lots of other people— the angry are legion. But they waste themselves on ridiculous things: bothered by TV commercials, losing faith in humanity on their morning commutes, finding all the simple joys lacking and unsatisfactory. You might love these angry people, but they are certainly hard to be around for a long time.
And just like in Anna Karenina’s famous opening line, happy people are all the same but the angry are each one different. They learn to deal with their rage in different ways. Some of us are able to kill the seed of bitterness, to plant better things within ourselves and watch these positive and uplifting traits grow into kindness, altruism, faith and so forth. Others aren’t so lucky, and their seed ends up watered by frustration, fertilized with dissatisfaction, and shone on by the light of disappointment and the things that simply aren’t good enough about the world.
Overwrought metaphors are our specialty here at the human animal, but our point is an important, concrete one none-the-less: while anger is popularly thought of as a fluctuating emotional response, I would posit it is intrinsic like intelligence or greed, athleticism, humor.
So what are we to do if we are visited by this curse? How are we to overcome the blinding feeling of rage, the sad nights spent counting the ways in which the world is lacking? It can’t simply be that one is doomed to feel this way for all time, to waste their precious years asking unanswerable questions and feeding the flames of criticism and desire. Well, some angry people do just that, allowing themselves to be consumed by how much they care about the wrong things. Because after all, anger is just a form of caring. You wouldn’t hate a person if you didn’t care about them, nor would you complain about how the world is going to hell if you genuinely wanted to take no part in it.
I can only speak for myself, for the way that I have to constantly fight to distance myself from my own anger—to step back and look at the why of it from a perspective not immediately buried by the bitterness and disgust of the thing itself. When I’m able to do that I’m at my best, able to control it and sometimes even get it to work for me.
Sometimes when I’m in the gym I’m hating something. Sometimes when I write I am explaining to myself why some horrible thing is so. When I work to earn money it is because I’m fighting against the inanity of electricity bills and parking tickets and a whole capitalist system that I know I am powerless to change even if I had some better idea (I don’t). It is a kind of fuel that powers me through the days for better or worse.
Recognizing your anger and then harnessing it, turning that concern and shifting it from things you can’t change and onto things you can, is a very potent force for motivation and productivity. The man who sits on a park bench all day whispering murder to himself is essentially picking a fight that he is actually unwilling to go through with were the universe to call his bluff some sunny day.
If you are one of us, you know it. If you happen to read this, leave an answer to the following question in the comments section: How do you control and harness your anger?