I don't get angry as often as I used to,
and even when I do, I usually can think my
way through it and into better thoughts. Age,
effort and targeted reading have helped me
keep life's challenges in perspective. That
ability was recently challenged by an unexpected
Whenever something doesn't go right and introduces
negative disruption to our lives, as this
tax bill did, the natural reaction is anger.
We feel slighted, wronged - victimized. Someone
or something deserves our wrath. In this case,
it was the IRS and politicians who create
tax structures that stifle small business
owners. I don't want to whine or bore you
with the details; I'll just say that my troubles
As my accountant delivered the bad news,
I became aware of my physical reaction to
it. I felt a chill and tingling through my
arms. My breathing became slightly more shallow
and quicker. My eyes narrowed. These are perfectly
natural biological impulses. Like our ancestors
facing a saber-toothed tiger, when we experience
anger, we are subconsciously experiencing
a fight-or-flight response, and our body is
preparing for that action.
In this way, anger is a good thing. When
something is not right, we should fix it,
if we can. If our children anger us because
they are misbehaving at a dinner party, we
need to act on that anger and do our best
to correct the situation. If someone cuts
us off on the freeway, however, it's likely
that there is nothing we can do to correct
that situation. Sure, we can send them a message
that we are unhappy, but what does that really
accomplish? If they care what we think, they
probably feel bad enough already. If they
don't care, they're likely to respond with
anger, which just escalates the potential
negativity of the situation.
Too often, we misplace and overuse our anger,
because we forget its main purpose - to alert
us to evaluate a situation for correction.
Again, in the case of the misbehaving child,
there is a chance for correction, but that
is not true of the traffic situation. Unfortunately,
because we forget anger's main purpose, we
spend way too much time being angry about
things we can't change.
Maybe our favorite team makes a mistake that
costs them an important game. I've seen people
break furniture and throw things at the television
screen during football games. How does that
correct the situation? I once saw a church
league softball player use his bat on his
car after a frustrating game. Unless he was
truly working on his swing, the only thing
he was accomplishing was further anger when
he realized the damage he had done.
Sometimes, we're mad, but not mad enough
to do anything about the cause of our anger.
In these situations that we're unwilling to
change, anger accomplishes nothing. I see
this a lot with relationships. We date people
who are a constant irritation to us, but instead
of finding a new place for our affection,
we continue to expose ourselves to irritation.
The same can be said of people who get angry
at the weather. Throughout this past long
Nebraska winter, I heard people declare, "This
weather ticks me off," and various less
delicate phrases. Since the only way to change
the weather is to move to a more agreeable
climate, if you are unwilling to do that,
you should probably just button up and shut
As absurd as most causes of anger is the
justification we often use with its expression
- I just needed to vent, to get it out. This
is three-year-old, I-need-a-nap behavior.
Because we're unhappy, we need to negatively
affect the environment around us. I once heard
a colleague describe a perpetually angry manager
we shared as a "fart in an elevator."
Don't be that guy.
I had to remind myself of all of this as
I faced the reality of my tax situation. My
anger had alerted me to evaluate a situation
for improvement. Since I cannot change tax
law to improve my situation, and I'm unwilling
to work as a W2 employee, acceptance trumped
anger. And, since I don't want to have the
same social effect on my environment as flatulence,
I reached for my checkbook and prepared for
the next challenge.
-- Mitch Arnold