Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Cultivate Your Anger

We all get angry. It grows in all our gardens – a base human emotion, hard wired into us by millions of years of evolution, rooted to the depths of our emotional structure. We can no more eliminate anger than we can lust or fear or joy.

The other day, I was driving on the interstate when a moron in a minivan – a little ahead of me and to my left – decided to brake and cut across two lanes of traffic to get to the rapidly approaching exit ramp, all without signaling. I was forced to brake and swerve and hope no one was directly behind me. Fortunately, I managed to avert an accident.

But I immediately became angry at the chucklehead who decided to act stupidly, disregarding the rules of the road. And I became angry at myself for failing to sound my horn, to let this moron know she had just done something completely idiotic. However, I was so busy trying to avoid a collision I had no time to blare a warning in the moment.

It took me quite a while to calm down from that event, to restore a sense of inner calm. Even now, as I write this, a hint of anger tries to emerge at the utter incompetence or indifference of that driver.

My point is, anger sprouts like a weed if we don’t manage it effectively. A little can be good. It can serve as a spice. But too much can choke off whatever else you’re trying to grow. It must be weeded occasionally, cultivated properly.

We need to choose only the best varieties of anger, those that will help foment change, either to the world or ourselves. Lashing out at imbeciles for their bizarre behavior feels good in the short term, but isn’t very helpful in the long term. We need to channel that anger, focus it on specific goals, make it work for us as a motivator.

By selecting only the very best angers to nurture – the unfairness of slavery (yes, still a problem in the twenty-first century, particularly sexual slavery) or the politicians who don’t see their own blinding hypocrisy – we can keep our emotional gardens healthy.

Work your anger every day, weed out the slights and miscarriages that choke off the righteous rage of true injustice.

So next time you get angry, stop. Fall to your metaphorical knees and examine the stalks and shoots before you. Why are you angry? Is it worth it? What sort of action ought you to take as a result? Is it some large issue that demands a response? Is it a minor peccadillo that can be shrugged off?

If it’s a big deal, water it with a reasoned response that’s well thought out and appropriate to the offense. If it’s a smaller issue, yank it from the soil, thin the growth a little and let the dying stems fertilize the more hopeful emotions in your garden.

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